Know Thy Enemy: Cleveland Browns

PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 02: Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers laughs on the sideline during the 4th quarter against the Carolina Panthers during the preseason game on September 2, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

The Cleveland Browns improved upon their pathetic total of four wins in 2008 by winning a whopping five games last year.  Baby steps, I guess.  They did, however, win their last four games in a row highlighted by one of the most embarrassing losses in Pittsburgh Steelers history, a 13-6 debacle on a frigid Thursday night.  Following the season, the front office was cleared out with Mike Holmgren being brought in to resurrect yet another franchise.  Coo Coo g’ joo.

STEELERS DEFENSE vs. BROWNS OFFENSE

Poor poor Colt McCoy.  He was on the verge of being cut during the preseason, but due to high ankle sprains to both Seneca Wallace and Jake Delhomme, he’s starting this week.  I’m sure it’s his dream to start an NFL game but that should quickly turn into a nightmare by about, oh, half past one.   They say that which doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.

The Steelers defense will put this theory to the test.

The Browns ranked last in the league in offense last year.  This year, they’ve risen all the way up to 25th.  About the only area of strength on this team is their offensive line.  C Alex Mack and LT Joe Thomas are Pro Bowl caliber.  Their studliness no doubt contributed to RB Peyton Hillis running wild on the Ravens defense a couple weeks back.  Unfortunately, he’s battling a strained quadriceps and is questionable.

Not that it matters since the Steelers aren’t giving up anything on the ground to anybody.  Running the ball isn’t going to work and considering they only have one halfway decent receiver, I don’t foresee passing being much of an option either.  Nope, if the Browns hope to score, their offensive game plan boils down to one thing:

Get the ball to Josh Cribbs.

For those who remember that Thursday night game, Cribbs was an absolute Steeler Killer.  He returns kicks, he runs the Wildcat, and he plays receiver.   He’s a multi-purpose threat that needs to be accounted for on every play.  He’s far and away the Browns best offensive weapon.  Contain him and everything else will fall into place.

STEELERS OFFENSE vs. BROWNS DEFENSE

The Browns ranked 31st in defense last year, 28th against the run and 29th against the pass.  So they gave defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, Rex’s brother, some new toys by going secondary with their first two picks in the draft.  This has led to an improvement as they now rank 18th in pass defense, although they’re still 21st in total D.  Again, baby steps.

But let’s forget about the Browns as they’re nothing more than a bug on the Black and Gold’s windshield.  I’m more interested in talking about the Steelers offense.   The Steelers are averaging 136 pass yards per game and are currently last in the NFL in total offense.   All that is about to change.

Ben Roethlisberger returns from his ridiculous unwarranted suspension.   Last year, the Steelers produced an epic offensive performance.  They featured a 1,000 yard rusher, two 1,000 yard receivers, and a 4,000 yard passer in the same season for the first time ever.   Even with the loss of Santonio Holmes, I have seen nothing to make me think this group is any less explosive.   We just need a quarterback able to make the plays.

I’ve been a vocal supporter of Steeler Football.  And I still believe Bruce Arians got carried away with the Flying Circus last year.  But I also realize the NFL isn’t the same as it was in 1985.  It used to be that you ran the ball to set up the pass.   Nowadays, the opposite usually holds true.

Rashard Mendenhall is off to a fine season.  He’d be off to an even finer season if opposing defenses weren’t able to stack the box against him.   Teams have had little to no reason to fear being burned through the air.  With Big Ben under center, they should be terrified.

My problem with Arians and last year’s offense was his tendency to get greedy.  Big plays and explosive scoring are great.   But it seemed like for every bomb Ben hit, Arians would dial up six more which failed.  An all-or-nothing mentality doesn’t control the clock and doesn’t give the defense any time to rest.  The pass/run ratio was ideal these first four games.  Our quarterbacks simply didn’t have the fantastic playmaking ability Ben has.

Will we see the return of Ben chucking 35+ passes per game?   Or will we see a balanced attack which strikes down-field but also controls time of possession with a commitment to the run?

I don’t know but the answer will go a long way to determining how the rest of the season shakes out.  What I do know is we have a great defense.  If we can add a great offense, this team will be near impossible to beat.   And with a fresh, focused, and HIGHLY MOTIVATED Ben Roethlisberger at the controls, I like our chances.  I like them a lot.

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