Does it matter if the Steelers rest their stars vs. the Browns?
By Thomas Moore
The Cleveland Browns may face a Pittsburgh Steelers team resting its stars. But will that be enough to make a difference?
The Cleveland Browns are down to their final chance on Sunday.
When the Browns take the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, it will represent the final opportunity to pick up a win in 2017 and avoid joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams in NFL history to finish at 0-16.
The Browns, at least in theory, may be catching a break as Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is expected to have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Le’Veon Bell join wide receiver Antonio Brown on the sidelines for the game.
That would seem to give the Browns an edge, but does it really?
Brown was not going to play anyway as he is still recovering from a partially torn calf muscle. As for Bell, the last time the two teams met, back in Week 1, the Browns gave a preview of their improved run defense by holding Bell to just 32 rushing yards, his lowest output of the season.
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Roethlisberger is another story, of course, as he has liked nothing more than torturing the Browns as he had led the Steelers to a win in 22 of the 24 times he has faced the Browns. And it is not as if the Browns fared well last year against backup quarterback Landry Jones, who threw for three touchdowns in leading the Steelers to an overtime win against the Browns in the season finale.
Any advantage the Browns may get from not facing Bell, Roethlisberger and Bell are offset, of course, by the fact that they are led by head coach Hue Jackson, who has the worst two-year record of any head coach in NFL history.
There is also the matter of Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer’s continued struggles, especially when facing a zone defense. According to Pro Football Focus, Kizer’s passer rating when facing a zone defense has improved enough in recent weeks that he has gone from horrific (53.9 rating) to semi-respectable (81.8).
The Steelers play a zone defense 82 percent of the time, the highest percentage in the league, so even with Kizer’s modest bump in production that is not a matchup that favors the Browns.
The Browns also the league’s lowest-scoring offense, averaging just 14 points a game, while the Steelers are giving up just 18.9 points per game, the fifth-best mark in the league.
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So even though the Browns will be facing a Pittsburgh team without its three best offensive players, there simply may not be enough the Browns can do on offense to make the Steelers pay for not playing their starters.