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Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns: Positional Breakdown & Notes

Besides trying to prevent the Pittsburgh Steelers from getting a first-round bye, there is another thing they are trying to do: avoid finishing in the cellar of the AFC North. The only way the Browns would finish in last place is if they lose to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati beats Baltimore. A victory over Pittsburgh would also give the Browns one more win than they had last season.

Here are some notes heading into the game, followed by my positional breakdown and prediction for the game:

  • Here is what I would like to see the Browns do in terms of a gameplan against Pittsburgh:
  • On offense, I think we should make a living off of running playaction fakes, and as soon as Colt McCoy turns around, he fires a strike to the running back he just faked to. It is a very vanilla gameplan, but I think it will get more yards than the Browns would if they tried to run the ball. The tight ends can also bit hit on these playaction passes.
  • That isn't to say that the Browns should completely abandon the running game. If they do that, McCoy will end up getting destroyed as he turns around from a playaction fake. The runs should be limited though, and if they are done, Joshua Cribbs should be in the game as an outside blocker and Cleveland should try to get to the edge.
  • I don't want any deep passes thrown to Mohamed Massaquoi this week. It just seems like a disaster when we target him deep. I would rather target Brian Robiskie deep, but I wouldn't take my shot(s) until the second half of the game.
  • Going along with the quick dumpoff passes, if Joshua Cribbs is in the Wildcat, I think he can roll out and hit Lawrence Vickers for a pass like he did earlier this season. I anticipate Cribbs being used more often from the traditional Wildcat with Hillis banged up.
  • Defensively, the Browns have not been able to generate much pressure the past couple of weeks, and I don't see how that changes this week. Our best chance of getting pressure seems to be if a free man comes on a corner blitz. This might sound like a stretch, but let's put Coye Francies from the side and blitz him off the edge a few times to see what it gets us.
  • Overall, I still expect the defense to be conservative and just try to hold the opposing team to field goals when they get down into the red zone. Cleveland's defense has seemed "weak" the past several weeks, but it's amazing that compared to other teams in the league, they refuse to usually give up more than 20 points.
  • You always wonder whether or not Jayme Mitchell will play. Travis Ivey got in there last week; will it be Mitchell this week?

Position-by-Position Breakdown

Pos Adv  Reason
QB - Even though he missed a few games to start the season, I was surprised to see that Ben Roethlisberger has only tallied five interceptions this year. One of those came in his first game of the year when Joe Haden intercepted him. He has been sacked an average of three times a game this season except for the Browns game, where he was not brought down once.
Colt McCoy will be facing the Steelers for the second time. He took a few steps back last week with his overall performance against the Ravens, but he can redeem himself with a victory over Pittsburgh. Both quarterbacks are mobile, and if McCoy is going to go deep this week, it'd be nice to see him roll out and do so.
RB - With Peyton Hillis expected to be banged up against Pittsburgh if he does play, the Steelers have the advantage here with a fresh Rashard Mendenhall. Pittsburgh can look at the Bills, Ravens, and Bengals' formula of running right at the Browns defense to slowly grind out yardage.
The news on Joshua Cribbs seems to be a little more positive, so maybe the team will try to use the Wildcat formula that has worked against them in the past. Of course, that formation is only possible if the Browns are in a close game.
- This will be the first time since the 2000-2001 season that Hines Ward will finish with less than 69 receptions on the season. Ward has taken a significant step back in terms of offensive production this year. With how his season has gone, he has usually either had a real big game or a very quiet game. He had a touchdown in his first meeting against Cleveland; let's hope we don't have to experience that again. Heath Miller returned at tight end last week against Carolina and was productive.
The last time these two teams met, the most productive receivers on the Browns were Ben Watson, Evan Moore, and Chansi Stuckey. Brian Robiskie only had two catches, and Mohamed Massaquoi and Joshua Cribbs were taken out early by James Harrison.

OL -

Floyd Womack has been on the injury report all week with a knee injury. Maurkice Pouncey might not have warranted a Pro Bowl appearance over Alex Mack, but the fact remains that he has been a big help to the Steelers' offensive line this year. Our offensive line isn't blocking well enough to allow a breakout day from one of our backs.
DL - I don't mean to keep harping on our backup defensive linemen, but you can't get by in the NFL with a second string defensive line. Pittsburgh's defensive line doesn't need to do a lot of damage, but they do their job up front and allow the linebackers to make the big plays.
LB - It was the Cleveland game earlier this season that really marked the beginning of the whole "James Harrison/defenseless receiver" issue. If Lawrence Vickers was talking trash to the Baltimore Ravens last week, my guess is that he'll be wanting to deliver some blows to Harrison this week. Unfortunately, when it comes down to it, the Steelers have four superior linebackers compared to the Browns.
DB - The Steelers would have the advantage here if I knew for sure if  Troy Polamalu was playing. Defensively, the Browns' secondary is still in pretty good shape thanks to the strong play of Joe Haden. We're still longing for T.J. Ward to get a good lick in on Hines Ward too.
ST - Shaun Suisham has been solid for the Steelers since they signed him, connecting on 12-of-13 of his field goal attempts. Phil Dawson has given some hints that this could be his final game as a member of the Browns; hopefully he has a good game in his potential finale.

Unless the Steelers choke against the Browns, there is no way they should lose this game. While the Browns were able to stun the Steelers at home last season, something like that isn't something you can legitimately predict. Hopefully Brian Daboll, Rob Ryan, and Eric Mangini go out with a bang. If they don't, at the very least it should not be a blowout.

FINAL PREDICTION: Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Cleveland Browns 14.