I believe that “Playing Down to Their Competition” would be the best way to describe the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers. As bad as Pittsburgh’s issues with lesser teams have been this year, they now must face the rest of their less-than stellar competition without their starting Quarterback. In my humble opinion, tomorrow’s contest has all the makings of a “Trap Game,” and the Steelers could come out on the losing end against their long-time rivals.
Why might the Steelers be in trouble tomorrow? Let me explain:
Most of the Steelers Defenders are either injured, playing hurt, or simply calcifying before our eyes this year. In addition, this unit is coming off of their most physically demanding outing of the year to this point, and to their credit played some of their best football in close to two years. Although the Ravens are not tomorrow’s opponent, Pittsburgh will have a tall-order in front of them in the form of Trent Richardson and must find a way to contain the talented and bruising Rookie Back.
Richardson has been Cleveland’s work-horse this year, and has performed quite well over his first 10 games when one considers the inexperience around him on the Offensive side of the ball. On the season, Richardson has already rushed for 670 Yards on 180 Carries and scored 5 Touchdowns on the ground. In addition to Richardson’s impact as a runner, he has also been quite the effective weapon as a pass-catcher out of the backfield too. Richardson has already caught 37 passes for 289 Yards, and scored 1 Touchdown through the air. In fact, Richardson has been one of Quarterback Brandon Weeden’s most favorite target this year, and is actually tied for 2nd on the team in total times targeted in the passing game (51). The Steelers have had their fair share of issues in the past containing versatile Running Backs (Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew, etc.), and might expect to see a steady dose of Richardson tomorrow if the Browns elect to take some pressure off of Weeden.
Piss-Poor Special Teams Play/Josh Cribbs
To say that Josh Cribbs has been a “Steeler Killer” over the course of his career would be an absolute disservice to him and the performances he has put on against the Black & Gold over the last seven years. Although Cribbs has been a “Swiss Army Knife” over his career, he has done the most damage against the Steelers as a Kick and Punt Returner in 14 total games. Overall, Cribbs has bedeviled Pittsburgh’s coverage units in the return department to the tune of 42 Kick Returns for 1,063 Career Yards and 3 Touchdowns, and put up 17 Punt Returns for 189 Career Yards to boot.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, their Kick and Punt coverage units have been inconsistent and extremely undisciplined this season. To witness these units take Points off the board because of stupid penalties (Antonio Brown, Oakland Game) and give the opposition free points with sloppy coverage (Jacoby Jones, Last Week) has been painful to watch. Overall though, these units have been sub-par when they have not committed penalties and have simply tried to execute. Through 10 games, the Steelers’ Special Teams have allowed the 4th most Kickoff Return Yards (904), the 9th highest Kickoff Return Average (25.8), and the 10th Highest Punt Return Average (10.9). All of this is bad news for the Steelers, because Cribbs enters tomorrow’s game as one of the N.F.L.’s most successful returners so far in 2012. Cribbs ranks 3rd in Kickoff Return Yards (887), 6th in Yards per Kickoff Return (28.4), 3rd in Punt Return Yards (330), and 5th in Yards per Punt Return (13.2), and is always a threat to score when he gets the ball in his hands in the Return Game.
Steelers Defense & Their Turnover Trouble
If the game is indeed tight tomorrow, the Steelers Offense might need an extra possession or two to secure either insurance points for their Defense, or points to simply stay in the game from a competitive standpoint. Takeaways however have not been this 2012 Defense’s strong suit, and meaningful Turnovers have eluded this group over the year’s first 10 games.
So how bad has it been for the Steelers’ and their inability to record Takeaways? Well, Pittsburgh ranks Tied for 30th (9 Total) in the Takeaway department this season. But if that was not bad enough, the Steelers have not scored a Defensive Touchdown since Week 3 of the 2011 season, and were unable to force one single Turnover last Sunday night against the Ravens. With their 3rd and 4th string Quarterbacks now 1st and 2nd on the depth chart, the Steelers Offense will be in no way the well-oiled machine it was with Roethlisberger in charge. On the road, and likely in inclement weather at “The Mistake By The Lake,” every possession will extremely crucial for this Offense to either play for field position, and most importantly, put points on the board to win.
Am I crazy for saying that the Browns are primed to pick up a “W” against Pittsburgh for only the second time since 2003? Possibly. But you know what readers? I smell a “Trap Game,” and I would not be shocked if the Steelers are looking ahead to next week’s do-or-die contest against the Ravens in Baltimore. The aforementioned factors and weaknesses I described above have cost Pittsburgh at pivotal times this year, and I believe that the Browns have the personnel to exploit these weaknesses with Big Ben on the sidelines.
The Browns gave the Ravens everything they could handle only three short weeks ago in Cleveland (they led in the 4th Quarter), and have been a competitive team all season long. While the Browns’ season might be lost (2-8), what better way for this team to inspire hope, faith, and ecstasy amongst their fanbase than to deliver a victory over their long-standing rivals? The signal of “blood in the water” has gone out to the rest of the League with Pittsburgh’s Pro Bowl signal-caller on the sidelines, and the Browns could be the next in line to take advantage.
Readers: Will the Browns pull the upset? Or will the hobbled Steelers take care of business? Share your thoughts’ below.
Stats Courtesy of Pro Football Reference.com