The DEFEND Cleveland Show

Steelers vs Browns – Week 12 – DC Show Preview

Steelers vs Browns

 

Week 12, and enter the Pittsburgh Steelers. A team led by Ben Roethlisberger who’s 15-1 against the Browns in his career, and unlike Jason Campbell and the Browns QB carousel the last 30 years, is an actual living breathing elite NFL quarterback. Big Ben’s only loss to Cleveland? To Brady Quinn in 2009. In other words, if you were to say back in 2004 when Ben was a rookie that the Cleveland Browns are so bad they’d be lucky to win one game if they played Roethlisberger’s Steelers every week of a regular season, you would have been absolutely right.

Oof.

And you wonder why people say the rivalry against Pittsburgh is dead. It’s true, and partly because the Browns have been absent in these encounters since their return to the NFL; a horrid span that finds them 4-23 against the Steelers.

However, as I noted last week (specifically when I was feeling pretty good about our team heading into Cincinnati), the times they are a changing. This isn’t the same Steelers team we’ve grown accustomed to the last two decades, and this also isn’t the same Browns team Big Ben has been using as a whipping post throughout his career. Starting 0-4 and lacking a bevy of offensive weapons and the top tier defense which always defines the Steelers’ best teams, this Pittsburgh squad might finally be looking up at the Cleveland Browns on Sunday instead of down on them like they have for so many years.

 

Matchups to Watch For

 
 – What if Ben Roethlisberger throws an Interception? – This year when Roethlisberger manages a game without throwing an interception the Steelers are 3-0, which includes their back-to-back wins coming into this game. When Ben has been picked off at least once in a game, however, this Steelers team is 1-6. Going back the last two years and those numbers inflate to 8-1 when he’s INT free, and 3-11 when regardless of how many touchdowns are tossed he throws at least one pass to the wrong team.

Now you could say so many factors go into throwing picks that you can’t put the full blame on the quarterback and this is true, but you need but look back to the more talented Steelers teams prior to 2012-13 to see the point I’m making. In the era of Big Ben where you’ve had more talented Pittsburgh teams on the whole, you find a QB in Roethlisberger who could make some mistakes throwing the ball and his team could overcome them. The Steelers overall record over the years supports this theory too. The only time Ben in his career has a losing record for any season in the games he’s thrown at least one pick are the 2006 and 2012 seasons, which, are the only two seasons the Steelers have had Big Ben under center and didn’t end up posting a winning record on the year1.

Whether it’s due to injuries or what seems to be the case the last two seasons where their star studded roster is simply getting older and becoming depleted, the bottom line is any successful season when Roethlisberger has tossed an interception in a game and the Steelers mostly found ways to still win, they did so with overwhelming talent on both sides of the ball. This is no longer the case. Force this 2013 team into turning the ball over and the Browns chances of winning dramatically increase.

 

– Campbell’s the king of checkdown, but what about the YAC? – Did you see Campbell hit Gordon downfield in stride for that 74 yard touchdown late in Cinci? Guess what, Dick LeBeau saw it too, and he isn’t about to freely allow it to happen this Sunday. The Steelers with LeBeau are always one of the best teams in the business at not letting teams beat them downfield. The trick is to keep everything in front of their coverage and then be an outstanding tackling defense. Throw in getting pressure on the quarterback and these are all Dick LeBeau’s calling cards. They are also what will see this defensive coordinator supreme quickly enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

According to SportingCharts.com, over the last 10 years the Steelers have only twice not ranked in the Top 10 overall in per game team yards allowed after catch. This year, even after the slow start and everyone shouting about how suspect they are defensively,  they’re ranked 4th overall. Dick LeBeau defenses keep the game in front of them and then close on receivers and quickly bring them down. Period. And tales of the defensive demise in Pitts-town might be exaggerated.

Apply all this to our recently crowned King of checkdown, Jason Campbell, and the best way the Browns will look to succeed in the passing game is in crossing routes and patterns that free up Gordon and Little over the middle where their size and athleticism finds most its yardage after the catch, aka, the all important YAC. This of course also applies to Cameron, Bess, Obi and anyone else Coach Chud and Turner decide is the intended target…or 2nd target…or 3rd…CHECKDOWN!

If the Browns can average between 6-7 yards or more after the catch, they might just win this game no matter how many times Jason Campbell checks down.

All hail the checkdown.

 

Prediction

 

I’ve just given what I believe to be the main reasons the Browns win on Sunday, now here’s where I prepare you for disappointment. Yes, I think the Browns have become a much more talented team this year and can compete with anyone any given Sunday, and yes I also know they can very well win this game and make the rest of the season one where they’re still very much in the AFC hunt. I also feel the window on this most recent Steelers dynasty is drawing closed. That said, the Browns lost last week in such an awful fashion I think it’s a loss that lingers like a bad hangover.

You have a defense that’s become elite in Cleveland and doing everything it needs to do to win games, but you also have an offense with needs at every level, the line, backfield, receivers and QB. Not to forget a punting unit who somehow against the Bengals allowed all kinds of wrong to happen. Games like last week’s loss kills locker rooms on both sides of the roster divide. Offensively and defensively, games like that one kill morale, and if Pittsburgh wins this Sunday I think it will be from the Browns taking the field already defeated, more than it will be from the Steelers outright beating them.

The line opened -2.5 Browns and Steelers fans and those who doubt Cleveland’s ability to beat Roethlisberger have shrunk it down to -1.5 Cleveland. Follow that trend, folks, batten down the hatches and prepare for the worst, Pittsburgh wins this one. Again.

Hey, think of it this way, how nice of a surprise will it be if Cleveland actually ends up winning? Planning for the worst makes miracles even more miraculous, and as much as a win for the Browns here on Sunday may not technically qualify as a miracle, it may end up sure feeling like one.

Go Browns.

 
 

-Mike James

 

Listen every Friday to “Defend Cleveland Friday with Mike and Joe”  by clicking here, a weekly hour long Cleveland sports podcast companion to the DC Show that’s the best way to end you week, and the only way to begin your weekend.

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The DC Show with host Mike James airs live every Monday morning from 9am-11:30am on WRUW-FM 91.1 Cleveland, and streams world wide here.

 

  1. In 2006 and 2012 the Steelers were 8-8 both years and Ben’s record in games he threw at least 1 interception was 3-7 and 2-5 respectively. This year it’s also looking unlikely Pitt wins more than 8 games, and they may be fortunate to even win 7. The other years besides these three in question, which are all winning seasons for the Steelers, when Ben threw at least 1 pick in 2004 his record in those games was 7-1, 2005 it was 3-2, 2007 5-3, 2008 5-4, 2009 5-5, 2010 3-2, and 2011 6-3. []

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Posted by on Nov 22 2013. Filed under Featured, Show Reports. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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