The loss a week ago at home highlighted the weaknesses of this Cleveland team from a season ago. The inability to pressure the opposing QB and to stop the run consistently, coupled with soft coverage against the passing game, kept the Browns from being competitive.
An 0-2 start to the season could be disastrous for a team that has set its sights high following a surprising 10-6 record a year ago. Facing the Steelers on Sunday night at Cleveland Browns Stadium is yet another obstacle for this Cleveland team that has battled injuries and inconsistency since the early days of training camp.
This 2008 version of the Browns is one built to compete against these Steelers for the AFC North divisional crown. Numerous off-season additions to the Browns roster are believed to enhance this team's chances in becoming a legitimate contender, and this game against the Steelers has been referred to as almost a 'must win' for the Browns.
For the Browns to be successful against a defensively-solid and offensively-explosive Pittsburgh team, those elements of the game which hampered the Browns a week ago against Dallas must be overcome. From untimely penalties and missed tackles to blown assignments and poor concentration, the Browns must rise to the occasion or they could be swiftly fading from prominence.
Stuffing the Pittsburgh pass rush and blitz prowess will be critical for the Browns to succeed.
Stopping OLB James Harrison has been a challenge for the Cleveland offensive line and running backs. Harrison is dangerous coming off the edge of the defense and has shown the ability to be a factor in the Pittsburgh zone blitz and stunt schemes. While Harrison doesn't figure to beat Cleveland OT Joe Thomas one-on-one, it will be in the entire scope of what the Steelers do on the defensive side of the ball that makes a difference.
Second-year OLB LaMarr Woodley could pose a significant challenge for RT Kevin Shaffer and the Cleveland offensive backfield. Woodley has been solid in training camp and busted out with a sack, an interception and three tackles in the Steelers season opening 38-17 victory over the Houston Texans. What makes Woodley a player to take into account is his ability to pressure the QB, as well as playing the run. This OLB is extremely quick and strong at the point, all of which figure to be an area where the Browns are going to need to watch closely and provide help for the RT, which could come from a TE and/or RB chipping on Woodley.
NT Casey Hampton has proven to be a load for any offensive lineman to handle. This veteran provides the consistent run stuffing presence the Browns hope NT Shaun Rogers will be in Cleveland. Overall, the Pittsburgh defensive line is not going to intimidate most teams, and certainly not the Browns.
The offensive line is a strength for the Browns, despite the relatively average performance of this unit in the season opener. In the recent Cleveland-Pittsburgh battles, the linebackers factored into the success of the Steelers, with the Browns having trouble containing the Pittsburgh blitz and zone cover tendencies.
If the Browns can pickup the Pittsburgh blitz packages and contain the perimeter, the Browns have a solid opportunity to succeed.
Getting the ball out of the hands of QB Derek Anderson means good things are happening for the Browns.
To beat the Pittsburgh defense when on their game is a difficult challenge, but this Cleveland offense has the weapons to put the Steelers on their heels. Consistency is critical for the offense, which has been a challenge for the browns when going up against the Steelers.
Anderson needs to get the Browns into the set, make quick and decisive decisions, and minimize mental mistakes. Anderson has struggled against the Steelers due to his inconsistency in the short passing game and ability to recognize the scheming defense Pittsburgh poses.
Whether the Steelers defense attempts to confuse Anderson and the Cleveland offense with disguises in coverage or with the blitz, the QB needs to get the ball out of his hands quickly. Quick three-step drops by Anderson will be in order to slow the Pittsburgh run-away freight train. Quick hitters will cause this Steelers defense to cheat up, which should open passing lanes if successful.
These Steelers are not as physical as some of the past, but this defense still plays tough, while being quicker and more well-rounded. Due to this quickness and ability to play within the structure of the defense, the Steelers are a difficult team to establish the run against.
The story against the Steelers is, if you can contain the front-seven, opportunities will be presented to beat this defense through the air.
For the Browns to win, this must happen -
- Anderson must play within himself, don't force the ball into coverage and take what the defense gives. He will need to recognize the defense when the Steelers roll coverage over on WR Braylon Edwards.
- RB Jamal Lewis needs to run the ball. While expecting solid numbers may be unlikely, the threat of the run will force the Steelers to respect the Browns' offense and potentially keep the their offense off the field.
- RT Kevin Shaffer must slow down the quick and physical OLB LaMarr Woodley.
- Recognize the blitz and stunts. Keep an eye on SS Troy Polamalu. If the Cleveland offensive line cannot contain the LB's and stuff the blitz, the Steelers will feed off the success and dominate.
- Edwards needs to get off to a quick start and keep his focus. This Cleveland offense is not good enough to be explosive or consistent without his presence.
- Find TE Kellen Winslow early and often.
- The Cleveland front seven must pressure Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger and contain the perimeter. Roethlisberger is extremely accurate and agile; this QB can beat you with his arm or feet.
- Stop the run, force the Steelers to be one-dimensional on offense and force turnovers.