On Thursday Night the Pittsburgh Steelers will play AFC North divisional foe the Cleveland Browns for the first time in this 2011 season. While the Cleveland Browns are 4-8, nothing would delight them more than to come into Heinz Field and knock off the Steelers, who have playoff aspirations.
Many are not aware of this but the Browns defense is ranked eighth in total defense and more impressively they are first in defending the pass as they are allowing just 173 yards per game. While the pass defense is play great, their run defense is ranked 31st in the entire NFL. This means that the pass happy Steelers offense may need to adjust their strategy for the Browns and rely on Rashard Mendenhall to carry the load offensively, especially with Ben Roethlisbeger trying to have that thumb heal.
Offensively the Browns are amongst the worst in the league, but despite their stats, this team always plays the Steelers tough and will likely do so come Thursday night. Quarterback Colt McCoy leads the Cleveland offense with his 14 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. With this being only McCoy's second season he has progressed immensely, but has to face the No.1 defense in the NFL in the Pittsburgh Steelers. This challenge could get the better of McCoy as the Steelers did last year. The Browns will try to spread out the Steelers defense with their west coast style offense as has been done in the past, and could find success. McCoy may be able to move the ball, but the Steelers have to get in his face or he could get comfortable in the pocket.
Offensively other contributors' stats aren't so impressive, but that's due to their being a barrage of injuries and now they are starting to come back to health. That could mean bad things for the Steelers who almost got an early Christmas gift two weeks ago when the Browns took the Cincinnati Bengals down to the wire, but fell short. While the Browns have only beaten bad teams all year in the Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars, none of those teams have going for them what the Steelers do. That means this is the Browns biggest game of the season as its in primetime and it's very expected that they will try and give the Steelers everything they have. This is Cleveland's Super Bowl and beating the 9-3 Steelers on their home field prior to the playoffs starting would put the icing on the cake for the Browns miserable season.
The Steelers will need to come out and find offensive consistency and once again relay on all three phases. If the Steelers can make McCoy sweat in the pocket they should dominate the game defensively, but if that offense cannot find rhythm against one of the better defenses in the league, they could find themselves losing a bad game, when they are still trying to over take the Baltimore Ravens in the standings.
Remember the Browns beat the Steelers two years ago in December and even though this seems to be a better year for Pittsburgh than 2009, the fact is this is a divisional rivalry game. That means a 4-8 team will come to play and look to ruin the Steelers plans going forward.
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