Friday, November 23, 2012

Browns Present "Great Challenge" For Steelers; Injuries & Predictions

"It starts with [Jabaal] Sheard....He is a high-motor guy [who] is relentless....They've got the rest of the front four, which is a quality front four." - Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley

The front four and player in question belong to this week's opponent and oldest AFC rival, the Cleveland Browns. Haley is giving due praise to a defensive unit that accounted for seven sacks last Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. The Browns may only be 2-8, but they're no lame duck. - http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2012/11/23/cleveland-browns-not-a-completely-lifeless-foe-for-steelers/

The Steelers know that their longtime foes will be ready for them. They've been competitive in every game this season and five of their losses have come by seven points or less. The offensive line, responsible for protecting veteran quarterback Charlie Batch, knows this.

Steelers left guard Willie Colon was quoted this week as saying, "We understand this is going to be a tough outfit. The Browns are kind of like [Kansas City] in that their record really doesn't...show where they're at as a defense. They're playing at a high level." - http://www.steelers.com/video-and-audio/videos/Willie-Colon---1123/52c7dce7-8f45-4860-be0c-186ceb24edd0

"Where they're at" is in the bottom half of the NFL on defense, but numbers can be deceiving.

Jabaal Shear, mentioned at the outset by Haley, is a 6'2" 255-pound 2nd-year defensive end who is a long and powerful bull rusher who has counter moves and can wreak havoc. He's recorded 32 tackles, three sacks this year and many pressures. He must be accounted for and there will probably be extra protection to his side.

As a team, the Browns have recorded 27 sacks, 61 passes defended and 10 interceptions - all more than the Steelers (18, 57 & 5). They also have 21 tackles for a loss. As Colon stated in the lockerroom interview, the Steelers must "control the line of scrimmage."

With a 38-year old quarterback under center Sunday, this is paramount. In a recent blog I pointed how good Ben Roethlisberger is when under pressure. Uncle Charlie, however, isn't Big Ben and needs better protection than Byron Leftwich received last week against the Ravens.

In the 13-10 loss last Sunday, Leftwich was under duress, hit or sacked on 14 of 43 dropbacks, 32.6% or once every three dropbacks, and averaged less than two yards per attempt per attempt. The offensive line simply has to do better.

One way to keep Uncle Charlie upright is to run the ball effectively. Jonathan Dwyer should be the main man this week. Period. The "hot hand" mentality needs to end, especially considering Dwyer consistently shows he's the one who has it anyway. Running the ball as much if not more than passing it and controlling the line of scrimmage are absolutely necessary. - http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=8659960&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

The short passing game is going to be essential as well. Uncle Charlie is suited for that and has a "new old toy" to help in that category, and might have another one return.

Antonio Brown made good strides this week and had a good practice Friday. Regarding playing Sunday, he said, "If coach Tomlin let's me. It's his decision."

AB might have to campaign hard to Tomlin in order to play on Sunday. Coach is being rightly cautious with his best wide receiver.

His wide receiver teammates voiced their feelings and thoughts on the aforementioned short passing game. Emmanuel Sanders, for one, talked about his confidence in Uncle Charlie and the quarterback's approach to this week.

“He’s very smart; he takes pride in the details,” said Sanders. “He’s done it in previous seasons, and I expect him to do it this week also.” - http://tinyurl.com/cwotfnm

Mike Wallace chimed in on Plaxico Burress and whether or not that toy would really be used a lot: "Definitely. We want to see what our new toy looks like. Our new old toy."

There is one place where that toy can step right in and help, despite cornerback Joe Haden playing or not. - http://tinyurl.com/9wkevmt

Last season with the New York Jets, Burress caught 10 red zone passes and seven were for touchdowns. So he can be a benefit in that aspect at least because of his hands and height.

By contrast, Steelers tight end Heath Miller is leading the team in red zone touchdown receptions this season with six, and Mike Wallace is second on the team with two red zone touchdowns.

No other Steelers player even has more than two red zone receptions this season. So, this is one area where Plax can help right away. - http://blog.steelers.com/2012/11/23/coordinators-corner-haley-lebeau-3/

The defense also knows all-to-well that the Browns record isn't a true reflection of their capability.

"Ever since I have been here, every time we go there it's been a fourth quarter game," said Steelers linebacker Larry Foote. "Their record at this point doesn't mean anything to us. We have to get a win and we know it's going to be a battle. We are going to get their best shot."

He wasn't the only player who knows to expect a battle.

This is a division game," safety Ryan Mundy said. "The last five games they have been in every game, very competitive in each game. They are a play here and a play there away from winning those games. This game will be no different. We expect a great challenge from them. They have a lot of young talent and they are coming together. Their record doesn't indicate how good they are."

