One thing is for sure heading into this weekend's divisional matchup at Cleveland: the Steelers won't be looking past the Browns to the following week's showdown against diviosional leading Baltimore. Each game is a one-game season at this point for the Steelers and I'm confident Bill Cowher has hammered this point home to the players.
Cleveland enters Week 11 having won two of their past three games. Three weeks ago, the Brownies took down the Jets 20-13. They followed up the solid home victory the next week with a 25-32 loss at the hands of the San Diego Chargers. Last week, the Browns returned to the win column with an impressive 17-13 win at Atlanta.
Even though the Browns were outgained 343 to 236 in total yards, they forced three Falcon turnovers . Charlie Frye, who I'm not convinced is good enough to lead any team to the Super Bowl, played a mistake-free game, completing 16-of-22 passes for 165 yards and 1 TD. For the season, Frye has completed a respectable 62.5% of his passes, but has thrown 12 INTs to only 9 TDs.
Last week's performance is what the Browns want Charlie Frye to do at this point of his career. Too often he has tried to do too much and cost his team dearly as a result. In Week 3 against the Ravens, Frye had a chance to ice the game late in the 4th quarter with the Browns inside the Baltimore 5 yard-line. Frye threw an ill-advised pick though, and McNair led the Ravens down the field for a game-winning FG. The following week, Frye did it again , throwing another pick late in the game against the Raiders. Fortunately for Cleveland, the defense bailed him out, and the Browns held on for their first victory of the season. Regardless, Frye needed to clean up his play, and for the most part, he has since then.
The Browns offense would like to be more effective in the running game with Reuben Droughns. After last year's 1200+ yard season , the Browns had high expectations for an offense that was ranked near the bottom in most offensive statistical categories last year. The plan was for Droughns to be even better this year, thus alleviating pressure of the still-developing Charlie Frye.
The results haven't been too pretty for Droughns and the Cleveland ground attack so far however. The Browns rank in the bottom 5 in the NFL in rushing yards, and Droughns is averaging a paltry 3.1 yards per carry. Offenses simply aren't scared of the Cleveland passing game, and are stacking the line of scrimmage as a result. I don't expect Droughns to break out this week against a Steelers' run defense that is still performing well in spite of the horrid pass coverage. But, you could hypothesize that Pittsburgh will spend a big chunk of their practice time this week trying to shore up the play of the secondary which would potentially open up the possibility for Cleveland to have a solid day running the football. We'll see.
At the end of the day, I think this game will again come down to how well our offense protects the football. When we're not turning the ball over this year, we've been pretty damn prolific. Our of nowhere, the Steelers now sport the 5th best passing attack in the NFL at 255 yards per game . Obviously those numbers don't mean much if you can't finish off drives. After last week's breakout game by Willie Parker, I'd expect us to try to run the ball more than we have in previous weeks. It makes sense too, as Cleveland has a top-10 pass defense, but the 3rd worst rush defense in the NFL.
There's plenty more to talk about this week leading up to the game, particularly the injury situation in Pittsburgh's secondary. Anybody have any ground-breaking insights about the Brownies, our younger red-headed step-child that we're accustomed to beating, in the AFC North?