By Donald Starver
Today the Steelers play the Cleveland Browns in what should be a meaningless game. However, we’ve all learned by now that Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t allow his team to become complacent. Not even for a meaningless game. So Tomlin is using the goal of sweeping the AFC North as motivation to make sure that his team doesn’t have a letdown.
I’ve heard differing opinions about Coach Tomlin, but this writer really likes him. I love the way that he makes sure the Steelers stay focused. Can anyone even imagine Coach Tomlin allowing his team to lose on purpose? Neither can I. Even if the Steelers had one of the worst records in the NFL, I think Tomlin would still want to win, rather than lose intentionally to get a better draft pick. Some would say that would be poor strategy. Perhaps they’re right. But I still love the fact that he wants to win, no matter what. In my opinion, that unquenchable urge to win is a consistent trait of champions. Michael Jordan had it. Derek Jeter has it. Tom Brady has it. And Mike Tomlin has it.
Because of Tomlin’s desire to win, we will probably see Ben Roethlisberger start the game. So will Willie Parker. So will Hines Ward. Tomlin will not use this as an opportunity to get Limas Sweed some catches. Or to see what Tony Hills can do in the starting lineup. He won’t use it as an opportunity to see what Gary Davis could do if he got 20 carries.
The one thing that’s for sure is that Tomlin will rest safety Ryan Clark who injured his shoulder during the Tennessee Titans game. Ryan will be needed for the playoffs, so he will get some much needed rest. But everyone else will probably play. Even linebacker James Harrison, who injured his hip during the Titans game. Knowing Silverback, he wouldn’t want to sit out the game even if Coach Tomlin suggested it. Harrison would probably prefer to add to his sack total, which is already a Steelers’ record.
If the Steelers get a lead, we will probably see Byron Leftwich replace Big Ben. But other than that, don’t expect to see anything but the Steelers fighting to win another game.
The game won’t be meaningless to the Browns either. Their fans are already disappointed enough with their team. They came into the season as the favorites to win the AFC North. The NFL thought that they had so much potential that they scheduled them for at least 5 nationally televised games. That never happens to a team that didn’t even make the playoffs the previous season. To salvage a very disappointing season, the Browns need a win over the Steelers.
Browns head coach Romeo Crennel is definitely on the hot seat. His team has underperformed more than any other team this year except the Dallas Cowboys. Crennel had better start updating his resume, because he is probably going to need it if the Browns lose today.
Not only have the Browns lost when they were expected to win, but Crennel has also become known for making baffling coaching decisions. Unusual play calls can make a coach look like a genius if they work, and if the team wins. But when the team loses, and the plays don’t work, the coach ends up looking like an idiot. That’s where Crennel finds himself. Idiot is tattooed on his forehead.
Despite desparately wanting a win over the Steelers, it won’t be easy for the Browns. They have already lost 10 games in a row to the Steelers. Despite having many talented players on their roster, the Browns found a way to get shut out by the Cincinnati Bengals last week. That’s right, they were shut out by the Bungles. There is only one logical conclusion to draw from that; the Browns suck!
To make things even worse, the Browns are going to have to face the Steelers with their 4th starting quarterback of the season. Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn are both on injured reserve (IR). Ken Dorsey got hurt last week, and he won’t be able to go today. So the Browns are forced to start Bruce Gradkowski, who wasn’t even on the Browns’ roster in November.
Gradkowski is a Pittsburgh native who played high school football at Seton-LaSalle. I’m sure that as a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, he probably fantasized about being on the field with the black and gold. But in those fantasies, he probably wasn’t playing for the Browns. And he probably wasn’t running for his life from Steelers’ linebackers. Gradkowski’s dream has somehow morphed into his worst nightmare.
Some of the Steelers also have something special to play for. Wide receiver Hines Ward needs just 27 receiving yards to break 1,000 yards for the season. This would be Ward’s fifth 1,000 yard season of his career. Not bad for a guy who was always thought to be too small and too slow. Take that, Troy Edwards!
Though Mike Tomlin will strive to get another Steelers’ victory today, I believe that we will see some players that we haven’t seen much of. Why not allow Lawrence Timmons to start, and possibly even play the entire game? Let’s see what the former #1 draft pick can do when given the opportunity. He’s shown us glimpses already. Why not turn him loose on the Browns. Same thing with Limas Sweed. Throw the kid some balls and see if he can catch or not.
One Steelers rookie who just might see some playing time today is QB Dennis Dixon. The Steelers have had Dixon imitate Cleveland’s Joshua Cribbs during practice. Cribbs is the Browns’ featured player when they go to their “wildcat” offense. Dixon was apparently so effective running the offense in practice, that several Steelers defensive players requested that the Steelers use him during the game. They said that if the Steelers’ defense couldn’t stop Dixon, the Browns’ defense won’t be able to either.
“I think we can make plays with him on offense,” inside linebacker James Farrior said of Dixon. “The man’s a great athlete”. That’s pretty high praise coming from the Steelers’ defensive captain.
The Steelers’ offense has struggled this year, and I don’t think they should ignore any opportunity to add a spark to their offensive attack. More importantly, this is their final opportunity to fine tune their offense before the playoffs start.
The Steelers must get their running game on track. The Steelers, who have historically been a running team, have struggled to run the ball this year. Even running back Willie Parker has said that the Steelers have gone away from playing “Steelers football”. The running game is going to be vital for the Steelers in the playoffs.
Hopefully, we will see the Steelers working to impose their will on the Browns’ defensive line. The Steelers have to find a way to get short yardage when they need it. They haven’t been able run the ball effectively in short yardage situations for most of the year. I’m sure that I’m not the only one who is getting tired of seeing the Steelers running game get stuffed on 3rd downs.
So, both the Steelers and the Browns have something to play for this week. This might not be a meaningless game afterall.
Also please see our Top 10 Reasons the Browns Will Lose To The Steelers found here.
(If you enjoyed this article, please consider leaving a comment below. Also, please subscribe to our blog by pressing the orange button below. Thanks.)