Being that the Steelers' offense will certainly run into some problems without Big Ben, the NFL's top-rated defense (yielding only 259.1 yards per game) must continue to play at a high level. - http://tinyurl.com/bue8hcy

With James Harrison not being what he was, expect Browns left tackle Joe Thomas to be able to keep him in check. Despite his less-than-dominant play, Harrison insists he isn't frustrated.

"It's not frustrating," Harrison said. "I know what I'm capable of doing. I'm going to run hard and hit hard. But I know how my body is going to react. I'm going to give it my all, but I'm limited by what my body lets me do."

That leaves the other side of the line to be watched closely with LaMarr Woodley going against exceptional rookie Mitchell Schwartz. We could see more of Cam Heyward on the left side as well.

The pass rush needs to be better, yes, but the secondary simply needs to maintain. Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis comprise a very good defensive backfield. Here is a brilliant breakdown of their play by ProFootballFocus.com: https://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2012/11/21/analysis-notebook-week-11-2/

The safeties are solid as well. Ryan Clark is having another Pro Bowl season, and there was a Troy Polamalu sighting at practice Friday. Will Allen, who has played surprisingly well in his four games, wasn't exactly reticent on his feelings regarding having Troy back on the practice field: "It was a Thanksgiving Christmas gift. It was great to see him out there."

Troy practiced Friday and wasn't listed on the final practice report as "out" for first time since October 5th. He was listed "doubtful" after being limited in practice on Friday.

With rookie Brandon Weeden at quarterback, the Steelers will try to apply as much pressure as possible. Josh Gordon and Greg Little are definite weapons for the first-year quarterback. It is here that the Steelers need to lock down on the Browns and be as opportunistic as possible, as Weeden's number aren't exactly All-Pro caliber.

The Steelers have, as mentioned earlier, very few turnovers and sacks, splash plays, this season. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau knows they need more, they just need to keep at it.

"We like to take it away, we're just not getting enough of them," LeBeau said before the Chiefs game. "We need to do better there. We have gotten a couple turnovers the last couple games. We need to do more, that's for sure." So far, not so good. The defense needs to take advantage of the rookie Sunday.

Another rookie and the fourth pick in April's NFL Draft is Trent Richardson. He is a highly productive running back who has rushed 180 times for 670 yards and has another 289 yards from receptions this season. Containing him is important, to say the least.


But the key to not being dead indians again in this cowboy movie is Joshua Cribbs.

“Josh Cribbs has made a living hurting people,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said of the Browns’ return man. "Obviously, it’s going to be an element of preparation for us.”

The Steelers can't afford another special teams night like they had against the Ravens. Jacoby Jones' touchdown return was a backbreaker last Sunday night and can't be repeated.

The Ravens double-covered the gunners, Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen, on that return, and there was a seal block on Ryan Mundy, and Jones then outran the rest of the Steelers special teams unit. A repeat performance of such inept play could mean no playoffs for the Steelers.

Cribbs is one of the best returners in the NFL with 852 kick return yards and another 330 punt return yards. He is specifically responsible for the Browns being 9th in the NFL in kick returns and 3rd in punt returns. - http://tinyurl.com/bu7cfvj

If he isn't contained, it will be a long afternoon for the Steelers. If he is, the Steelers should be able put together a win that is somewhere in the 20-16 range.

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TIDBITS: Steelers injury/practice report: M. Gilbert, J. Cotchery, Big Ben, B. Leftwich, out; Troy, doubtful. A. Brown, questionable; W. Allen, W. Colon, Z. Hood, I. Redman, S. Sylvester, probable.

Browns injury/practice report: Dimitri Patterson (ankle) and Raymond Ventrone (calf), out; Jordan Cameron (groin), Josh Cooper (knee), Joshua Cribbs (back), Joe Haden (oblique), Juqua Parker (tibia), Trent Richardson (chest/ribs), Ahtyba Rubin (calf, back), Frostee Rucker (shoulder), Jarrod Shaw (illness), Buster Skrine (head), and T.J. Ward (knee, ankle), all probable.

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Ben Roethlisberger is expected to return to action in Week 13, according to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora. We'll see...

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Indianapolis Colts interim head coach Bruce Arians was open this week about what he feels his blessings are. For what was he thankful? "I'm thankful for the Pittsburgh Steelers letting me go to be here."

As Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette wrote recently, Hines Ward had some good insight into why Art Rooney wanted Bruce Arians out as Steelers offensive coordinator: http://tinyurl.com/c979xbd

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The Steelers will re-sod Heinz Field following Saturday's Pitt/Rutgers game.