Friday, November 23, 2012

Walking Wounded: Steelers at Browns Preview

I picked the Steelers in this week's Pick Em because I think that they have just enough to beat the Browns.  I don't think it's going to be a blowout.  I think it's going to be a close, ugly game, though I don't know that it's going to be low scoring.  It has all the hallmarks of a game that should be low scoring, so that's probably why it won't be.

The Browns are better and they are headed in the right direction, but they're still a bad team.  They have a rookie quarterback and Dick LeBeau tends to destroy rookie quarterbacks (see: Griffin, Robert III).  Charlie Batch isn't great and his arm belongs in the Smithsonian, but the one thing he can still do is start a game or two and beat bad teams.  He did it last year when the Steelers needed a win over the hapless Rams and I think he can do it again this year.

He'll take care of the ball, Todd Haley will call a conservative game on offense, and the defense should be able to confuse and confound Brandon Weeden enough that Cleveland won't be able to run away with the game.

Now, the big thing that concerns me is Trent Richardson.  He's finally healthy -- he had a rib issue for a number games earlier in the season, but didn't miss any time -- he runs hard, and he can catch passes out of the backfield.  He's basically a bigger, slower Ray Rice.  The Steelers were able to mostly contain Rice on Sunday night and I think they'll be able to do the same against Richardson.  They just need to make sure that they wrap him up and bring him to the ground.  The tackling has been superb thus far this season, but Richardson is incredibly difficult to bring down.  He has live feet and a powerful upper body, so arm tackles aren't going to cut it.  They need to square up and fire into his mid-section, otherwise he's going to bounce off defenders and make this game a nightmare to watch.

Since I didn't write a review of the loss to the hated Ravens, I'm going to add a few personnel notes in here.

First of all, if Leftwich hurt his ribs in the first quarter and was ineffective -- and he was -- then Batch needs to go into the game.  They have Batch on the roster to go into the game in emergency situations like that.  That's the whole reason to have him on the team.  If you don't trust him to go into that situation, then don't have him on the roster.  If you don't trust him to back up Leftwich when Ben Roethlisberger is hurt, don't have him on the roster.  They signed Brian Hoyer earlier this week.  Hoyer was Tom Brady's back up in New England for the past three seasons, but they eventually lost faith in him and cut him on August 31st.  He's been available since that date.  If they didn't trust Batch to come in and Hoyer was available before the Baltimore game, why didn't they just sign him last week?  Why not sign him, then he has another week of practice under his belt and can potentially start against the Browns this week?

Ultimately, I blame Mike Tomlin for the loss against Baltimore.  He kept an injured Leftwich in the game when Batch couldn't have been any worse.  Then he claimed that Leftwich got hurt at some point in the fourth quarter, not the first quarter.  But... if Tomlin knew that Leftwich got hurt at some point during the game, why was he still in there to skip the ball 30 yards to Mike Wallace when Wallace was 50 yards away.  Batch couldn't have made that throw, either, but Leftwich also shouldn't have been in the position to need to make that throw.

Then you have the fact that they called two timeouts in the red zone to set up a really complicated passing play on third and two that ended up failing.  If they scored there, I can't guarantee that they would've won, but they would've at least had the lead.  You don't need to call two timeouts to know to hand the ball to Jonathan Dwyer (or Rashard Mendenhall) twice.  If the staff didn't trust Leftwich in that situation and needed to make sure they had just the right play called, then they should've played it safe and just handed the ball off.

I have a severe man-crush on Tomlin and I can't stay mad at him, but I have to say Sunday night's loss is on him.  Obviously, we need to continue to evaluate and press on.  Hopefully, we can stack some wins.  It's a process.

Oh, hey, Plax is back in town!  I think he can help out in the red zone, but that's about it.  Given the fact that he's only valuable in the red zone and opponents know this, that means they're going to take him away in the only situation where he's valuable.  Maybe that will open things up for the other guys -- like Heath and Paulson especially -- but I don't think that adds enough value to the team to offset all the negatives that Plax brings to the table.  When word came out that they signed Burress, a co-worker of mine IMed me and asked me what I thought about it.  I said, "I think it's great.  An old head case that gets hurt easily is exactly what this team needs."  Even though it was in text, he was able to pick up on the sarcasm.

Overall, this has been a very negative post, but I do believe there is a silver lining.  This is a team that excels in the face of adversity.  They play their best when their backs are against the wall and they feel as though nobody believes in them.  At that point, they circle the wagons and they trust the other guys in the locker room.  Tomlin is also at his best in these kinds of situations.

I think they can use that motivation to beat the Browns and possibly beat the Ravens.  They only need 3 or 4 more wins to secure a playoff spot, but the division title is probably out of reach at this point.  I think the season is far from over and I think there's a real possibility that they could get on a little roll, just in time for Roethlisberger or Leftwich to come back and lead them in the playoffs.

For this week, I say they win, but it isn't pretty.

Steelers 21, Browns 17

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