Cleveland Browns fans might need to root for Pittsburgh during Thanksgiving
Cleveland Browns fans are faced with a dilemma on Thanksgiving, as by far the best game involves the Browns two fiercest rivals — the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens — with playoff implications on the line. This sounds horrible when it comes to rooting interests for Cleveland fans, but it actually is a no-brainer.
There’s no way to catch 10-0 Pittsburgh, but the Ravens would have five losses if Pittsburgh knocks them off, meaning that the Browns can open up a two-game lead if they manage to beat Jacksonville on Sunday. That’s absolutely insane considering how the Ravens pasted the Browns in the opening game this season.
Maybe it’s too early to think about the Browns making the playoffs, but is it okay to talk about wanting the Ravens to miss the playoffs? There’s a great chance that they will miss the playoffs if they post a loss against the Steelers, especially if the Browns can beat them at home next December 14.
It might be tough to root for the Steelers. It’s totally against the nature of the Browns fan to do so. That Thanksgiving turkey just may not set well in our stomachs. Well, you don’t have to root for the Steelers to win. Just root for the Ravens to lose, and to look bad in the process. Can you accept that proposition? Or, maybe a meteor strike on Heinz field would be a suitable outcome.
The Browns need to play both teams again this season, so it’s worth watching to see how they game plan each other.
Baltimore is similar to Cleveland in that they are a run-first offense. However, their first strike attackers are down for this game. Running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram II have been ruled out of the Thanksgiving Day game after testing positive for COVID-19 and have been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, as reported by Daniel Oyefusi of the Baltimore Sun.
That may place more of a burden on the passing game, which is not necessarily the strong suit of the Ravens. Lamar Jackson is the best dual-threat quarterback ever, in this writer’s estimation. He has always been greatly underestimated by his critics. He’s good enough to make All-Pro at more than one position, including running back, wide receiver, or defensive back. What people forget is that he is still only 23-years old, the same age as Joe Burrow and he is still developing as a passer. He’s two years behind Baker Mayfield in that sense. He’s absolutely deadly as a running threat which sets up passing situations that other quarterbacks do not have.
This writer has been on record since Jackson’s rookie season, calling him the greatest dual-threat quarterback in the history of the NFL, which was arrived at because he did more in one season in college than Michael Vick did in his college career; plus Jackson is just as fast and can run inside as well as outside.
A Baltimore fan took offense at that remark, claiming that I had impugned Jackson’s passing ability. My response was that if the worst insult he gets in his career is that a Cleveland sportswriter called him the greatest dual-threat quarterback in the history of the NFL, that’s actually not too bad.
So how is Pittsburgh going to game plan the Ravens? The Steelers are very tough up front with linemen Tyson Alualu, Stephon Tuitt, Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt, and Bud Dupree plugging up the running lanes and disrupting the pocket.
Baltimore is operating without former Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram. Defensive coordinators have had more success in taking away the run or at least slowing it down this season. Last season, Ingram and Jackson both ran for 1,000 yards, and the entire team rushed for over 3,000 yards. Ingram has been slowed by injuries this season, and Dobbins looks like he may evolve into a beast. But without both of them, the Ravens will rely on Gus Edwards who had 711 rushing yards last season and could easily do it again if he gets the carries. His career rushing average is 5.1 yards per carry, but this season he is averaging 4.4 yards per carry, which is good but not great.
Jackson is averaging 5.6 yards per carry, which is human. Last season, he averaged 6.9 yards per carry. There are Asgardian deities, Thor included, who do not average 6.9 yards per carry. In other words, defensive coordinators are finding ways to slow down the Ravens running game.
It didn’t help that the Ravens had to place offensive linemen Ronnie Stanley and Tyre Phillips on IR this season. Nevertheless, look for the Steelers to still try to play the run and force Jackson to beat them by throwing the football.
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is not your father’s Steelers. You may suppose that the Steelers are a running team and that Ben Roethlisberger is an old immobile quarterback, but that is false reasoning. They have fast receivers in new star Chase Claypool, James Washington, Diontae Johnson, and JuJu Smith-Schuster — and Roethlisberger is going to put the ball in the air early and often. He isn’t that elusive, but he still enjoys dragging defensive linemen around while looking for an open receiver. They pass 69.8 percent of the time on average, according to TeamRankings.com.
James Connor is on target for 1,000 yards rushing this season or close to it, but these Steelers would rather throw than run.
Baltimore is ranked 16th against the run this season in terms of rushing yardage allowed. Last season they were fifth. That’s a huge difference. They’re ranked seventh versus the pass. The Steelers defense is third versus the pass, and seventh versus the run.