The Cleveland Browns play host to the 4-6 Pittsburgh Steelers today at 1pm. The Steelers enter the contest winners of their last two games and sit second in the AFC North division standings.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, comes to Cleveland looking to add to his record against the Browns, which is an impressive 15-1. Roethlisberger has owned the Browns since his first career start against them and finds it personally satisfying, considering the Browns past on him with the sixth pick in the 2004 draft, selecting tight end Kellen Winslow instead.
For the Browns, they come into this game looking to change their fortunes against the Steelers and climb back into the division race. The Steelers have a very young and inexperienced offensive line, so one would think this dominating Browns front seven will break through and pressure “Big Ben” all day. If so, look for a positive outcome at the end of this one for the Brownies.
To learn a little more about what to expect from the Steelers this week, we contacted Dom DiTolla, co-editor from the Steelers fan site Nice Pick Cowher. Here is what Dom had to say about this year’s Steelers team. I hope you all enjoy his insight as much as I did.
Browns vs. Steelers Q&A with Nice Pick Cowher’s own Dom DiTolla
MR: What do you think attributed to the Steelers uninspired play the first 8 games of the season where they only managed to win two of their first eight games? Was the lack of a running game early a big part of the problem?
DT:Lack of talent on both sides of the ball coupled with poor execution on the field and poor coaching as well. The lack of a running game certainly didn’t help matters, but the fact that the offensive line could not pass-block or run-block on a consistent enough basis totally killed the offense. It was a perfect storm of all of these things which hurt the Steelers during their 2-6 start.
MR: The past two weeks we have heard rumors abound that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wanted to seek a trade after the 2013 season because he apparently didn’t like the direction the Steelers were headed in. He has since come
out and vehemently denied the rumor, saying it just wasn’t true. Was this just the media making something out of nothing, or do you believe there is some truth behind the rumors and he does feel that way?
DT: Only Ian Rapoport and Mike Silver know how “true” those rumors are. I for one think the front office will be in a salary-cap crunch for the next half decade, and it will be a tough task to restructure contracts to keep their franchise signal-caller. Yet “Big Ben” is the best quarterback the Steelers have had since Terry Bradshaw, and there is no way that they will let him get away though. I do believe that Roethlisberger has some issues with Todd Haley, and it probably wouldn’t make him sad to have extensive input on the new offensive coordinator they decide to hire if/when Haley is gone.
MR: The Steelers for as long as I can remember, have always had a dominating defense, at least since Dick Lebeau has been there running things. This year they lost a few key guys and the defense just doesn’t look that good. They currently rank 13th in the league and 26th out of 32 teams against the run. What do you attribute to the lack of defensive production this year? Is it the lack of personnel or an aging defense that needs an overhaul?
DT: Age and loss of personnel have killed them since guys like Aaron Smith, James Farrior, James Harrison, and Casey Hampton have left. Yet losing on first and second downs to the short passing game and on the ground have killed them during their 4-6 start. Already undermanned or aging at many positions, they are no longer the dominant unit they once were. I will say that the emergence of Cameron Heyward plus the solid play of Jason Worilds have been entertaining to watch though.
MR: Who would you say has been the most productive rookie for the Steelers thus far this year?
DT: Vince Williams would be my pick. Although he is usually taken out of nickel and sub-package situations, the rookie inside linebacker has done a solid job replacing Larry Foote this fall. He has racked up 34 tackles and wrestled the starting job away from Kion Wilson after Foote went down with his biceps injury. A tough and physical inside linebacker, Pittsburgh seems to have found another solid player to pair with Lawrence Timmons on the inside.
MR: In your opinion, what are the strengths and weaknesses of this Pittsburgh Steelers team?
DT: The team’s biggest strength is Roethlisberger. As illustrated by his AFC Offensive Player of the Week performance last Sunday, as he goes, the offense goes. If they want to get back into the postseason race, they must rely on the right arm of their talented signal-caller. The biggest weakness has to be the offensive line. Injuries and poor-play have ravaged the unit during their 4-6 start, and the lack of cohesiveness is definitely apparent. While David DeCastro has been a wonderful bright spot, the unit is still a makeshift mess when it has come to their collective ability to pass protect and run-block.
MR: In Cleveland, Steelers week is a huge event and there is so much emphasis on beating the Steelers. Before the
Browns moved, I know these games were looked upon the same way in Pittsburgh. At this point, would you say the Browns – Steelers rivalry is still strong in Pittsburgh, or are the two games against Baltimore every year the new Browns – Steelers rivalry for the fans of Pittsburgh?
DT: I hate to be a jerk, but the Ravens are the “new” Browns. The Steelers have posted a 24-5 record against Cleveland since the Browns “came back,” and for any rivalry to succeed, it has to be two sided. I know to many older fans the rivalry is still strong and hate-filled. Yet until the Browns start winning on a consistent basis, Baltimore will be Pittsburgh’s biggest AFC North rival.
MR: Finally, what are your expectation for the Steelers when they step on the field against the Browns on Sunday? Any final thoughts you’d like to leave us with? Prediction?
DT: If they put the ball in Roethlisberger’s hands and he receives decent pass-protection, the Steelers should be fine. While Joe Haden could cause problems for Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh has plenty of talented pass-catchers like Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, Markus Wheaton, Heath Miller, and even Le’Veon Bell to do damage in the passing game. If they try to stick with the run, then they could be in trouble by wasting possessions and allowing the Browns to hang around. Plus, Pittsburgh’s red zone issues (31st in td percentage) could really haunt them this weekend as well.
Cleveland would be best served to let their defense keep them in the game and try to keep “Big Ben” off the field as much as possible and take advantage of Pittsburgh’s suspect defense, Winning on first and second downs and extending drives will be key for Jason Campbell, and I cannot see him playing as bad as he did last weekend against the Bengals.
I actually think Cleveland will pull this game out in close fashion, especially since the Steelers are coming off of such a tiring and emotional win. This game could vault the Browns back into relevancy, and I can’t discount the Ray Horton “familiarity factor.”
I would love to thank Dom for taking the time to answer all of my questions. Please make sure to check back every week for the remainder of the season. We will attempt to check in with an editor or staff writer from the Browns opposing team each week until the season is over and get their insight on that week’s matchup.
-MR(@puckelves) instagram: Elves73