It’s the National Football League’s biggest revenge game of the year as the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) face the Cleveland Browns (5-6) in Helmetgate 2.0.
Certainly, the question of “Quien is mas macho?” will be answered in the anticipated showdown, but the rematch is even more significant because the result will have huge wildcard implications.
Currently, the Steelers are clinging onto the last playoff spot by a threadbare thread, and another AFC loss could leave them on the outside looking in for the remainder of the year. The Browns, despite resurging on a three game win streak, are just one loss away from effectively being eliminated from postseason play.
The Steelers once highly-vaunted offense will feature a veritable Who’s Who of players by the names of Devlin Hodges, Benny Snell, Deon Cain and Kerrith Whyte.
A Who’s Who as in…who the heck are they?
Yes, roster leftovers will be served by the Steelers during this Thanksgiving week as injuries and superstar defections have stripped this offense down to the wishbones.
Still, thanks to Pittsburgh’s ascending defense, the offense only needs to offer a little gravy in order to win this year.
And, if it looks like a win, and it walks like a win and it quacks like a win…who cares who’s in the starting line-up?
Even if the offense is quarterbacked by a non-drafted player who goes by the name of Duck.
Could this be the start of a new duck dynasty in Pittsburgh? Let’s give it a Spin.
The Case For Mason
Talk about a wicked change of the winds for young Mason Rudolph. There he was, riding a streak of wins as the replacement for injured Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The next thing he knew, he’s getting whacked on the head by his own helmet, accused of uttering racist slanders (which has been widely disproven) and then, insult upon injury, last week he gets yanked in the middle of a game against an abysmal 0-10 opponent.
Yes. It’s been that bad of a month for Rudolph. Which is exactly why, the right thing for coaches to do is to give him the start against the Browns.
Because, when it comes to a desire for revenge against Cleveland, no one is more deserving of that opportunity than the young quarterback from Oklahoma.
The Case For The Duck
Yet, the fans love them their Duck. As in, Devlin Hodges. Since the preseason, he’s made the most out of his limited opportunities and in the process he’s been able to win over many of the hearts of Steelers Nation.
There is a swagger to Hodges that makes him an attractive choice. I guess you’ve got to have ice in your veins to be a championship duck caller.
Of course, no one is more beloved than the back-up quarterback in Pittsburgh. Hodges might learn that lesson in short order in front of what will be a very impatient home crowd.
All it will take is an errant duck or two to the wrong uniform and the quarterback-fickle Steelers fans will be calling Mason’s name again as they join in a hearty chorus of “I’m Proud To Be An Okie From Muskogee”.
What’s The Call Coach?
Personally, I’d love to toss the keys to Mason and let him take offense for a good ride against the Browns. He lost more than his helmet on the field against the Browns a couple of weeks ago.The guy’s been abused and wrongfully slandered and his best chance of redemption is on the field of glory.
Nothing would restore his dignity better than slicing up the Browns secondary and it’s professional cruelty if he’s denied that opportunity.
Yet, the truth is, Mason’s been more wound up than a Swiss watch the past few games and there is no reason to believe that he wouldn’t be knotted up like a braided pretzel with all of the pressure of this game. It’s too important of a matchup, making it too big of a risk to give him a start just for the purpose of personal redemption.
Currently, it’s Duck who has the coolest hand and the confidence of his team and that gives the Steelers the best chance of winning this critical game.
Room For Improvement
It’s clearly been a banner year for the Steelers defense and their growth continues as the season progresses.
Still, there is some glaring room for improvement on the roster. For starts, why is it that almost every time there is a bad play on defense, Terrell Edmunds is close to the scene of the crime?
The addition of Minkah Fitzpatrick has not only resulted in a significant improvement in the secondary, but his arrival has also drawn a stark contrast between his play and that of the first round draft pick Edmunds. With if both safeties were playing at that level?
People around the league are saying the Steelers need to draft a cornerback or edge rusher next year, but if they can retain Bud Dupree, I’d say they are in need of a better dance partner for Fitzpatrick.
Another opportunity to greatly improve this defense would be to find a run stopping, imposing linebacker who was equally capable of covering tight ends.The Steelers scouts need to find us a young Levon Kirkland.
The Butler Did It
Keith Butler was a great linebackers coach for the Steelers and then he got Peter Principled into the defensive coordinator position where we can all safely say…he struggled in the role for several years.
But, it’s equally fair to say he’s grown into the position and should be credited now as a team strength. There are several coaches who should be polishing up their resumes, but Butler is not one of them.
Yes, he’s benefited from an infusion of impressive players like Fitzpatrick and Devin Bush, but his older players are being developed to a higher level as well. Several of his defenders are playing the best football of their careers, including Dupree, Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave, Mike Hilton and Stephon Tuitt (before he went down in injury).
Give him props. The Butler did it.
It Comes Down To This
As strong as this Steelers defense has been, there is no way this team will be competitive against the upper echelon of teams in the league without making major improvements in offensive play.
Whether it ends up being Hodges or Rudolph at the quarterback position, it’s pretty clear by this point that neither of those two have the goods or experience to single-handedly turn this offense around. These two are not Chief Executive Officers like Big Ben, they are at best middle managers, at least at this point in their young careers.
There also aren’t any rookie equivalents of a Randy Moss or Saquon Barkley at the non-quarterback positions who are going to be able to lift this offense on their shoulders.
Which means, the only hope for the Steelers offense to contribute significantly to the team’s post-season aspirations is if the men in the center of it all start playing to their potential.
Like it or not, this offensive line is currently the team’s most lethal weapon. Unfortunately, they’ve also been this year’s greatest disappointment.
If they can somehow figure out how to protect their young quarterbacks and open holes for their inexperienced running backs, this team can make a run.
The Steelers offensive line was embarrassingly manhandled by the Browns the last time these two teams faced each other. If you want to see if Pittsburgh has a legitimate chance or finding success in the playoffs, look no further than the trenches this game.
Sunday’s Secret To Success
As tempting as it will be for the Steelers to turn this into a World Wrestling Federation match and get lost in a knock out, drag down slugfest with the Browns, what they really need to do is focus on the win.
It won’t be haymakers and helmet swings that will determine the outcome of this game, and with it, potential post-season hopes.
Instead, the team that plays the most disciplined, quality football will be the one that earns the victory.
And that’s how the Steelers will be able to exact…true revenge.