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Posted by Nov - 25 - 2012 0 Comment

The Browns and Steelers meet for the 119th time today at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The home-and-home divisional foes have faced each other twice a year since 1950, and for Browns fans, it feels like that long ago since they last won. To say the series has been dominated by the Steelers over the last decade plus would be an understatement. This once proud and fierce rivalry has dissolved to simply the Browns trying to climb the hill of respectability that the Steelers are firmly perched atop. For the Browns to appear relevant once again in both the AFC North and the NFL they must win games in the division, and must regularly beat the mighty Steelers. However, today the Steelers appear a little less than mighty, giving Browns fans some optimism that a win is possible. The Steelers limp into town with a black-and-gold who’s who on their injury report, headlined by QBs Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich. That leaves the quarterbacking duties in the hands of Charlie Batch. Batch has appeared in at least one game each year since 2009, starting one last season and two in 2010 while Roethlisberger was suspended. The 37 year old signal caller may not bee as fleet of foot as he once was, but he has seen it all and should have a solid running game to support him. Still, the Steelers had to go out and signed street FA and former Steeler WR Plaxico Burress this week to shore up a wide receiver corps beset by injuries to Antonio Brown and Jericho Cotchery. Add to that a defense that is likely to miss All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu (calf) again and you have a Steeler team ripe for an upset.

Some quick pre-game thoughts:

  • While the Browns have reason to think they can take advantage of a Steeler team ravaged by injury, they are not exactly a healthy squad themselves. CB Joe Haden is less than 100% with an oblique injury, but is apparently going to tough it out today against the Steelers. Joining him among the walking wounded is fellow defensive back Buster Skrine, who struggled again in replacement duties for Haden last week in Dallas. His game ended however with a concussion thanks to friendly fire from T.J. Ward’s hit on Cowboy WR Kevin Ogletree. Ward himself is nursing some knee and ankle dings. For a Browns secondary that will be tested by the speedy Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders, they will do so through plenty of pain.
  • Two things the Browns must do today in order to win is get pressure on the statue-like Batch, and stop the Pittsburgh running attack. The Browns d-line is undoubtedly the team’s strength, and should be able to control the line of scrimmage against an injured and suspect Steeler offensive line. Rashard Mendenhall should be back today, and Jonathan Dwyer has filled in admirably with Mendenhall and Isaac Redman in and out of the lineup. With the challenges the Browns face covering Steeler wideouts, pressure on Batch to find them and making the run game a non-factor will go a long way towards getting a win today on the blustery lakefront.
  • Brandon Weeden is looking to be the exception to the rule that says rookie QBs do not fare well the first time Dick LeBeau’s defense comes calling. LeBeau is the godfather of complex, aggressive defenses, and often feasts upon inexperienced quarterbacks facing his version of the Steel Curtain. Weeden will have to be observant, vigilant, and decisive today. Happy feet and indecision will play right into LeBeau’s hand, creating mistakes and opportunities for Pittsburgh. A productive day from Trent Richardson will help, but there will be points today where Weeden will need to make a play. He has to seize those moments and convert. Today is a huge day in the evolution and evaluation of the Browns rookie QB.
  • Special Teams always play a big role in Browns-Steelers contests. With today’s cold and windy conditions, this afternoon’s game should be no exception. Josh Cribbs, a man personally responsible for the firing of more than one ST coordinator in Pittsburgh for sure loves to play the Steelers. He’s been outspoken about the Browns coaching staff lately, causing him to lose some face with the fans. He can make amends for that as well as significantly help his team today with some  solid punt and kick returns when the time comes. As well, Reggie Hodges needs to help keep the battle for field position largely in the Browns’ favor with better punting than he has show this season. Finally, the Browns punt coverage teams need to maintain discipline against a Steeler team that has track day speed at the returner positions.

The Browns all season have dangled hope for wins precariously in front of Browns fans, only to repeatedly dash that hope and lose winnable games. Today’s contest versus the hated Steelers certainly fits in the winnable game category for a number of reasons. A win today would be a well deserved gift to the Browns long suffering fan base. As well, it would continue to help the confidence of a young team trying to get to the next level. Lastly and most assuredly, new Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III would love nothing more than to beat the Steelers in his first game against the team he used to be part owner of. Could today be the day the Browns begin to shift their fortunes against the Steelers under their new leadership? We’ll know come 4 o’clock.

Prediction: Browns 17, Steelers 16. 

Categories: Cleveland Browns, Featured

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