The Steelers play their arch-rival, the Cleveland Browns, tomorrow in Cleveland. The game is a nationally televised contest that many thought would be the first step in the Browns’ inevitable unseating of the Steelers from the AFC North throne. However, injuries have changed the complexion of the game. Moreover, the Steelers aren’t going to give up their crown without a fight.
Following last week’s Steelers win, and the Browns’ dismantling at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys, many may have changed their opinion of just how ready the Browns are to take down the reigning champs. The Browns looked weak in all aspects of the game, but don’t let last week fool you. The Browns get pumped up when it’s time to play the Steelers. Moreover, the Browns have tons of injuries right now. This game is probably not going to be reflective of what the Browns can truly do. I am looking forward to the two team’s second battle later this year. Perhaps both teams will be healthy during that game.
Here are what I consider to be the key match-ups of the game:
Steelers receivers vs. Browns secondary
The Browns secondary is really banged up right now. They were torched last week by Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys for 70,000 yards. Okay, maybe not that many, but it certainly seemed like it.
The Browns will be playing without starting safety Sean Jones who is out 3-5 weeks with a knee injury. Cornerback Dave Holley has a torn ACL and is out for the entire season. Safety Brodney Pool is suffering from a concussion, but he is expected to play. The Browns two healthy cornerbacks, second year players Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald, are going to have their hands full.
Steelers receiver Hines Ward is a former Pro Bowler, and Santonio Holmes led all NFL receivers last year in yards per catch. Both players, along with “Big Ben” Roethlisberger, must have been salivating when they watched film of the Browns’ secondary this week. Advantage Steelers.
Justin Hartwig vs Shaun Rogers
Last year’s Steelers center Sean Mahan was sent packing, partially because he couldn’t handle the monster nose tackles in the AFC North. Cleveland Browns nose tackle Shaun Rogers may be the most monstrous. at 6′ 4″ and 350 lbs., Rogers is a human anvil. Hartwig is going to have to bring his “A” game in order to win this match-up. Of course, practicing everyday against Steelers’ nose tackle Casey Hampton has probably prepared Hartwig. Advantage Browns.
James Harrison vs. Joe Thomas
Last year, James Harrison went from back-up to Pro Bowl linebacker. In his first game as a starter he totally dominated Browns rookie LT Joe Thomas. After that game, Thomas also developed into a Pro Bowler. This may be the most interesting battle of the game. Draw.
LaMarr Woodley vs. Kevin Shaffer
Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley was drafted in the 2nd round in the 2007 NFL draft. After sitting and learning during his rookie year, Woodley has emerged as the Steelers starter this year. During training camp, Woodley looked practically unstoppable. Last week against the Texans, Woodley had a sack, an interception, and a fumble recovery. Shaffer is an experienced veteran, but he will have his hands full with Woodley. Advantage Steelers.
Braylon Edwards vs. Steelers secondary
Braylon Edwards is one of the most dynamic receivers in the NFL. He made his first Pro Bowl last year, and is a tough match-up for any cornerback. Edwards is tall, fast, and he has good hands. To make matters worse, Steelers starting cornerback Deshea Townsend is out with an injury (heel contusion), and backup Bryant McFadden will be getting the start. Advantage Browns.