This coming Sunday, the Browns face their greatest test thus far in 2007 in a return date against the Pittsburgh Steelers. To beat the Steelers, you need to play with a strong mentality, be willing to square off and fight and limit mistakes.
On Sunday, here are five-things the Browns must do well to win in Pittsburgh:
1. Manage the run. The Steelers will attempt to pound the ball on the Browns and play off ground success. These are not the Steelers of yesteryear - they will throw the football in unexpected situations and the Browns defense must be ready. The Steelers will trap and will run off-tackle as well as up the gut, so the linebackers must be alert, aggressive and active.
2. Get to the quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger can be sacked and does make some poor decisions when pressured. The Pittsburgh offensive line is not nearly as solid as in years past and can be pushed up the middle. The Cleveland defense does not blitz well, this Sunday Todd Grantham must take some chances to rattle the quarterback early.
3. Get physical with the receivers. Hines Ward is a tough SOB, but he is not nearly as effective when he is getting bodied. Much the same can be said about Santonio Holmes. The Browns play some man defense, but getting a little physical with these wide-outs will disrupt the offensive timing.
4. Don't cave under the pressure of the Pittsburgh blitz. In the season opening loss to the Steelers, the Cleveland offense caved under the pressure of the Steelers blitz in the early going. The team displayed improvement in that initial game once Derek Anderson came in, and has been a force since. Simply, don't change anything: the offensive line is solid and understands the responsibility, Anderson just needs to make good decisions. The emerging Anderson needs to make the Pittsburgh defense pay for their tendencies, such as sitting down on routes and not being solid against the slot receivers (tight-end) in the seams.
5. Strike when the opportunity arises. The Browns are not going to run the ball effectively against this Pittsburgh defense, but the opportunity for big plays will present themselves. The Steelers like to walk seven and eight into the box, which could create some interesting developments if the Browns are fundamentally sound. If the Browns can seal off the outside linebackers and ends when this happens (with the fullback moving out the inside backer or safety), the holes will be there. The question is - can the Cleveland running backs get to them in a timely manner?
In the end, staying out of third-and-long situations and minimizing turnovers could be a key to the Browns success. The Steelers may take this Cleveland team for granted, due to the success Pittsburgh has tasted in the past, but I wouldn't count too heavily on this.
If the Browns protect Anderson, he limits his mistakes and the defense can keep the game in front of them, this is going to be a interesting battle of the top two teams in the AFC North division.
For myself, I anticipate the Browns are going to make a game of this against the Steelers.