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Cleveland Browns vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Game: Cleveland Browns (5-3) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2)
Where: Heinz Field  (Pittsburgh, PA)
When: 1:00 PM EST
Announcers: Jim Nantz/Phil Simms (CBS)

Back in Week 1, the Browns were humiliated by the Steelers 34-7 in front of all of the fans of Cleveland who had gotten their hopes up, including me. It looked as if despite adding Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach, and Jamal Lewis in the offseason, the talk of the season would be discussing when Romeo Crennel would be fired and whether or not Bill Cowher would be the team's next head coach.

Nine weeks later, things have taken a turn towards the brighter side of things for once. The Browns are 5-3 and are playing outstanding on offense, giving them a legitimate chance of heading into next week in a tie for the lead in the AFC North. What's changed since the last time these two teams met? The Steelers are still the Steelers (a solid team). The Browns don't have a Paul Ernster that's going to blow the fielding of a punt, or a Charlie Frye that's going to run towards a blitzer. Instead, we have five potential Pro Bowlers on offense that are responsible for the position we're currently in, and I'm loving every second of it. Will the Browns reach a new high today since returning to the league with a win? Let's get to the breakdown of this week's game...


Category Browns Steelers
Points Scored 28.4 (4th) 27.8 (5th)
Passing 254.5 (7th) 201.9 (19th)
Rushing 110.9 (17th) 150.5 (2nd)
Total Offense (yards) 365.4 (4th) 352.4 (8th)


Category Browns Steelers
Points Scored 29.1 (30th) 12.2 (1st)
Passing 276.6 (32nd) 161.8 (1st)
Rushing 135.1 (27th) 76.0 (4th)
Total Defense (yards) 411.8 (32nd) 237.8 (1st)
- Quarterback
Heading into Week 9, it looked like Derek Anderson would head into this game with more touchdown passes than Roethlisberger, but that changed after two different approaches by each team last week. The Browns ran Jamal Lewis for four touchdowns on the ground against the Seahawks while the Steelers had Ben Roethlisberger toss five first-half touchdowns against the Ravens. Each quarterback has led high-powered offense, part of the reason why they have their teams ranked fourth and fifth in points scored. In terms of individual match-ups though, Roethlisberger will be under a lot less pressure here, obviously giving him more opportunities to create a play on the fly.
- Running Back
The Browns aren't a power running team, but they know how to maintain a balanced attack. Lewis' 4.2 yards-per-carry average is still inflated by his Week 2 effort against the Cincinnati Bengals, so Willie Parker's 4.1 yards-per-carry average remains more impressive overall. The Steelers knew the Ravens were depleted in the secondary last week and attacked them through the air in the first half. Without the Browns having a particular strength on defense, Parker should get all of the opportunities he usually does against the Browns. Meanwhile, Jason Wright should be mixed in often against Pittsburgh in hopes that Lewis will be available in the fourth quarter if the game is tight.
- Receiver
I'm glad that Hines Ward is back for the Steelers, not because I want another talented player on the field to beat our defensive backs, but if we win, I want both teams at full strength so there are no excuses left on the table. The big story at receiver for Pittsburgh has been Santonio Holmes, the Ohio State alumni who has ripped the Browns to shreds since entering the league last season. While Joe Jurevicius, Braylon Edwards, and Kellen Winslow have been "ace" for the Browns, those Steelers receivers have gotten accustomed to finding the gaps after Big Ben buys some time behind the line of scrimmage.
- Offensive Line
The Browns' offensive line took its first hit during the week when Seth McKinney was placed on the injured reserve. As I've stated all season though, his position was easiest to replace though, considering both Ryan Tucker and Lennie Friedman are capable of stepping in and making spot starts. The Browns' line kept Derek Anderson clean all day against a heavy-blitzing Seahawks defense last week even after McKinney left. The Steelers' offensive line hasn't had many weaknesses themselves over the years, and are partially responsible for Roethlisberger having time to create some of his twenty touchdown passes.

Defensive Line
Defense is dominating when it comes to the Steelers, who rank first in the league in points allowed, pass defense, and overall defense. I said it back in Week 1, and I'm forced to say it again for the sake of filling this section up with something: Casey Hampton is perhaps the best nose tackle in the league, with Albert Haynesworth the only man giving him a run for his money. I've liked what Ethan Kelley has done over the past two weeks compared to Ted Washington, and overall, they've done a slightly better job on the line keeping the opposing team's starting (and injured) running backs to under 100 yards on the ground.

- Linebacker
James Harrison was the talk of the league last week after recording 10 tackles, including 3.5 sacks, and an interception against the Baltimore Ravens. It was considered his "breakout" moment, something I think we're all waiting for Kamerion Wimbley to have. Last year, he seemed to be our only bright spot totaling 11 sacks on the season. He has barely shown up on the stat sheet over the past month or two, and although that can be attributed to a poor defensive line, he needs to show something that says he was our first-round draft pick from last season.
- Secondary
Sean Jones and Brodney Pool haven't been beaten deep recently, but the compensation for that may be due to the cornerbacks outside helping them out. That has allowed teams to pass underneath all day long like Matt Hasselbeck did last week with Bobby Engram. Believe it or not though, that has led to teams having low-scoring second halves over the past two weeks. Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, and Deshea Townsend have led the Steelers to the first-ranked pass defense in the league, but their individual talents shouldn't be overestimated besides Polamalu. It's more so due to Dick LeBeau's clever schemes: if Anderson can beat them, he can move the ball.
- Special Teams
Cleveland's special teams unit was putrid last week, allowing a 90+ yard punt return to Nate Burleson and seeing Phil Dawson miss an extra point. Dawson's been hitting his field goals all season, and he should get plenty of cracks against the Steelers considering it'll be difficult to put touchdowns on the board against this team. Allen Rossum has been a threat in the kick return game for Pittsburgh, but he hasn't done a whole lot on punt returns. Dave Zastudil will be important in this game, as he didn't face the Steelers in Week 1 due to injury. We all know how that turned out.
FINAL PREDICTION: Pittsburgh Steelers 24, Cleveland Browns 20.
As much as the Steelers like to say that "a team needs to beat us sometimes" in order for this to be considered a rivalry, make no mistake about it: this has and forever will be one of the greatest rivalries in the NFL. The Browns were demolished back in Week 1 when Charlie Frye was their starting quarterback and were left for dead by critics around the league. After the Browns' front office made an uncommon decision by trading Frye away immediately and naming Derek Anderson the starter though, things have gotten a lot better for the Browns, particularly during their three-game winning streak. The offense is one of the best in the NFL, and although the defense has been torched, the "little big plays" have started to show up in crunch time.

With all of those positive with the Browns though, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had positive of their own. Ben Roethlisberger is also among the league leaders in passing, while Willie Parker is having another successful year running the football. Hines Ward and Kellen Winslow have both been called out by opposing defense during the week, so it'll be interesting to see if either team actually goes through with their subliminal threats. This win would mean everything for the city of Cleveland, but Pittsburgh's simply doesn't let their guard down at home when they're playing great football.

This is the official gameday topic for the ninth game of the regular season, featuring the Cleveland Browns against the Pittsburgh Steelers. All comments regarding the game should be posted in this topic. Enjoy the game, and GO BROWNS!!!