I've had fans come up to me throughout my career here as a player and a broadcaster, "I don't care who you guys lose to, don't lose to Cleveland." More than any other game, you're really and truly representing your community.
GVB: Steelers, of course, coming off a very disappointing loss to Tennessee, a chance to get back in the win column and the Browns been having their share of problems.
TI: They're struggling. They've had some injuries on the offensive line. They lost all three of their starting linebackers from last year. They're starting three young guys, two second-year pros. They still have great receivers, probably the best quartet in the National Football League. They have two topnotch quarterbacks in Kelly Holcomb and Tim Couch. Although they haven't been able to run the ball like you would like, they've tried to get better at that. Of course, William Green is in his second year and he's looking a lot better. They played very well against San Francisco and beat them. They played well, actually, versus the Colts and lost. They got crushed by Baltimore and they lost a really close game to Cincinnati last week.
GVB: So, as you look the Steelers and the things that they should be able to try and do against the Browns defense, what are the keys? TI: Their front seven, although they didn't look good versus Baltimore, as I watch them on film they're not bad. Their linebackers, Kendall Simmons described them as "slippery." The four guys are stout. Up front, you've got Courtney Brown, Gerrard Warren on the same side. Both those guys are big, strong, and athletic. You have ex-Steeler Orpheus Roye, who always plays well against the Steelers. Then Kenard Lang at right defensive end, so those front four our stout. They do a good job playing both the run and rushing the passer. Their linebackers are a bunch of guys you've never heard of, Andra Davis in the middle, Keving Bentley on one outside, and Taylor on the other. I think if you run at them, I think you are going to have a lot of success because they're not the big, strong linebackers. They're fast. If you get a helmet on each guy, there's an opportunity to take them for a ride.
GVB: That gets back to the running game. It has been sputtering this year. A lot of people keep asking me whether there should be more of a mix between Zereoue and Bettis. Bettis only carried the ball three time in the Tennessee game. I realize that's a coaching decision, but you've been expecting to see Bettis a little been all along, haven't you?
TI: Yeah… I think if you look at the kind of football team that the Steelers have been traditionally and the type of football team they want to be, they want to be a physical, tough football team. The only reason that I thought we'd see more of Jerome is because when Jerome is in there, he's the hammer to Amos' lightening, so to speak. I think that to establish physical superiority on the offensive side of the ball, you talk to an offensive lineman. They want to pound the defense into submission, especially to start out. You know, they say that in a fight that the first guy to land a punch usually wins. I think that when you have Jerome and that physical aspect, you're landing, in a sense, that first punch.
GVB: Last year in the playoff game, they ran up an astronomical pass yardage against Pittsburgh. That was Kelly Holcomb. Holcomb's going to be out, he's not starting this game. They've announced Tim Couch gets the start, but he's had success in the past against Pittsburgh. Do you expect them to probably spread it like they did in the playoff game? What are you expecting from the Browns' offense?
TI: Why would you change? They did great throwing the ball in the playoffs as you said, George. If you look at what Tennessee did last week. They were not able to run the ball at all. McNair played pretty well throwing the ball, 16 for 17, or something like that, 15 of 16. Why not? That's where everyone who has played the Steelers has had success. No one has been able to run the ball. If I looked at those tapes, even Baltimore with Jamal Lewis did not run the ball effectively against the Pittsburgh Steelers. If I'm Cleveland, I'm just going to hold to that, spread them out and throw it. When you have four receivers and you're looking at the Steelers secondary, four good receivers mind you, I'm putting the ball up in the air.
GVB: I asked you this the other day when we were talking here at the Steelers offices, the difference between Holcomb and Couch.
TI: #1, Holcomb's got a bigger arm and Holcomb is apt to throw down the field more. He's willing to take more chances. He seems to play with more confidence to me than Tim Couch does. Tim Couch on the other hand, is really good in the short passing game and, for the most part, will get rid of the ball quickly in a rhythm. But, he'll also hold on to the ball at times to get what people call a "come up and late", which means you allow the receivers to run the longer routes. He's looking to make the play and it may not be a long, vertical route. It just may be a receiver who starts way left, it's crossing route, all the way to the right sideline and he'll wait for that guy to get open. And sometimes he'll take a shot because of it.
GVB: Let's boil it down and put it in a nutshell, keys to victory for the Steelers against the Browns.
TI: The key defensively is to put pressure on Couch, and the Steelers have done a great job of that over the years. He seems to fold under the pressure that the Steelers have given him over the years. Don't give up any big plays in the secondary. Keep it inside and in front of the secondary. Give them the underneath stuff. They're going to work that all day long, but they're not going to beat you that way. They're not going to kill you with the underneath stuff. Where they're going to kill you is if they complete a pass, like Quincy Morgan or Dennis Northcutt did during last week versus Cincinnati, a 70-yarder. It was really just a 10 yard out and he ran it 70 yards for a touchdown. That's what kills you. That's how Cleveland can kill you. Keep it underneath and inside. Offensively, I think it is really important that you want to start the running game quickly. If I'm the Steelers I'm going to run the ball on the first series and really just try to pound it down their throats.
GVB: That brings us to our poster's question of the week. This comes from SoCalC: "It's obvious the o-line is not strong enough to overpower the better d-lines of the NFL. However, neither was the Broncos o-line with Terrell Davis. They averaged in the 280's and still ran the heck out of it! Do you feel the running game is suffering because the mindset is not running the ball first or do you feel the run-blocking scheme needs to be altered to fit the players they have right now? What would you do with this current o-line to get the running game back on track?"
TI SoCalC, it's never one thing when you are talking about the offensive line because there are so many variables and so many individuals that all have to be on the same page, along with tight end and the fullback, along with your tailback who gets a feel for the holes. I think the key is this: you'll need to be patient with it. As an offensive lineman, you really have to take it upon yourself to say, "Okay, we are going to take control of this game running the ball. We are going to be physical. We are going to be so good at this that the coaches are going to have to keep calling the run." It's technique more than anything else. It's not scheme. It's not that these guys can't overpower them. It's really a matter of technique. The Steelers come out and play technically sound by their offensive linemen right from the start; I think this offensive line will be fine. I don't think by any means I would panic. I wouldn't say necessarily that they can't overpower a good defensive line. I think they can. Sometime it just comes down to ‘want to'.