Since their re-birth in 1999, the Cleveland Browns organization has struggled mightily with personnel decisions. In 2005, the Browns hired former Ravens head scout Phil Savage to become their General Manager. The Ravens were widely considered to have an excellent scouting department. From 2005-2006, Savage concentrated on rebuilding a team in shambles. He succeeded in adding some quality pieces but the Browns still had lousy quarterback play compounded by an offensive line that totally stunk. So the Browns came up to the podium in the 2007 draft and took offensive tackle Joe Thomas with the third overall pick stunning everybody, especially quarterback Brady Quinn and the uber-hot fag hag girlfriend who was there with him.
The Browns wound up drafting Quinn later in the first round with the 22nd overall pick but the Thomas pick was actually the turning point in the direction of the franchise. With Thomas outright dominating defenders at the left tackle spot, that allowed the team to move Kevin Shaffer to his more natural right tackle position. They also signed Eric Steinbach, who wasn’t exactly up to snuff with his run blocking, but with Thomas’ presence beside him, nade the Browns lethal on the left side. This superior line play enabled QB Derek Anderson to have a career season and the Browns to have an explosive offense, which was needed to compensate for a fairly mediocre defense. They wound up going 10-6 and missing the playoffs by a tiebreaker as the Steelers won both head-to-head matchups.
Re-signing Anderson and a flurry of offseason activity has made the Browns one of this year’s trendy picks for the Super Bowl. Those predictions took a hit when they stumbled out of gate in week 1, losing badly to the Dallas Cowboys. Week 2 will no doubt see a hungrier, even more motivated Browns team eager to prove to everybody that they are not overrated by handing a loss to their longtime division rival Steelers.
STEELER DEFENSE VS BROWNS OFFENSE
How much difference did the addition of Joe Thomas make to this team? Here’s a look at Cleveland’s sack ratio allowed over the past five seasons:
2003…………40 sacks allowed
2004…………42 sacks allowed
2005…………46 sacks allowed
2006…………54 sacks allowed
2007…………19 sacks allowed
Not only was the decrease in sacks amazing from a numbers standpoint, but considering Derrick Anderson is a 6’6” tall leadfoot at quarterback, it makes the sacks allowed even more spectacular. Beyond pass protection, the line also forced defenses to protect against their running game which got WR Braylon Edwards and TE Kellen Winslow out one-on-one against defenders and they usually win those battles.
A lot of people like Anderson and I can’t blame the Browns for re-signing him since they can always bring in Quinn if he falters or allow him to leave via free agency ala San Diego/Drew Brees when they feel the time is right. Having two quality QBs isn’t the worst problem to have in a league that brings Vinny Testeverde out of retirement almost every season. Anderson has a strong arm and strong leadership skills but tends to struggle with his decision making and accuracy at times.
Old nemesis Jamal Lewis was also resigned as the primary back when he picked up his production toward the end of the season to show he still had some gas left in the tank. Lewis was extremely good in the red zone and short yardage but his days as a 30-carries-a-game chain moving tailback may have passed by. Lawrence Vickers is an excellent blocking fullback.
Braylon Edwards is a tremendous athlete who has size and speed that puts defenders at a disadvantage. There were times where he just flat out carried the offense. You combine Edwards with Winslow and you have a deadly deep and safety valve combination. Of course, Winslow can hurt defenses deep as well. They brought in Donte Stallworth which seems like a solid move because at the very least the guy is a deep threat. He really didn’t do a whole lot in New England, but I think his presence was important there because if the Pats didn’t have a deep threat opposite Randy Moss, teams would’ve just rolled one of the safeties deep over the top instead of having both safeties deep over the top on both sides of the field. That allowed the Pats to stretch the field so deep and throw the ball all day to Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk. Stallworth’s big issues have been his inability to stay healthy and he’s got mediocre hands. Edwards isn’t much in the hands department either, which could lead to a year of a lot of dropped passes.
Pretty much every aspect of the Steelers defense clicked last week. I wouldn’t expect a repeat performance this week, especially in terms of sacks. The Three Amigos secondary of Bryant McFadden, Ike Taylor, and Deshea Townshend will have their hands full but do have the coverage skills to deal with the Browns’ skill players. They’ll have to be on their game because Anderson will have time to throw. Jamal Lewis has had some good games against the Steelers, one of the few running backs who can say that, but with our d-line playing like they are, I have a feeling the run won’t be much of a factor. If S Troy Polamalu can have another big game that might make all the difference in this one.
STEELER OFFENSE VS BROWNS DEFENSE
The Browns play a 2 gap 3-4 scheme. In the past they have focused on the secondary, but after struggling to sack the QB, they switched focus away from the secondary and to the front seven. In order to do that, they let cornerback Leigh Bodden go to Detroit so they could pick up nose tackle Shaun Rogers. Bodden’s knee was in question and a motivated Rogers is a helluva player. However, he’s never played the 2 gap 3-4 scheme before and that is usually a tough transition. The same could be said for Corey Williams, although he’s a 3-4 DE, so the transition is a little less difficult. DE Robaire Smith is a longtime 3-4 veteran.
LB Kamerion Wimbley had a really nice rookie year, but struggled a bit in 2007 as he was constantly the focus of the opposing offense. He did force 4 fumbles though. If they can get some pressure from other parts of the defense that would free him up. D’Qwell Jackson is a nice player and Andra Davis just doesn’t fit into the 3-4 scheme. Willie McGinest is in his last year and is still a savvy, smart player but may not have much left in the tank.
They really liked what they got out of CB Eric Wright last season which is why they felt comfortable to trade away Bodden, who had been an excellent find for the team. Coupled with Gary Baxter, a physical corner who hasn’t been able to stay healthy and Sean Jones, a rising star at SS, the Browns thought their secondary would be solid this year. That didn’t seem to be the case last week with Tony Romeo and the Starboys seemingly passing at will against them.
In summation, the Browns built a stout defense which is solid at the point of attack but isn’t going to generate a lot of pressure on the QB. Sounds custom made for a team like the Steelers who pride themselves on playing physical in the running game but struggle when it comes to pass protection. QB Ben Roethlisberger should have plenty of time to survey the field and find an open receiver. Maybe this week he’ll even hold on to the ball longer then .004 seconds and look for WR Santonio Holmes deep down the field.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this game turned into a sort of a shootout with both teams marching up and down the field. The Steelers running game might provide a crucial edge when it comes to killing time or running down the clock. But first the team must build a lead and that is not going to be easy with an offense which can match you point-for-point. I think the Browns will be able to move the ball if for no other reason than their tremendous line should be able to keep James Harrison and Mr. Woodley at bay for most of the game.
The fate of this game may very well be decided on special teams. The Browns have very good special teams, led by return ace Joshua Cribbs, who almost single-handedly beat the Steelers in a crucial match-up toward the end of last year. If last week’s excellent return coverage turns out to be just an elaborate illusion that could very well be the difference in the final score.
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