By Christina Rivers
The Pittsburgh Steelers may appear to look favorable in the matchup between themselves and the Cleveland Browns. In fact, many insiders are predicting a blowout by the Steelers. Pittsburgh (6-4) definitely has a better win/loss record. The Browns are only 2-8 on the season; 1-3 in the AFC North Division. The Browns have a considerably long list of injuries, as do the Steelers. Both teams want the divisional win, but the Steelers might just want it more.
On the injury front, the Browns have 18 players on their injury report so far this week. While it is likely that some will play, they have seven players listed as out for the season, one out indefinitely and one that is listed as day-to-day. Although suffering a rib injury, running back Trent Richardson will play. Others who will play on Sunday include: QB Colt McCoy (illness), LB D’Qwell Jackson (toe), WR Travis Benjamin (hamstring) and WR Josh Cribbs. Browns cornerback Joe Haden (oblique) is currently listed as questionable, but Pat Shurmer said that he feels Haden is on-track to play Sunday.
Brandon Weeden has reportedly decided that if Cleveland fans will give him free steak, he has got to win Sunday. “The first thing I heard from fans here is that if you beat the Steelers, you don’t ever have to pay for a steak in this town,” said Weeden. “I’m going to hold them to that.” The rookie quarterback may want steak, but it is a sure bet that the Steelers’ defense would like to make a sandwich out of him. In their last four games, the Browns have only averaged 13.7 points per game. Through Week 11, Weeden has completed 205-of-371 passes as the starter for 2298 yards. He has 11 touchdown throws, but has also thrown 12 interceptions. The Steelers’ defensive backfield may be primed for the turnovers that Keenan Lewis insists they need this week.
Browns offensive coordinator Brad Childress is hopeful that wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi will be used more against the Steelers. Massaquoi has dropped in production and time on the field. Playing in only five games, Massaquoi caught 10-of-23 receptions for 151 yards. He has yet to score a touchdown. That has meant that receivers Josh Cribbs, Josh Gordon and Greg Little have moved to the top of the depth chart. Little has the second best numbers with 30-of-55 receptions for 354 yards and two touchdowns behind Josh Gordon. Gordon is 24-of-51 receiving for 470 yards and four touchdowns. Cribbs has mostly assisted the Browns via kick returns and has logged 852 yards.
Richardson is definitely one of the most productive players on the Browns’ roster. Against Dallas, however, Richardson was nearly shut down in the second half. He was stopped four times for no gain. For the season, Richardson has rushed 180 times for 670 yards and five touchdowns. He has added 37-of-51 pass receptions for 289 yards and one touchdown. The Steelers will be keyed in on him this weekend.
One of the main goals of Cleveland will be to try to limit the Steelers’ running game. They are counting on their defensive middle to do that with help from defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin. Cleveland hasn’t been effectively shutting down the run this season. In their last six games, they had 1,044 total rushing yards packed on by their opponents. That includes seven touchdowns on the ground. The fact that the Steelers have Rashard Mendenhall back, Jonathan Dwyer primed for a big game and Isaac Redman overcoming a concussion to participate fully in practice this week should be a serious concern for the Browns.
The Browns are hoping that Haden will play a big role in the defensive backfield that has seen several yellow flags over the past few weeks, including seven in the Dallas game. Haden can’t cover every receiver the Steelers have to choose from, and when Batch finds a target, they are likely to be able to out-maneuver Haden. An interesting matchup could be Haden and Plaxico Burress, who has just re-signed with the Steelers.
The series rivalry between the Steelers and the Browns began in 1950 and the Steelers have lead the series overall, 62-55. Pittsburgh has dominated at home and at Cleveland. In 2011, the Steelers swept the Browns. The two teams have only met each other in post-season play twice, and Pittsburgh has won both of those games. Steelers quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch (who will start against Cleveland on Sunday) have combined for a 21-2 record against the Browns in their careers.
Pittsburgh is ranked first in total defense and pass defense. They have only given up an average of 259.1 total yards and 169.3 passing yards through Week 11. They are also ranked fourth against the run, limiting opponents to just 89.8 rushing yards per game. When asked about the Steelers’ defense, Shurmur said, “They’re number one for a reason.” He pointed out that the Steelers are fast and explosive and that they apply a lot of pressure. “When we write down the guys you’ve got to control, all four linebackers show up,” said Cleveland’s head coach. “They know their scheme extremely well and they’ve got lots of veterans…they’re good players.” LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison should be able to dial up plenty of pressure come Sunday.
An interesting development for Sunday’s game is that the Browns are handing out white flags to their fans. No one is quite sure why the white flags were chosen because of the connotation that white flags mean surrendering. Sponsored by Ticketmaster, they are inflatable and feature a Browns helmet on them. It’s a strange choice for a team that would like to win.
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Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.