Friday, October 26, 2018

Steelers not fit to be tied

 The last time the Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers hooked up in early September, the teams played to a 21-21 standoff in the 2018 season opener in Cleveland.

The Browns, who hauled a 17-game losing streak into the contest, treated it as though it was a victory. At least they didn’t lose their 18th straight game.

The Steelers, on the other hand, treated it like a loss. Why? Because whenever these former bitter rivals get together twice a season since the 1999 resurrection, no matter the site, the Steelers s win nearly every time. Tying is not an option. It is not winning.

Since the return, the teams have played 40 times. The Browns have won six. The deadlock was the first in this long-time series.

So who could blame the Steelers for feeling bitterly disappointed? They sacked Cleveland quarterback Tyrod Taylor seven times. Running back James Conner, filling in for Le’Veon Bell, who still hasn’t reported, gouged out 135 yards on the ground and scored twice.

However, the Steelers were charitable visitors, coughing up the football a ridiculous six times. Even more ridiculous, the Browns were equally charitable, turning those takeaways into just seven points.

If it weren’t for a 14-point fourth-quarter comeback by the Browns, Zane Gonzalez would not have had the opportunity to have his game-winning 43-yard field goal attempt blocked by Steelers linebacker T. J. Watt with seconds remaining in OT.

Most athletes and coaches have long memories and I wouldn’t put it past Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to circle Oct. 28, this Sunday, on the club’s schedule as a reminder that the Browns are coming to town.

You can bet with a large degree of assurance that Tomlin’s message this week revolves around that tie, a game the Steelers tried to give away and were fortunate to escape without an actual loss.

Browns coach Hue Jackson most likely is preaching the same sermon, although he probably approaches it from the standpoint that the Browns this time have a chance to finish the job even though it will be tougher playing in a hostile venue.

They drag a couple of losing streaks into this one, having lost 14 in a row in Pittsburgh, dating back to 2004, and 24 straight on the road, dating back to Oct. 11, 2015. Remember the 33-30 overtime victory in Baltimore? Didn’t think so.

The last time these teams met, Baker Mayfield watched as Taylor got beat up and Nick Chubb watched Carlos Hyde begin what turned out to be an all too brief career in Cleveland. And Damion Ratley watched Josh Gordon catch a touchdown pass in his last game with the Browns.

These rookies are now key parts of a Cleveland offense that has struggled the last three games. It will be interesting to see whether the Steelers change their defensive schemes with the new personnel.

If they have been watching game tape on Mayfield, they probably noticed he has been sacked 15 times in the last three games, primarily because he had problems with a leaky offensive line and and holding on to the football too long because he had trouble finding open receivers.

That’s almost like throwing raw meat at the very aggressive Pittsburgh defense, which excels at making opposing quarterbacks feel most uncomfortable in the pocket with a wide variety of blitzes. Mayfield has had problems identifying blitzes lately and paid the price.

Chubb is the kind of runner who could do well against such a defense. In his professional starting debut last Sunday in Tampa, he showed good vision and quick feet to pick up nice chunks of yardage, especially after initial contact.

Ratley, who has seen his snap count rise with injuries to Rashard Higgins and Derrick Willies, has proven more reliable than fellow rookie Antonio Callaway, whose hands still seem to have an aversion to pigskin.

A Browns-Steelers story is not complete without mentioning how much the Browns have contributed to the legacy that is Ben Roethlisberger’s Hall of Fame career. The litany of his success against Cleveland cannot be understated.

This will be Big Ben’s 26th start against his favorite opponent in a career that has seen him lose just twice and throw for more than 6,100 yards. Makes no difference where these teams play; the Steelers dominate when he is under center.

When plays need to be made, he makes them. It is uncanny how he almost always seems to make the right moves at the right time against the Browns. The tie earlier this season was a mere belch in his legacy.

The Steelers, back on top of the AFC North after their slow start, are coming off a bye. Normally, they need only one week to get ready for the Browns. Having two to prepare is almost unfair,

Even with the latest problems on offense, the Browns are better than a year ago. They compete unlike their two predecessors, which didn’t come close to playing at that level. The biggest problem remains the offense, which has not caught up with the defense.

This team is coming, though, but at a slower rate than expected by the front office. Many of the signs for success are there in the near, if not immediate, future.  But they aren't there yet.

These two teams right now are headed in opposite directions. This time, the Steelers, who are just 1-2 at home this season, will finish the job they failed to accomplish in the season opener and it won’t be pretty. The tie will be avenged easily.

Roethlisberger and wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown will carve up the porous Cleveland secondary and Conner once again will run for another 100 yards and at least one touchdown.

The struggling Cleveland offense, meanwhile, will sputter against Watt & Co. and provide punter Britton Colquitt with another very busy afternoon as the losing streaks continue ad nauseam.  Make it:

Steelers 38, Browns 17

1 comment:

  1. The Hue Jackson/Todd Haley Situation Is Another Factor That May Blow Up During The Game With Play Calling And Time Management.