Pittsburgh Steelers Face Must-Win in Turnpike Bowl
During his post-Super Bowl press conference, Coach Mike Tomlin stated, “There will be a new 53 men. A lot of the faces will be the same. But nothing stays the same in this game.”
That statement could not be truer considering the first quarter results.
After five games, Steelers rank 14th in total offense, and 16th in total defense compared to last year overall stats of 20th in total offense, No. 1 in total defense.
There is definitely a change in the style of play, devoting more to the pass and putting more of the burden on the shoulders of QB Ben Roethlisberger.
Although the Steelers won 28-20 against the Detroit Lions Sunday, there are concerns over the lack of offense in the second half.
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians confessed that he “got a little greedy” with the passing game last week.
Arians chose to call more passing plays than running games even though RB Rashard Mendenhall was averaging five yards per carry.
Against a defense ranked 21st against the rush; allowing 113.4 rush yards per game, it makes you wonder why Arians would choose the pass over the run.
Detroit offense controlled the clock in the second half using up a little over 20 minutes.
On the final drive, the Lions closed in on an attempt to tie the game.
In a late surge, a defense that allowed 282 net passing yards and 20 points, broke out with the blitz and sacked Culpepper four times, three in a row, of their seven for the day for the win.
Now the 3-2 Steelers prepare to face a division opponent, the Cleveland Browns.
Although, the Browns are not really considered the fierce rival it once was, this is a “must-win” for the Steelers as they attempt to secure their first division win after losing to Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago.
The 1-4 Browns secured their first victory of the season with 6-3 win over the Buffalo Bills last Sunday.
The Browns strength is on the running game.
Against the Bills, the Browns gained a season high 171 yards rushing, 117 of those yards earned by RB Jamal Lewis.
He and newcomer Jerome Harrison have each gained at least a 100 yards rushing. Harrison had 100 against Cincinnati.
Harrison may see more carries Sunday, as Lewis is listed questionable for Sunday with a hamstring.
Ranked No. 2 in rush defense, the Steelers have not allowed a 100 yard rusher so far this season.
The Steelers must brace for the challenge as the “lead run stuffer” is out of commission.
DE Aaron Smith is listed on “injured reserve” with a torn rotator cuff of the right shoulder.
The Steelers believe the Browns will run Jamal Lewis and test the left side of the defense with Smith being out for the season.
In Smith's absence, DE Travis Kirschke, Nick Eason, and rookie Ziggy Hood will share the workload.
In addition, they were able to sign their sixth-round draft pick last April, defensive end Ra’Shon “Sunny” Harris.
Picked off Carolina's practice squad, Harris will also be used to replace Smith on the roster.
Replacing the beleaguered Brady Quinn, QB Derek Anderson finished with 2 completions from 17 attempts for 23 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception against the Bills.
Eight or nine of those pass attempts were dropped by his receiving corps.
The Browns passing game has to depend upon on young, inexperienced receiving corps with WR Mohammed Massaquoi and Brian Robiske.
During the off-season, Browns’ traded sixth overall pick in the 2004 draft TE Kellen Winslow to Tampa Bay, and earlier this week traded their 2005 first round pick WR Braylon Edwards to the New York Jets for a LB, two picks, and WR Chansi Stuckey.
The Steelers will still have to content with WR Josh Cribbs who is dangerous in his own right especially on special teams.
Defensively, the Browns rank 10th in pass defense (209.8 yd/g.).
With quality receivers in Terrell Owens and Lee Evans, the Bill struggled against the Browns defense, throwing 31 passes and gaining 152 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.
However, the Browns have been plagued with numerous injuries especially key on defense.
For example DT Shaun Rogers (foot), LB D’Qwell Jackson (hamstring), DB Gerard Lawson (groin) are all questionable for Sunday’s game against the Steelers.
Roethlisberger has received good protection from his line and had his best day of the season, completing 23 of 30 for 277 yards, three touchdowns and a 123.9 passer rating.
Roethlisberger was sacked three times; two of them coverage sacks and he threw one interception.
The Steelers are still manned by a stellar receiving corps with WR Hines Ward ranked fourth in the NFL (33 catches for 440 yards), Santonio Holmes ranked 14th (23 catches for 334 yards), rookie Mike Williams (16 catches for 246 yards) and RB Mewelde Moore (14 for 100 yards).
The Browns are not able to stop the run.
Ranked 32nd in the NFL, the Browns allow 170.4 yards per game rushing.
However, health has thinned out the running backs once again.
Our leading rusher RB Rashard Mendenhall has come down with an illness and may not be in the position to start.
He is expected to be at practice and will be monitored day-to day.
In the meantime, RB Willie Parker who was out two weeks due to turf toe practiced Thursday and is expected to start if Mendenhall is unable.
Thus far, Mendenhall has amasses 287 yards on 51 carries for 3 touchdowns with an average 5.6 yards per carry.
The Steelers pass defense (219.6 yd/g) allowed Daunte Culpepper to sit back and throw and scramble and make third-down conversions at the rate of 11-of-18.
Ranked 14th in pass defense, the Steeler will get some help sorely needed in the secondary as SS Troy Polamalu returns from a sprained MCL of the knee.
CB Keiwan Ratliff, who has been playing in the nickel defense lately, will get bumped as CB Deshea Townsend moves back into that job with the return of Polamalu.
On Special teams’ Browns punter Dave Zastudil had an unbelievable game with seven punts downed inside the 20 and three downed inside the five.
Kicker Billy Cundiff who has filled in for Phil Dawson, scored all the Browns points in Buffalo, and kicked the game-winning field goal with 23 seconds left.
Steelers kick/punt returner Stephan Logan's 47-yard kickoff return started a 52-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter against the Detroit Lions.
Jeff Reed had the day off and tried no field goals, while punter Daniel Sepulveda averaged 48.5, 43.3 net with one of his four punts inside the 20. The Lions had no returns.
Matchups to Watch
OT Joe Thomas vs LB James Harrison
G Eric Steinbach vs DE Brett Keisel
QB Derek Anderson vs SS Troy Polamalu
The Steelers have won the last 11 meetings and 18 of the 21, since the Browns re-entered the NFL in 1999, including playoffs.
The Steelers have won the last five at home.
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