Hritz: Steelers Versus Browns Preview & Prediction

By Jeremy Hritz

Hritz 2012 Prediction Record: 7-3

RANKINGS Pittsburgh Cleveland
Offense 17th (349.6) 28th (311.9)
Rushing 18th (106.8) 27th (92.2)
Passing 14th (242.8) 21st (219.7)
PPG 20th (21.7) 25th (18.9)
Defense 1st (259.1) 23rd (374.1)
Rushing 5th (89.8) 24th (125.3)
Passing 1st (169.3) 22nd (248.8)
PPG 4th (19) 16th (23.4)

The loss to the Baltimore Ravens still stings nearly one week later, but what would sting worse would be another loss this week to a divisional opponent in the Cleveland Browns. The Browns suddenly are the national media’s “team on the verge,” despite their 2-8 record, and the majority of the game previews are forecasting the Browns upsetting the Pittsburgh Steelers in Cleveland for their third win. While the Browns have been competitive this year, make no mistake, they are still not a good team, not matter what angle you look at it from. They are led by a 29 year-old rookie quarterback, who has flashed at times, but still has thrown 12 interceptions, and a promising running back in the physical Trent Richardson who has been good but not great, averaging 3.7 yards per carry.

The Browns took the Dallas Cowboys down to the wire last week in Dallas, but fell short in overtime 23-20, and that performance spurred a trendy optimism about the future of the Browns, especially in their upcoming contest against the Steelers (see Elliot Harrison on who has picked the Browns to upset the Steelers 20-14). There is no question that the Pittsburgh offense is in a bit of a funk without Big Daddy Ben Roethlisberger, and there is some ambiguity regarding the type of performance that Charlie Batch will put on display. Not much will be expected from the offense this week, though they will have to contribute more than the 10 points they scored last week.

The key statistic that nobody has referred to this week, surprisingly, is Dick LeBeau’s record against rookie quarterbacks, which climbed to 15-1 after taking down Robert Griffin III earlier this season. In the end, the recent stellar play of the defense will be all that the Steelers need to not only get a road win, but a divisional win that can keep their miniscule AFC North Championship dreams alive.

The Steelers Will Win This Game If…

The Steelers defense makes Brandon Weeden look like a rookie, and if the special teams return units can prevent scores.

LeBeau’s defenses excel when playing against rookie quarterbacks. Couple that with the outstanding play of the defense over the past five weeks, and the Steelers look primed to put together another staggering performance. Though not producing turnovers as they would like to, the defense has rendered offenses ineffective, as the Ravens, who entering last week’s game were number four overall offensively in scoring, only put together six points. If the Steelers can put together a multiple turnover game in addition to holding the Browns to minimal yardage, this game could turn into a rout.

If it wasn’t for the punt return for a touchdown last week, the Steelers would have won the game 10-6, and we would be talking about the 7-3 Steelers taking on the 2-8 Browns. If the Steelers have breakdowns on their special teams return units against the Browns, next week we will be discussing the 6-5 Steelers heading into Baltimore. Joshua Cribbs has been a bane in the existence of the Steelers, and if he breaks a punt or kick return for a score, given the Steelers offensive struggles, it may be too much to overcome.

The Browns Will Win If…

Richardson has his way with the Steelers defense, and if Cribbs has a successful day returning kicks.

The Steelers defense was excellent last week in shutting down Ray Rice, and there is no reason to believe they will be otherwise this week in Cleveland. However, as we have seen from time to time this year, the Steelers defense has been susceptible to the run. Richardson has gone over the 100 yard mark only three times this year, but he is powerful runner that can also make the catch out of the backfield. Richardson’s carries have increased over the last three games, as he has averaged over 24 carries and 107 yards. If the Browns want to win, Richardson has to be productive.

And again, if the Browns can get a special teams score, they will be in great position for a win. No need on continuing to bang the Cribbs’ drum. If they can hold him without a touchdown, there will be no dead Indians come Sunday.

Final Prediction

While picking the Browns this weekend may be the “cool” thing to do, it is irrational and insensible. To bet against a LeBeau defense against a rookie quarterback, not to mention a defense that has slowly been gaining momentum, is foolish. The Steelers don’t need much production from Batch and the offense, yet in the end, turnovers created by the league’s best defense will result in favorable field position and subsequent short drives for scores. It will be interesting to see if Batch throws the fade to Plaxico Burress in his first game back.

In the end, the Browns will do no better than field goals. Steelers win.

Steelers 19 Browns 12

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