The Pittsburgh Steelers have undergone a facelift of sorts as they make the short journey up I-76 in an AFC North showdown against longtime rival Cleveland Browns. Due to a myriad of rib injuries, Pittsburgh will be missing its #1 QB, Ben Roethlisberger and #2 QB Byron Leftwich, along with #4 WR Jerrico Cotchery. In their place, everyone will see Charlie Batch, along with two newly-signed Steelers, Brian Hoyer (#2 QB) and Plaxico Burress (WR), who played for Pittsburgh from 2000-2004.
The Cleveland Browns have proven to be much more competitive than anticipated at the outset of the 2012 campaign, thanks in large part to the performance of their rookie tandem, quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson. The defense has a couple of playmakers in middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and up-and-comer cornerback Joe Haden. The overall defense is not rated exceptionally high, but they are opportunistic in forcing turnovers to provide short fields for the offense.
Ten Fearless Predictions
1. Charlie Batch shows little rust or fear in his performance on Sunday. This veteran backup always is in Ben’s ear on the sideline, so expect the mentor to become the pupil in this role reversal. Batch has a proclivity for throwing the ball within the boundaries of the offense. Sunday will be no different.
2. Trent Richardson will be the focal point of the Browns’ offense. The Steelers secondary (specifically, Keenan Lewis and Ike Taylor) has limited productive passers to subpar performances in recent weeks. 25 touches for Richardson would not be out of the question.
3. Plaxico Burress will get at least one red zone throw in his direction. The 6’5″ receiver’s biggest immediate boost to the offense will be in the scoring zone, and Batch won’t be afraid to look his way when attempting to turn three points into seven.
4. Cleveland will feature linebacker and secondary blitzes in an attempt to get to Batch (and hope to see Hoyer, who is still ingesting Pittsburgh’s playbook).
5. Pittsburgh will do a better job of riding the “hot hand” at running back. Last week against the Ravens, Jonathan Dwyer and Rashard Mendenhall rotated in and out of the lineup frequently…much to the consternation of this writer.
6. The time of possession will be fairly equal in this matchup. Pittsburgh will only be effective in moving the ball when gaining large chunks of yards. Cleveland will be forced to be a bit more methodical in marching up and down the field on Dick LeBeau’s defense.
7. Heath Miller will re-surface as a receiving threat with Charlie Batch under center. Batch has a quicker release, and will not have to depend upon Miller to assist in blocking as much as Leftwich required #83 to double-team Ravens pass rushers a week ago.
8. Joe Thomas will help neutralize Brett Keisel and James Harrison in their attempt to force Weeden to release the ball sooner. The pass rush’s success or failure will largely be based upon the performance of linebacker LaMarr Woodley.
9. Turnovers will tell the tale. If Batch can eliminate mistakes on Sunday…then Pittsburgh has enough firepower to silence the Dawg Pound.
10. Steelers 20, Browns 13. Pittsburgh will not look past the very competitive Browns team and the raucous, faithful fans will remind the Steelers that Clevelanders still consider this a rivalry. Jimmy Haslam (new owner of the Browns, and former minority shareholder of the Steelers) would love nothing more than to upend his former team.
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