Saturday, November 23, 2013

Roethlisberger, Turnovers Will Be Key To A Steelers Victory Over Browns


10 years and 17 games.

That's how long it has been since the Cleveland Browns have been favored to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, since 2003. The year before Reggie White passed away. The year before the Patriots went back-to-back. Maybe most relevantly, the year before Ben Roethlisberger was drafted.

When the Steelers go to Cleveland on Sunday, the Browns, who are just 5-23 against the Steelers in regular season since 1999, will take the field as one-point favorites - and for good reasons. 

AFC North teams are 0-7 on the road in division games (the Steelers are 0-1), and the Browns defense, according to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, presents them with their "biggest and toughest" challenge to date. He says their defense has "no weaknesses."

The Browns rank fourth in the NFL in total defensive yards and have one if the best cornerbacks the Steelers face this season in the Browns' Joe Haden. He is one player the Steelers must account for and who will be assigned to wide receiver Antonio Brown. 

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Haden: "I don't think any corner's playing better. At least none that we have faced."

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley praiseworthy words for the 5'11", 190-pound CB as well when he said that "Haden is a heck of a player. He's the best cornerback we've seen this year, for sure. He's just really a good football player. He has great feel, instincts and speed. He's a complete package, and it has shown up against some of the big-time receivers that he has faced." - http://tinyurl.com/lkezhax

Ultimately, two things stand out as being imperative. It is paramount that Big Ben not turn the ball over. Since coming back from his injury last season, when Big Ben doesn't commit a turnover, the Steelers are 5-0. When he commits at least one turnover, they are 0-9. 

Before that, a successful game plan is one that maximizes the skills of Big Ben, the AFC and Fed Ex Air Player of the Week and who is on pace to throw for a career-high in passing yards this season. Spreading the Browns out will force them to send fewer rushers and substitute with fewer personnel changes and packages. 

Then the Steelers will likely move Brown around the formation, with Haden likely following him. That, then could open things up for wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery and tight end Heath Miller to thrive, as well as opening lanes or chances for catches out of the backfield for Le'Veon Bell. If so, and if the Steelers spread them out as they should, it should create a mismatch.

When on defense, coordinator Dick LeBeau pointed out that whether Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer or Jason Campbell, "they want to call plays to the strengths of each one. They've got a good veteran quarterback there now. He's started a lot of games in the NFL and they can pretty much run whatever they want to run."

Even so, the Browns rank in the bottom half of the NFL in offense and struggle to move the football, particularly in the run game. They do have a nice target in wide receiver Josh Gordon, though. He's no Calvin Johnson, but he has skills that the Steelers must respect with a safety over the top to help cornerback Ike Taylor. 

Outside of that, the Steelers defense must be the more disciplined unit and the individual players must be more trusting of the scheme and defensive game plan set up. Also, whether Jason Worilds is setting the edge or whether it's LaMarr Woodley, pressure from the front seven, led by the ever-improving Cam Heyward, is vital. 

The turnover battle must be won by the Steelers who are +3 after starting -11 in turnovers. With the forecast calling for a high of 27 degrees with winds 20-30 mph, it's even more apparent that he team that wins that battle should win the game. 

The Steelers know what's at stake for them and are the more veteran team, so this should play in their favor - in favor for a 20-13 kind of game and (hopefully) win.

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TIDBITS: Brett Keisel (foot), LaMarr Woodley (calf) questionable for Sunday's game at Cleveland. Limited in practice Friday. Stevenson Sylvester and Shamarko Thomas are out.

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Ben Roethlisberger on whether he'd take less money in next contract to stay with Steelers: "Obviously I would do whatever I need to do. That's something that can be discussed when the time comes. That's not really my thing. I play football, I have people that deal with that stuff. I'll do whatever it takes to stay here and be a part of this team and help this team out." - http://t.co/Fe1IPWTDrZ 

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If It Ain't Steel has said for over a year that Worilds is batter on the left side and that a change should at least be explored. Someone finally listened: http://espn.go.com/blog/nflnation/post/_/id/102146/woodley-willing-to-flip-with-worilds