It’s a game about quarterbacks when the Browns visit Pittsburgh to play the Steelers. A veteran returns for the Steelers and a rookie could start for the Browns. Any guess where the advantage goes?
For the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger returns after serving a four-game suspension, and he takes over a team that will be strengthened greatly by his return even though it won three-of-four in his absence. And it will be strengthened even if Roethlisberger lacks midseason timing. Pittsburgh’s passing game averaged only 136 yards the first four games, a number that has to improve if this team plans on being a postseason threat. The Steelers defense, which leads the league in scoring and rushing defense, has carried the team.
That does not bode well for the Browns, who likely will be without their top two quarterbacks, Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace, due to injury. That will leave rookie Colt McCoy as the starter. McCoy claims he’s ready for the challenge, but there is no way he can be fully prepared for what he will face Sunday. Pittsburgh’s combination of zone blitzes and nasty and fast linebackers make it tough for any quarterback, let alone a rookie.
The last time the Browns started a rookie against Pittsburgh was when Charlie Frye started on Christmas Eve in 2005. Pittsburgh won 41–0. Frye had three starts under his belt; McCoy’s start will be his first. Think the Steelers might have a slight advantage?
Keys for the Steelers
• Be aggressive. The return of Roethlisberger gives the Steelers options they have not had the first four games. Roethlisberger can provide the deep pass, and he can get Hines Ward more involved in the offense. To date, Ward has 12 catches for 165 yards. Pittsburgh cannot forget the run, but it can take advantage of its quarterback’s return.
• Stop the Wildcat. The Steelers, who boast the NFL’s No. 1 run defense, should be able to contain Hillis and/or Bell, but they cannot let Joshua Cribbs hurt them taking direct snaps from the center.
Keys for the Browns
• Run the ball. The Browns want to be a power-running team. It’s why they have depended on Peyton Hillis. It’s also why they traded for Mike Bell — though to acquire Bell they dealt their only back with speed, Jerome Harrison. Most NFL coaches will say that the one thing that can take pressure off a rookie quarterback is the ability to run the ball. Cleveland needs to figure a way to do it this Sunday.
• Keep the game close. If the Browns can figure a way to hang around into the fourth quarter, the pressure on the Steelers will increase and anything can happen. Pittsburgh is expected to win. It is supposed to win. If the underdog Browns hang around, the Steelers could show the same nerves they showed late last season when they lost to the Browns in Cleveland, a loss that wound up costing Pittsburgh a playoff spot.
Cleveland might be able to keep the game close — for a half. Eric Mangini’s team is playing hard, but it’s not playing smart. In this game talent is the difference. Pittsburgh simply has too much, especially on defense with Troy Polamalu playing at an MVP level. Pittsburgh should be able to control this game in the second half, especially playing at home. That should give the Steelers their fourth win and the Browns their fifth loss. Steelers 28–17.