Tonight, the Cleveland Browns have their lone prime time game of the season when they take on their biggest rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, on Thursday Night Football. This will be the first time these two teams meet this season, but expectations can't be high for Browns fans after seeing how poorly the team did against the Baltimore Ravens just five days ago. As we'll see in the positional review too, the Browns just don't stack up very well against their divisional foes...
|QB||With the exception of one game, Ben Roethlisberger always seems to find a way to make it painful for Browns fans to watch games between these two teams. Cleveland's defensive line features more speed this year, so in an ideal world, that would create some problems for Roethlisberger. We've also seen our line overpursue and allow big plays (such as screen passes), which Pittsburgh will surely try to exploit. Colt McCoy has to find a compromise between getting the ball down the field more often while also staying away from the interceptions into double coverage.
|RB||I still don't consider Rashard Mendenhall an elite back, but when you look at everyone the Steelers have at this position, it's sort of what the Browns aimed for in terms of depth. The Steelers have a healthy three-back system at their disposal with Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, and Isaac Redman. Cleveland, meanwhile, has Peyton Hillis coming off a hip strain, Montario Hardesty, who hasn't really played in a couple of months, and Chris Ogbonnaya. I expect Hillis to be fine, but the commitment to the run is lacking against superior opponents.
|WR||Even though Jordan Norwood did some good things two weeks ago, the past two weeks have really shown what a liability the Browns' receiving unit is (as if it wasn't obvious enough before). McCoy actually made some good throws last week, but more drops plagued the offense. The Steelers don't have that concern, as their non-first round draft pick receivers, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, play very well to Roethlisberger's strengths.
|OL||I couldn't bare to look at a clean sweep, position-wise, for Pittsburgh. To be fair, though, the offensive line remains the Steelers' weakest position on the team. Roethlisberger gets sacked very often, but he is able to make up for it by getting out of the pocket to extend plays. I thought the Browns' offensive line continued to play "okay" last week against Baltimore, despite the final outcome.
It's the same old story for Pittsburgh up front: Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, and Ziggy Hood. They are able to clog the line of scrimmage long enough for the linebackers to work their magic. Cleveland's defensive line is able to make some plays when they need a pass rush, but the gaping holes that running backs are having the past couple of weeks makes it difficult for the defensive backs to confidently cover knowing they might need to come up to support against the run.
|LB||We have to be worried that James Harrison and the Steelers linebackers (not including LaMar Woodley, who is expected to be out) are going to rip through our offensive line or blow up our receivers across the middle or in the flat. I didn't have time to evaluate Kaluka Maiava's performance last week, but the numbers that the Ravens put up on the ground had to make you wonder how much the loss of Scott Fujita had to do with that.
|DB||Cleveland top-ranked pass defense, statistically, is not an indicator that the unit is impossible to pass against. The Steelers' pass defense is ranked second in the league, with Ike Taylor and William Gay manning the corner positions. The safeties, Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, are the tandem that give the Steelers a clear advantage here. Mike Adams and Usama Young aren't anywhere near the level of play those guys have.
|ST||The Browns have gone from a great special teams unit to really only having Phil Dawson be a reliable player. The coverage units have yielded multiple touchdowns this year, particularly on punts, where they are ranked 26th. Joshua Cribbs can't muster anything in the return game, where as the Steelers' Antonio Brown has made an impact this year.
The Steelers blew out the Bengals last week after Cincinnati made an array of mistakes. Cleveland might not make mistakes, but it's hard to imagine them making plays either. Unless the receivers start catching every pass that comes their way, drives will stall and Pittsburgh will march down the field for enough scores to put the game away. In fact, I'll go with an outcome that is the same as the Ravens game.
CHRIS' OVERALL NFL PREDICTIONS RECORD: Check back next week
CHRIS' RECORD AT PICKING BROWNS GAMES: 8-4