I still appreciate the fact that the players on the Cleveland Browns have not given up on their head coach. Week after week though, the team is missing that "X-Factor," something that has prevented Cleveland from taking charge in games over the second half of the season.
When you look at our offense, what do you see?
Peyton Hillis has not had the same type of runs he had earlier this season in which he could truck over defenders every play. He hasn't been able to make big plays as a receiver because a defender is always glued to him. He did not practice once this week, meaning Mike Bell got all of the carries. I'm surprised Cleveland didn't sign another running back, but the fact that they didn't tells me that Hillis will at least play. Either way, it's not good to have a banged-up Hillis and the backup Bell as your two backs against Pittsburgh.
- The offensive line hasn't been able to win the battle at the line of scrimmage very much. It's not "Chicago Bears bad" or anything like that, as most of the major issues involve right tackle John St. Clair. If the Steelers are wise, they will try to blow up that side of the line early and often. St. Clair is bound to allow some defenders to take some free shots at McCoy.
- The Wildcat was introduced a little bit more last week, but are the Steelers really going to be fooled by it? Joshua Cribbs might have moved around better last week, but that still doesn't mean he can cut like he once could.
- Our wide receivers still have issues getting separation when running their routes. Benjamin Watson is our best receiver, but he is battling an ankle injury. With Evan Moore shelved for the season, the other receiving threats at tight end aren't going to make opposing defenses pay.
- Colt McCoy has played well overall, but struggled when taking shots down the field against Ed Reed and the Baltimore Ravens last week. The Steelers are hot on defense and Troy Polamalu will be hunting for the football.
Taking all of those points into consideration, how is Cleveland going to muster enough points after only averaging a little over 11 points per game the past four weeks? Is something going to all of a sudden change regarding the points listed above? Does anyone really expect Hillis to pound for over 100 yards, for Cribbs to suddenly become the old Cribbs, or for our receivers to start running masterful routes?
Everything above might sound pessimistic, but this is not the same team that beat the Saints and Patriots, and went toe-to-toe with the Jets mid-way through the season. I hung on to those performances for awhile, but the fact that the Browns have lost three in a row to Buffalo, Cincinnati, and Baltimore, coupled with how those teams have won (they have done so with very vanilla gameplans), has forced me to tame my expectations.
Those expectations apply to the defensive side of the ball too. While the secondary seems to be the strongest and healthiest unit on the team right now, that is negated when the likes of Travis Ivey, Brian Schaefering, and Derrick Robinson, all second-string players at best, are seeing a good amount of work on gameday on the defensive line. The linebackers can't get to the quarterback either. I know a similar bunch was able to surprise Ben Roethlisberger last year, but lightning does not strike twice, especially when this Steelers team is fighting to win the No. 2 seed in the AFC. If they suffer a letdown against Cleveland, odds are they will drop all the way to the No. 6 seed.
The stakes are high for both teams, and I'm hoping like hell that the Browns are able to put together a great gameplan and execute it to perfection to take out the Steelers. It would be a great way to close out the season, and it might be the type of thing Eric Mangini can use in his pitch to Mike Holmgren to remain head coach. But with the injuries this team has had to deal with and the shortage of talent they had to begin with, an upset win on Sunday doesn't seem likely.
I'll offer some of my "wishes" as far as what I want to see in the gameplan on Saturday in my official preview for the game. For now, I'm curious as to what you think the Browns should do. I understand all of us want the Browns to win, but based on what we have to work with, what is the gameplan you would like to see (i.e. blitz seven all game long, have McCoy go Shotgun hurry up the whole game, drop the coverage back most of the game, etc)?