Key Match-ups: Steelers-Browns

Neal Coolong previews the key match-ups between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns in Mistake by the Lake II.

The Coolong Archive
Week 9: v. Ravens
Week 8: @ Bengals
Week 7: @ Broncos
Week 6: Bye
Week 5: v. Seahawks
Week 4: @ Cardinals
Week 3: v. 49ers
Week 2: v. Bills
Week 1: @ Browns
LB James Farrior vs. TE Kellen Winslow II

Farrior remembers the hit Winslow gave him at the end of last year's game against Cleveland. It cost Winslow $5,000, and Farrior called it "cheap." There's clearly bad blood, at least on Farrior's side. He told media for both teams during a conference call this week that he will be looking for the NFL's top receiving TE on every snap.

That's probably a good thing, because Winslow is fourth among NFL TEs with 42 catches, and his 15.6 yards per catch is by far the highest for his position. The revitalized Cleveland offense is keyed on Winslow's ability to stretch the field. Farrior will patrol the middle zone on passing downs, and if he can force QB Derek Anderson to throw into a small window, the Steelers can avoid a man-to-man match-up that favors Winslow against any Steelers LB or S.

CB Ike Taylor vs. WR Braylon Edwards

With 42 catches for 736 yards and nine touchdowns, Edwards has emerged as one of the best WRs in the league. He's the toughest big-play match-up the secondary of the Steelers will have seen up to this point. They largely neutralized him in Pittsburgh's Week 1 34-7 dismantling of the Browns, but his 3-catch, 49-yard effort in that game was by far his least productive of the season.

Taylor is the Steelers' best cover corner, and has good size (6-foot-1) for his position. Edwards is big (6-foot-3), and poses a considerable mismatch in size over any other corner in the league, so it's a game of technique for Taylor. Expect Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to implement a good amount of Cover 2 defense due to Winslow and Edwards ability to make big plays, but Taylor's main responsibility is going to be slowing down Edwards.

QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. CBs Eric Wright and Leigh Bodden

Not that anything Cleveland did worked well in these teams' first game, but in particular, Roethlisberger shredded their secondary. Going into Week 10, Roethlisberger has five consecutive games with a rating over 100, and is coming off a five-touchdown performance against Baltimore in Week 9. What's more of an issue for Wright and Bodden, though, is how evenly Roethlisberger has distributed the damage. Six Steelers receivers have caught at least one touchdown pass, and the team's leading receiver, Santonio Holmes, has 30 catches, second is Hines Ward with 28 (while missing two games this year) and third is Heath Miller with 26. Six Steelers average 13 yards a catch or more.

Cleveland has the worst pass defense in the league, giving up 276 yards per game. Wright and Bodden, along with nickel back Daven Holly, are going to have to shore up the Steelers high-powered attack, or Roethlisberger will pick them apart like he has done to his opponent the last four games. Cleveland's secondary has proved to be one of the least effective in the league, so bringing more than four defenders after Roethlisberger is a bit of a gamble. Cleveland's defense proves that with only seven sacks through eight games. The cleaner Roethlisberger's uniform is, the more damage he's going to do, so Wright and Bodden need to lock down their areas to help free up a few defenders to get after him.

ROLB James Harrison vs. LT Joe Thomas

This was a key match-up the first time these teams played, and Harrison probably won the battle. It's even bigger now. Harrison abused LT Jonathan Ogden of Baltimore last week for 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles (he added a third forced fumble on special teams). Ravens QB Steve McNair had very little chance to get the ball down field because of Harrison, and the Ravens only had 104 yards of offense. He is relentless, and will not stop pursuing the quarterback, so if Thomas sees him inching toward his direction, he can expect to get locked up with one of the better pass rushers in the league.

Thomas has already earned similar accolades for his position. He is already an elite pass protector, and has had a better rookie season through eight games than anyone other than Vikings RB Adrian Peterson. Thomas is the main reason why Anderson has been as effective as he has been. Thomas is the complete package, and should be mentioned right along with every other elite left tackle in the game. Harrison's will and aggression against Thomas' pure skill and technique should be an excellent individual battle all game. However, with starting RG Seth McKinney out Sunday, and LG Eric Steinbach still questionable (he did not practice Friday), Harrison's job may be more of tying up Thomas, and not allowing Anderson to slide protection to his depleted interior protection. Keep an eye on what Cleveland does to compensate if they are out both of their starting guards.

The Coolong Scorecard
Steelers Unit Browns
x Offensive line  
x Quarterback  
x Running backs  
even Wide receivers even
  Tight ends x
x Defensive line  
x Linebackers  
x Defensive backs  
  Special teams x

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