Nov 24, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) catches a touchdown pass against Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden (23) during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

Week 1 Preview: Pass Catchers Versus Defenders

For every Cleveland Browns game this year we will preview the game by looking at how specific units match-up. While it is fun to compare the teams wide receivers to each other, we are far more interested in how the Browns defensive backfield matches up with the opposing receivers.  We will look at the offensive lines versus the defensive front 7s, pass catchers against their defenders, both sides of the running game and the quarterbacks versus the defense as a whole. We start our Week 1 Preview here with Pass Catchers Versus Defenders:

Pittsburgh Pass Catchers

Receivers – Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Lance Moore

Tight End – Heath Miller

Running Back – Le’Veon Bell

Browns Defenders

Corners – Joe Haden, Justin Gilbert and Buster Skrine

Safeties – Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson

Linebackers – Karlos Dansby and Craig Robertson

The Steelers short, quick, timing passing game is buttressed by Big Ben’s ability to buy time with his legs and hit players down the field. Becomes the best of both worlds. Mike Pettine and Jim O’Neal’s defense matches up well with the short passing game, by pressing receivers at the line. If the Browns pass rush cannot get to Ben, the Browns could be in trouble.

The Steelers are expecting Haden to follow Brown all over the field. Haden is one of very few corners who excels at taking on the opposition’s best receiver. Wheaton is a first time starter and gives the Steelers a big receiver to go with their smaller set of pass catchers. Gilbert, with his size and speed, is a good match-up of young, big players. Skrine has struggled in coverage against bigger guys and will likely play mostly inside on 3 receiver sets. There he will match-up with Lance Moore, coming over from the Saints.

Dansby, Robertson and Christian Kirksey and safeties Whitner and Gipson will be matched up at different times with Ben’s favorite receiver in tight end Miller. Miller presents a redzone and seam threat that could threaten the integrity of the Browns defense. The same group will be matched up with the backs in the passing game. Neither Bell or LaGarrette Blount are historically great pass catchers. The Steelers tend to try to break patterns against their rivals, and a well-timed screen or dump off could create issues for the defense.

Advantage – Browns – The Browns have an advantage on the back end of their defense. While the Steelers passing game has been good for the past couple of years, the constant defection of talent (Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders) has drained the talent depth. Brown will likely get a few catches, and could burn Haden on a double move, while Miller will present a unique threat. Beyond that the Browns should be able to contain the pass catchers giving the pass rush time to bring down Big Ben.

Cleveland Pass Catchers

Receivers – Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins and Travis Benjamin

Tight End – Jordan Cameron

Running Back – Ben Tate

Steelers Defenders

Corners – Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen and William Gay

Safeties – Mike Mitchell and Troy Polamalu

Linebackers – Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons

The Browns have an interesting receiving corp and not in a great way. Austin is a solid veteran with good route running and good hands. Hawkins can cause problems in short area of the field but struggles to get off press coverage. The physical nature of the Steelers defense could also cause issues for him. Benjamin is built like an inside receiver but runs routes as an outside guy. He isn’t a great route runner or in space like Hawkins but can take the top off the defense as well as being a part of creative offenses.

Cameron had his break out season last year and is set to continue his development. The Steelers will likely shade a lot of their coverage attention towards Cameron which could open up the outside of the field. Kyle Shanahan often likes to set his receivers close to the line to work inside out. Cameron will be bunched in here, which could allow him release through picks and receiver alignment.

Tate has been a solid, if unspectacular, pass catcher out of the backfield in his limited role with the Texans. The Browns have struggled to run screen passes for year but if Tate can be an available for 1 or 2 big screen plays as well as a couple dump offs it could help take the pressure off Brian Hoyer.

The Steelers defense is aging and in transition. Taylor has been bad for the past couple years covering players with size and speed but won’t be challenged by a receiver that can take advantage of that. Gay plays well in the slot and the Steelers are high on the upside of Allen. While their secondary isn’t great they should be able to keep the Browns in check. The one area the Browns could beat the Steelers is with some deep throws. Whether it is Benjamin or newly signed LaRon Byrd, the Browns need to take a couple deep shots to take advantage of Polamalu’s limited coverage skills at his advanced age.

Taking out Cameron with a linebacker underneath and a safety over the top seems like a solid plan. Even sometimes employing a corner as a part of coverage would work to bracket him. Cameron’s size and speed make him a match-up nightmare for any of those positions. Cameron should still have a solid game and the attention he commands will help the other receivers get open.

Tate will get covered by a number of players as well including ex-OSU star Shazier. Shazier and Timmons both have great closing speed and coverage ability that could make it tough for Cameron and Tate to get free to make plays.

Advantage – Steelers – With the limited threats on the outside the Steelers, even with their weak secondary, still have an advantage with Shazier and Timmons on the inside. The Browns weakness matches the Steelers weakness and their strengths match-up as well. If the Browns can get a big play or two it could loosen up the coverage and help the team.

Overall – 1 – 1 – So far in our preview the teams are tied with each having the defensive advantage going into Sunday’s game. We will continue to look at the rest of the units and see what type of prediction they will help lead us to.

Do you agree or disagree with who we assign advantages to?

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