Browns-Steelers: Greg's Game Preview

Recovered from the Chiefs game? You better be, because the Steelers are lurking close by, and there is only about 24 hours until kick-off. Greg Hensley examines the rapidly-approaching Thursday night match-up between the Browns and Steelers...

Before I delve into this weeks preview, I want to take a moment to give Coach Crennel his just due. Coming into last weeks game, this team for all intents and purposes was in self-destruct mode. The situation that developed was very similar to the scenario that created the forced resignation of Butch Davis.

Instead of folding, Coach Crennel rallied his troops and they performed as a team. In blue-collar fashion they outworked the Chiefs and left the field with a win. Coach Crennel seemingly achieved the impossible.

This team has reminded me all year of the 2001 team that was capable but just never put it together until the NFL officiating crew forced that team to come together during the game that we don't like to talk about.

Maybe, Braylon Edwards has accomplished the same thing. Maybe the players that truly believe in Coach Crennel understood that they were one blowup from having a new coach taking the heat for their mistakes.

The Steelers have also had a very disappointing year. They lost a great deal of locker room leadership. They have simply suffered too many injuries throughout the season. When you combine those two factors along with having a bulls eye on their chest each and every week, it was just too much for this young team to overcome. If you want to get an opponent's best game, send in the Super Bowl champs and you get the best the opposing team has to offer.

Preparation is difficult with only 4 days between games, but division rivals should be ready on a minute's notice. The Browns believe the Steelers stole the last game and this is their chance to prove it. The Steelers believe they are simply the superior team and this is their chance to prove it.

Steelers Offense

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been up and down all season. Between going head first through a windshield, recovering from an appendectomy, losing your short yardage stallion in Jerome Bettis, and also losing one of his favorite targets in Antwaan Randle El, it has been a nightmare year for the young quarterback.

It won't be any easier Thursday night, as the Steelers will be without their top two receiving options in Hines Ward and Cedric Wilson.

This will present a golden opportunity for rookie receiver, Santonio Holmes. Santonio brings tremendous speed to the Steelers offense. He excels in the crossing patterns that allow him to use his speed to separate from the defender with huge gains after the reception.

The key to slowing Santonio is taking him out of the play before it begins. Look for the Browns to jam him hard at the line and force him to fight his way through. He has struggled in defeating the jam on a consistent basis.

Considering the difficulties the Browns had in their attempt to cover Tony Gonzales last week, look for tight end Heath Miller to see an increased role for the Steelers. Heath has a nice combination of size, speed and tremendously soft hands. Miller likes to chip the defensive end and slide out into the flat as the receivers pull the defenders down field. Stopping Miller will require the safety to come up and make the solo tackle.

The Steelers rushing attack has all but disappeared. Willie Parker is capable of taking it the distance on any given play but he is one of those all are nothing backs. He either makes the homerun or strikes out. He has struggled over the later half of the season as he has just one 100-yard game in his last 7. If you can stop Willie Parker early, the Steelers will abandon the running game.

Steelers Defense

The offense is not the only one suffering injuries. Both starting safeties for the Steelers will be absent. Troy Polamalu is suffering from a knee injury, while Ryan Clark is out with a groin injury.

Veteran safety, Mike Logan and rookie Anthony Smith will have their hands full as they will be asked to support the run while containing tight end Kellen Winslow. This will be a match up that the Browns will look to exploit early and often.

In order to take pressure off of this depleted secondary, the Steelers will look to get their front seven into the face of the inexperienced Derrick Anderson. This will depend primarily upon nose tackle Casey Hampton demanding the double. If he forces help from guard Joe Andruzzi, it will allow defensive end, Brad Kiesel and outside linebacker Joey Porter to come free from the quarterback's blind side.

The Steelers love to overload the left tackle position with Kiesel and Porter but just when you get those two blocked, they send safety Tyrone Carter. Carter does an exceptional job of avoiding contact at the line of scrimmage.

Browns Offense

The Browns will come out running the football due to their success in the previous meeting along with the idea of taking pressure off of the shoulders of Derrick Anderson.

The combination of Reuben Droughns and Jason Wright was a huge success last week. Reuben softens the defense with power and Wright adds the element of speed. Not only does this frustrate the defense but it keeps both backs fresh in the later stages of the game. Each back appears to feed off the success of the other.

In order for the Brown to have success in the running game they must chop Casey Hampton. It isn't the most popular technique with fans and players, but it is very effective at slowing down the monster tackle. The tackle isn't so eager to get pressure when he is forced to protect his legs. When the center chops, the tackle must slide back to prevent the hit or he is on the ground.

For Anderson to have success, he must get rid of the football quickly by reading the defense as he drops back. The Steelers love to show one thing and do another. Anderson showed a very quick release last week and he will need to be even faster this week. The Steelers will blitz him until he shows he can beat them and then they will blitz him just to intimidate the young quarterback.

Anderson will target the depleted safety position with the screen and crossing patterns. This will force the safety to make the stop and cheat towards the middle. If they are caught cheating, it puts the Steelers corners in a one on one battle they aren't likely to win. It will be jump ball between the corners and the Browns huge receiving duo of Braylon Edwards and Joe Jurevicius.

Edwards had his best game as a Brown, against the Steelers. Look for him to be an early option on the quick slant as well as on the deep post.

Browns Defense

The Browns must stop the run early. If you can take Willie Parker out of the game early, the Steelers have shown they will go from a run first team to a pass happy offense. The Steelers also never allow Willie Parker to run on third down. This fact puts the Browns in good position personnel wise.

The Browns will be able to play the run on first and second down and then flood the field with defensive backs on third down. The Steelers will throw to the back on third but seldom do they run it.

Stopping the run will be a huge task for the linebacker corps. Defensive end Orpheus Roye may not play and his absence will put more pressure on linebackers Andra Davis and D'Qwell Jackson. They will not find the free runs that Orpheus often allows due to his ability to play the run. They will have to quickly shed the block and close down their assigned gaps.

Ben Roethlisberger has consistently overthrown receivers this year. That should allow Sean Jones to get his hands on the ball. Sean has been phenomenal at reading the quarterback this year. He has 5 interceptions and dropped more than that. I won't complain about the drops because there is a reason he is on defense and not offense, but the fact he is making the quick read and putting himself into position, says a lot about the skill level of this young safety.

Cornerback Leigh Bodden is a question mark as he battles an injured ankle. Leigh will be needed as he is the Browns best press corner. If he is able to go, look for him to lock down Santonio Holmes and force the ball to the other parts of the field. Keeping Holmes in check is a must. If he gets deep into the secondary, the Browns will have a difficult time staying with him.

Special Teams

Josh Cribbs averaged 37.5 yards per return in the previous meeting and also returned one kickoff 92 yards. The Steelers will attempt to directional kick the ball away from Cribbs and also use the squib kick to put the ball in someone else's hands.

Final Overview

Derrick Anderson has an opportunity to etch his name into a quarterback debate. A good showing in this one will go a long way in deciding his future. I hate a quarterback controversy, but if Anderson can pull off the win, I will be firmly planted on the Derrick Anderson bandwagon.

The Steelers are difficult to beat at home. If the Browns are to have any chance they must take the fans out of the equation by getting out to an early lead. The crowd noise feeds the pass rush as the offensive line has difficulty communicating.

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