Key Match-ups: Steelers-Browns

Neal Coolong examines the key match-ups in today's game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns.

QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. OLBs Kamerion Wimbley and Willie McGinest
Roethlisberger rocks Cleveland. He's beaten the Browns seven times in his career, including a come-from-behind win last year where the Cleveland got four sacks and a slew of pressure from Wimbley and McGinest. This match-up plays favorably to Roethlisberger, as that pressure is going to be neutralized with a lot of 3-WR sets and tight end options. The Browns lost starting SS Sean Jones to a knee injury for the next few weeks, and in that, the Steelers are licking their chops with the idea of running TEs Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth down the field when covered by Wimbley or McGinest, or slipping WR Hines Ward behind either one if they are showing blitz.

Roethlisberger is going to key off what the outside backers are showing, and the Browns' injury-depleted defense is not going to be able to match up on a play-per-play basis with the explosive Steelers offense. Short, rhythmic passing worked well last week against Houston, and if Roethlisberger can manage audibles in the crowd noise at Cleveland Stadium, he'll change up some plays based on those match-ups.

C Justin Hartwig vs. NT Shaun Rogers
Hartwig beat out 2007 starter Sean Mahan partially due to the fact he's bigger. Rogers is close to bigger than both of them combined, and it's Cleveland's biggest advantage going into Sunday night. It's a lot to ask of any center to handle Rogers one-on-one all game. Dallas put two bodies on him, and was fairly effective in removing him from the play. Hartwig must control the line of scrimmage, but the flanking guard will provide help in the running game as well as pass protection.

If Rogers can establish penetration, and not allow Roethlisberger the opportunity to step up in the pocket, he can help limit the Steelers' vertical passing threat. Rogers will shade to the side away from the blitz to help contain the mobile Roethlisberger, as he is as effective on the move as he is when he's stationary. Rogers winning his one-on-one battle with Hartwig will help the Browns defense more than any other match-up they have.

KR Josh Cribbs vs. Steelers kick coverage
It could be anyone, but any Steeler who can consistently get Cribbs on the ground, or get down field fast enough to force a fair catch on punts, will be the MVP of this game. Cribbs defined how special teams can be a winning edge for a team last year, shredding the Steelers for 204 kick return yards and a touchdown. The rest of the Browns had 163 yards of offense. He single-handedly kept the Browns in a game where their offense, outside of the first drive of the game, was held in check for four quarters.

Cribbs didn't play in Week 1 against Dallas due to a high ankle sprain, but he's supposed to suit up Sunday. If he's healthy, that would make it two weeks in a row where the Steelers have to face one of the best return men in the AFC. They held Houston's Andre Davis to a bland 18.7 yards per kick return, and stuffed Jacoby Jones to five yards on two punt returns. Still, Cribbs has game-breaking ability, and Pittsburgh must make him a non-factor to take the divisional road contest.

Steelers secondary vs. WR Braylon Edwards It takes a village to stop Edwards. Plagued with a case of the drops against Dallas, Edwards' 2008 debut was nothing spectacular, but the touchdown catch he had against Pittsburgh last season was legendary. He has that ability oozing out of him in each pattern he runs. It will take a concerted effort from each Steelers pass defender to keep Edwards from the highlight film. While he couldn't really have done much worse in Week 1, he was tackled in the end zone without the ball by Cowboys cornerback Adam Jones on what would have been a touchdown reception. After the penalty, Browns TE Kellen Winslow Jr. caught a touchdown pass from QB Derek Anderson.

He's as tough as they get in the red zone, and has the speed outside the numbers to assure Anderson will look to exploit even a hint of man coverage. Steelers CB Deshea Townsend was limited this week with a foot injury, but isn't expected to miss any time. While Ike Taylor will likely handle more of Edwards, the Browns are going to use him on drag routes and get him in the open field whenever possible. If the Steelers can keep Edwards in front of him and unable to turn the corner on shorter patterns, the Browns' offense won't be able to match the Steelers' offensive production.

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

Neal Coolong is the author of On The Black Side, and his match-ups column appears weekly on Steel City Insider.

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