Every year, being a Browns fan you look forward to the two games against the Steelers. As the last several years has shown, the once storied rivalry has taken on less meaning because the Browns just haven't been good enough to compete. About a month ago, you might of looked at tomorrows matchup against the Steelers and thought that their would be no chance. But things have changed. The Steelers have now lost 4 games in a row, and appear to be on a downward spiral that no expert could of predicted.
Coming into this season, we knew the Browns wouldn't be great, but we didn't expect to be 1-11 at this point either. A lot can be contributed to the lack of talent and the tough schedule. Last month I was looking ahead at this game and was getting sick at the thought of how bad of a game it was gonna be. But since then, our offense has showed signs of life and it's actually injected some hope into me that we can salvage this season with a few more wins.
Judging by the way this season has unfolded to this point, I had little hope that we would win this game tomorrow. But as I stated, things have changed and their is a little glimmer of hope.
Thursday nights game could be the coldest game ever in the history of this rivalry. It is predicted to be 18 degrees and snowing at the 8pm kickoff and -3 below zero with the wind chill factored in. This gives us an opportunity to pull out a win that many experts wouldn't expect us to get.
Now I realize in a game like this, it's gonna be a run happy ordeal, and facing the Steelers run defense is never fun. But after our first matchup with the Steelers, we proved that we could run the ball from the Wildcat. I expect to see a lot of Wildcat, and screen type passes to keep that defense guessing. Every opportunity we get to put points on the board we have to cash in on, and we have to stop Pittsburghs run.
Their are a few key injuries in Pittsburgh that really help as well. Troy Polamalu will not be in this game, which helps in run, but helps extremely well in the passing game. I realize we won't be passing a lot, but when we do, it's refreshing to know that Polamalu isn't lurking around the secondary. As you recall, it was Polamalu who made the interception early in our first game to stop us from scoring.
Another big injury for the Steelers is wide receiver Hines Ward. Ward pulled his hamstring in the Raiders game and is listed as doubtful for tomorrows game. Granted with the wind and snow, the passing game won't be a big option, it's nice that Ward might not be in the game for several reasons, but the most important aspect of the game that gets hindered is his ability to block in the run game. He's one of the better blocking receivers in the league, and his absence goes a long ways in holding the Steelers to a modest rushing day.
The other player listed on the injury report is Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall, a 2008 1st round pick, has the size and speed to punish any defense. He is their big back, and the guy that would be relied on heavily for the Steelers to move the chains in such weather conditions. Their is a decent chance that Mendenhall will play, but he won't be 100%. Willie Parker is not a big enough back to pound the rock play after play, and has a past of fumbling the ball.
Those key injuries are another reason that we have a really good chance of winning this game.
The biggest impact of this game will be special teams. Joshua Cribbs is one of the best kick returners in the league and can take any kick back for a touchdown. Factor that in with the Steelers horrendous special teams unit, and it has big day written all over it. It appears that every team that the Steelers face return a kick on them, and these special teams units aren't near as good as the Browns. Joshua Cribbs should be able to score us atleast 1 return touchdown, and get us in field goal range on nearly every return. With the weather what it is, Joshua Cribbs could be the deciding factor. I can't see either offense moving the ball very well, but Roethlisberger does have a cannon, so he's not as effected by the wind, but I feel they'll rely heavily on the running game.
Evan Moore, the TE we picked up off of the Packers practice squad showed signs of being the receiving tightend we've lacked all year. His presence alone gives Quinn another outlet and a guy to keep the Steelers from stacking the box in fear that he'll burn them. He is going to be huge for our offense moving forward, and could be a crucial part of our run success.
If we can successfully run the ball we will win the game. Cribbs will keep us around scoring range all day and the wildcat could prove to be the final blow on the Steelers. The weather though will be the deciding factor. With the wind and snow coming all day long, Roethlisberger most likely won't be able to cut it loose like he has been all season. With a secondary as bad as ours is, that is always a plus.
Prediction: Browns 13, Steelers 7