This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns will take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers started off poorly, but have since rebounded a little bit and are even trying to get back into the AFC wildcard race.
To help preview this week's game, I reached out to Neal Cooling from Behind the Steel Curtain and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: "Ben Roethlisberger is on pace to be sacked 57 times this year, which would be the highest number of times in his career. Which position(s) on the offensive line have been stable vs. unstable in pass protection this season?"
Neal: "Nothing. Have you seen 'Necessary Roughness?'
"...Not one god damn THING has been working!"
It might not be as bad as the stats suggest, and by and large, this is what you get with a mobile quarterback. He may take a large number of sacks, but the offense would be Jacksonvillian without Ben Roethlisberger. The Lions have a very strong (if not lacking in sacks) defensive line, the Steelers held them to one. A third and long on a critical fourth quarter drive, Roethlisberger was all but sacked and he flipped a quick pass to Jonathan Dwyer who picked up a first down. A quarterback who doesn't fight to the echo of the whistle is walking off the field complaining about his offensive line.
Roethlisberger, on the other hand, goes out and throws the go-ahead touchdown pass a few plays later.
Yes, it's a double-edged sword, if he gets hurt the Steelers are screwed, but that's just how it is. That's why you sign a back-up like Bruce Gradkowski.
Or something like that. Ya know, maybe Ben shouldn't take so many sacks..."
Chris: "Heath Miller suffered a torn ACL last season, but has been able to gut through things in 2013. However, from what I have seen in Steelers games, he doesn't seem to be having as significant of an impact on games. Is that accurate?"
Neal: "Miller hasn't been 100 percent all season, but I'd say the eight catches on 10 targets he had in the last game is an indication he's on the right track. He was very effective in that game, even with a dropped touchdown pass.
That's been a knock on him this year, knee or otherwise. He's dropped more than his share, but any contribution he's giving now feels like a positive one, considering he was being taken off the field with a torn ACL and MCL less than a year ago."
Chris: "Year after year, it wouldn't matter: the Steelers' defense was going to be able to stop the run. All of a sudden this year, they have dropped to 26th in the NFL against the run, or 4.24 YPC. What is the reason for the overall decline?"
Neal: "Big plays. More than anything, that's what they didn't used to allow. Two big ones to Adrian Peterson, a huge one to Terrelle Pryor, lots of the 20 yard variety.
In my eyes, the issue has been the limited range and awareness of rookie sixth round pick Vince Williams. He wasn't even supposed to play this year, and the season-ending injury to Larry Foote could be the worst the team has suffered this year (read above and knock on wood).
Obviously it's not on one player. The team has had inconsistent performances from Brett Keisel, which has taken some luster off great play from Steve McLendon and Cameron Heyward. Ryan Clark has missed on more tackles than the Steelers scouting department and Williams is so shaky they've got 210-pound Troy Polamalu playing inside linebacker.
Some of these are coachable issues, as well as problems they did not have when holding a good rushing Buffalo team to 40 yards under its season average. It's a question of consistency."
Chris: "Tell us about a player on the Steelers who Browns fans might not have heard about but who has been playing well this season."
Neal: "I'm not sure there are many players Browns fans won't know (let alone ones who are playing well), so I'll go with one they may not have expected. DE Cameron Heyward is coming into his own in his third season, and has established himself as an emerging player in the league.
He's second on the Steelers with 19 QB hurries despite not having started to play full time until a few games ago. It's fun to see a younger player having so much success, especially since so many were calling him a bust (or maybe it was just me) a year ago. "
Chris: "Steelers fans couldn't have been very optimistic after an 0-4 start, but they have since gone 4-2 and are tied for second place in the division with a 4-6 record. By the end of the season, do you think Pittsburgh will be back in the basement, or somewhere else in the AFC North?"
Neal: "Basement? Have you SEEN the Ravens?
Honestly, I have no idea how this is going to turn out. I don't think Pittsburgh, Baltimore or Cleveland has particular reason to think they can't finish last in what's probably the worst division in football.
Pittsburgh beat Baltimore who beat Cincinnati who beat Cleveland. Logically that means Cleveland will beat Pittsburgh, Cincinnati won't play this weekend and Joe Flacco will be arrested for grand larceny en route to cashing his game check after another Super Bowl hangover-like performance.
I'm worried about the Steelers on the road but it's really hard to gauge this team week-to-week. I'll go with 8-8, my preseason pick."
Thanks again to Neal for taking the time to answer my questions. Neal's questions for me can be found here at BTSC.