Overview: Throw the records out the window for the rivalry game. At least that’s what we say and they used to say about this game. Now the Steelers reserve pre-game quotes about tradition, respect and style for the Baltimore Ravens. It is just another reason for Browns fans to dislike the Steelers, but you can hardly blame them. Since 1999 the Browns have won this match-up only four times. The Browns did win one of them last year, but the Steelers have beaten the Browns 19 times in that same time period counting the 36-33 playoff shootout. That seems like forever ago in the 2002 season when Kelly Holcomb’s name was on the tip of our tongues.
It has been a bleak bleak period, but all does not have to be lost. The Browns trail the all-time series by a mere four games 60-56. While the Browns are clearly undermanned on paper this week, if they can ever turn the ship around, the can easily restore the rivalry to what it was by attacking that all-time series score for a few seasons. Still, it could either turn out to be the worst or greatest day ever on Sunday as the Browns look to start Colt McCoy’s career with suspect wide receivers and a banged up running back a week after the offensive line allowed opposing defenders to injure two Browns quarterbacks.
Airing it Out: Ben Roethlisberger returns. This means you can take all the stats so far in the season in the passing game and throw them out the window. Roethlisberger is ten times the passer that any of his replacements were since the start of the season. On top of that, he has the ability to extend plays by avoiding pressure. With his huge frame, Roethlisberger is one of the biggest beneficiaries to the quarterback protection rules because he sometimes refuses to go down with first or second contact as he rolls out of arm tackles.
He will be throwing it to some really solid receivers who must be salivating at the thought of having Roethlisberger delivering the ball this Sunday. Mike Wallace is the young deep threat that made Santonio Holmes expendable. So far this season, he only has 9 catches, but that number could easily double in a hurry. Hines Ward, the dirtiest offensive blocker in league history, is still a dangerous threat in the passing game. On top of that, Heath Miller is one of the better tight ends in the league. Finally, the Steelers brought back a familiar name in Atwaan Randle El, one of the original players that allowed Josh Cribbs to get a chance to play offense in the NFL by converting from running quarterback.
Running it Down: Rashard Mendenhall is the only name you need to know. Given the fact that the Steelers have had their bye week already, consider that Mendenhall is in the top 10 in number of attempts already with 89. Chris Johnson of the Titans leads the way with 113 carries with an extra game under his belt. The story? Mendenhall has been leaned on hard so far this season. He has been pretty productive too. He had 120 yards against Atlanta, 69 against Tennessee, 143 against Tampa, and 79 against Baltimore.
It feels as if the Browns have done a decent job against the run this season, but in actuality the Browns are 23rd in the league giving up exactly 120 yards per game. JINX ALERT: The Browns have not given up a touchdown on the ground yet this season. Rashard Mendenhall has four rushing touchdowns so far this year.
In the Trenches: This is where things can get interesting. The Browns obviously need to play better on the offensive line than they did a week ago. Simultaneously, the Pittsburgh offensive line might be the most maligned part of the strong Steelers team. Marcus Benard had two sacks in a Browns win over the Steelers a year ago. If the Browns can somehow rise up on defense and turn this into a defensive struggle of field position and running games, the Browns might have a shot to at least beat the spread of about 14 points.
Of course the Browns will have to find a way to run the ball on the league’s stingiest rushing defense. The Steelers only give up 62.3 yards per game on the ground so far this season. If the Browns don’t find at least 100 yards rushing behind their offensive line, it is hard to imagine a scenario where they can win.
Special Teams: The Browns special teams still aren’t very special. Then again, the Browns return units could get a lot of practice and opportunities this week if Pittsburgh scores a lot. Silver linings right? Take those lemons that life serves you and make lemonade.
Prediction: I am now 2-3 picking the Browns games after being wrong a week ago. I thought Jake Delhomme would start the game and certainly never envisioned two quarterbacks injuring, reinjuring or further injuring themselves in the week. As a result the Browns are almost certainly starting Colt McCoy. Peyton Hillis looked awfully injured a week ago. Mangini insists that he will play. Still, there is no denying that the Browns went out and traded Jerome Harrison for Mike Bell, who more closely fits into the style of what the Browns are doing with Peyton Hillis. Maybe that is their strategy coming into this week is a few yards and many clouds of dust against the Steelers’ defense. It is hard to believe that this will disappoint James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.
The Steelers are getting their quarterback back this week. Their defense is playing lights out so far this season. The Browns are coming off an injury-filled week and are starting a rookie at QB. I can’t, in good conscience pick the Browns to win this game. Then again, they have kept every game closer than anyone has felt they would all year long, including against the Ravens who ended up beating the Browns by a single touchdown.
As a result, I am going to pick the Browns to lose by only 10 points this week instead of by the lofty 14 point spread that Vegas has picked. The Browns will give up 24 points to those Steelers, but they will find a way to score 14 themselves. One of those scores could come late when the game is out of reach, but even that is pretty predictable from these Browns. They don’t really ever quit.
So, try to enjoy your weekends. Keep your expectations tempered. Make your favorite meal in the crock pot or something. Comfort food, preferably. You might need it by the time the game ends. Speaking of comfort foods, here are some comfort videos of Josh Cribbs KILLING the Steelers in the return game.