On The Black Side
A Steelers blog honoring the black left side of the Steelers' helmet - By Neal Coolong
Roethlisberger has the deck stacked in his favor tonight. But the Browns will have 4th down attempts, fake punts and other gimmicks, aiming to avoid the 0-2 start, which has ended more coaching careers than the West Coast Offense and Ryan Leaf combined.

My Key Match-ups column for Steel City Insider starts off with this:
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.
There are three other match-ups to evaluate, but this is really 60 percent of tonight's game in Cleveland. The injury-ravaged Browns need to figure out a way to cool Roethlisberger down, which is something they haven't been able to do.

AOL Fanhouse writer JJ Cooper and I discussed the possibility of starting out the game with WR Santonio Holmes gashing the Browns' depleted secondary. This is a distinct possibility; the Steelers will start throwing haymakers at Cleveland right away. While I like the advantage the Steelers have on offense vs. Cleveland's defense, I think their defense against Cleveland's offense is strong enough they can afford to take some chances down the field, with the upside being blowing ahead to a 14-3 lead, silencing the crowd, and gaining all momentum.

To do that, Roethlisberger will have to be his usual accurate, poised and savvy self. His evolution as a passer has been enjoyable for Steelers fans to watch. While he has a bum shoulder (and Post-Gazette antagonist Ron Cook wrote today about him being the most indispensible Steelers player...thanks for the jinx, Ron), he's learned enough about the game where he is dropping back and quickly being able to make the decision to either attack, or simply take what the defense is giving him.

He's the key player in this game for the Steelers because he has the luxury of being able to do both. The defense is going to let him attack vertically. Their safeties are not strong, and it's pretty tough for a team that doesn't traditionally blitz from zone to get pressure from the edge if their safeties are not supplying adequate coverage help over the top.

Cleveland's biggest advantage, as I wrote earlier this week, is Shaun Rogers' ability to collapse the pocket, and create more one-on-one blocking assignments on Cleveland's 3-4 outside linebackers. That gives Steelers C Justin Hartwig a nod in the Key Player voting process, but it still falls on Roethlisberger to step into the rush and complete passes.

Last week, Houston did a decent job of rushing the passer. No, really, it's true. The difference was (with the exception of Mario Williams' two sacks) each time Roethlisberger had some pressure, he smoothly rolled from it, or stepped into it, and easily found the mismatch down the field. In the case of Week 1, it was Hines Ward on a linebacker in man, or Ward finding a spot inside Houston's zone underneath or behind their safeties (incidentally, the Texans' safeties were as bad if not worse than Cleveland's).

The third nominee for Key Player was RB Willie Parker, who added a spin move along with a healed fibula this off-season. He used both of them to trample all over Houston, and looked even better than his usual domineering self in Week 1. I just get the feeling Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is going to want to stick it to his former employer through the air. But if Roethlisberger's shoulder is bothering him that badly, they can let Parker continue to simply enjoy the by-product of a surprisingly good run blocking unit, and own the clock, the time-of-possession battle, and therefore, the game.

The biggest key factor for Cleveland is simply the fear of starting 0-2. Don't think that's not a big advantage, though. The Browns are playing in Primetime at home, and had big-time aspirations this season.

(brief aside...in my writing for Real Football 365, I peek around at fan forums to gather the feel for any particular team, and there are more than a few on Cleveland's boards who were expecting an 11-5 season coupled with a changing-of-the-guard AFC Championship victory at New England.)

As Joey Porter's Pit Bulls wisely points out, Bill Cowher is not currently the coach of an NFL team. It puts coach Crennel in a tough spot:
Browns head coach Romeo Crennel is borderline-panicked about this game. Bill Cowher looming. Job security and all that. Crennel must be thinking, "Damn! My 'vaunted' defensive line acqisitions couldn't stop the run against Dallas last Sunday and couldn't stop the pass. What are the Steelers gonna do?"
The Steelers are likely to drill the nail in Cleveland's season even further into the coffin. If Arians' game plan is to go up top early and often, it could be over quickly. But Crennel's Browns are quickly getting backed into a corner, and that means 4th down attempts, fake punts, the last desperation moves aiming to avoid the 0-2 start, which has ended more coaching careers than the West Coast Offense and Ryan Leaf combined.



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