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Pregame Zone Blitz: Browns at Steelers

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Fourth quarter points? Psshaw! All that means is our offense scores enough to force teams to come back. Detroit had nothing else to play for, and the fact Daunte Culpepper threw perhaps the stupidest pass I've ever seen (including high school quarterbacks) is exactly what makes them the Lions. It's tough to worry when you've got a passer the likes of Ben Roethlisberger under center (I see him, too). But, the greatest news of all, we've got Troy back. Worst news of all, Aaron Smith is out for the rest of the year. Take the good with the bad, because it's a new season, ladies and gentlemen. It starts with a visit from our old pals in Cleveland.

Here's what our opponents are saying.

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

Dawgs By Nature says we shouldn't read into anything about trade rumors involving Brady Quinn.

Quinn tells the Cleveland Plain-Dealer basically nothing about anything, including nothing about his house for sale, nothing about the $10 million he'll miss out on this year, and nothing about his future.

Our Fearless Leader Blitzburgh shows off his tap-dancing skills in an interview with Dawgs By Nature.

Look! Limas caught a pass! Sorry, kind of off-topic.

Chris Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature discusses the post-Edwards Browns receiving corps.

Last Game

"It's still not up to the level we need it to be. We let them go down the field again and make it close." - James Harrison

That sour taste remains strong after another week of missing direct contact with that last nail in the opponents' coffin. Pittsburgh rarely gets beat in Time of Possession. Detroit 32:35, Pittsburgh 27:25. Rashard Mendenhall had six carries in the second half, after a "Delicious" 65-yard first-half effort.

Are we waiting for the other shoe to drop on a season in which the Steelers can't get out of first gear, or are we waiting for the Steelers to put together a concerted four-quarter effort from everyone, coaches included?

A modicum of credit needs to be given to Detroit. While it's not likely we'll see them in the Super Bowl any time soon, they played a solid game. In fact, if it wasn't for QB Daunte Culpepper's JV-level interception, Detroit could have pulled out a huge win.

But that's what makes them the Lions.

They don't give out style points, but we certainly use them in evaluation of our teams. With a divisional showdown with the bizarre Cleveland Browns looming, Pittsburgh needs to find a way to mirror their first half performances so far, and ignore their second half results.

Opponent Spotlight: P Dave Zastudil

"The Browns beat Buffalo 6-3 in one of the all-time ugly NFL games because of Zastudil, and almost because of Zastudil alone. On nine punts, the Bills had seven return yards. Seven!" - Peter King

PMZ likes looking at punters, and the impact they have on a game. Coincidentally, Zastudil hauled off one of the best punting performances in NFL history the same game the Browns put up one of the poorest winning efforts in recent memory.

It was extremely curious how the Browns won 6-3 over Buffalo, (Best Headline Award goes to Dawgs By Nature)  when QB Derek Anderson completed two - TWO - passes in fair weather conditions. But looking at Zastudil's performance, it's no surprise. If you want to produce no offense, turn the ball over and generally do nothing significant with the football, you better punt well, or you're going to lose by 30.

Zastudil was the only reason Cleveland was even within four scores, let alone won the game. He leads the NFL with 18 punts inside the 20, and he's tied for the lead with 30 punts. With the struggles the Browns are having offensively, it's a good bet he'll be on the field a bunch, and he has shown the ability to affect the game on his own.

But hey, at least Zastudil's not in Detroit!

 

Pittsburgh has struggled in the punt return phase, with Stefan Logan averaging 7.4 yards per return, 27th in the NFL. This is the only area in which Cleveland holds a strong advantage, and if Pittsburgh wants to avoid the upset, Logan will have to break a return or two, and create decent field position.

Steelers Spotlight: SS Troy Polamalu

"You know, I really enjoy watching my brothers play out there. I really feel like I'm out there anyway. I ride the emotional roller-coaster of wins and losses if I play or not." - Troy Polamalu

The most anticipated return in Pittsburgh since the Stanley Cup is expected Sunday when the Browns come to town. Granted, to get there, the Steelers had to lose another indispensible defensive player, but what the loss of Aaron Smith does to the Steelers, at least Polamalu's return will hide it somewhat.

Putting it nicely would be to say Cleveland's offense is not moving the ball very well. To put it accurately would be to say their offense is the worst in the league. The play they've gotten from Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson at quarterback has been grossly lacking, and that has caused serious disruption in the 1-2 rushing attack of Jamal Lewis and Jerome Harrison.

Polamalu isn't necessary to slow down this offense in most regards, but his inclusion will nullify any confidence the Browns may have received when they learned of Smith's injury.

There's a certain amount of game-planning teams will have to do when Polamalu is on the field. He affects both the pass and run offensive plans, but the lack of Smith, and Cleveland's lack of passing attack likely will equal a steady diet of "run-left" kinds of plays.

That presents a problem for Pittsburgh. While Quinn, Anderson and their C-list group of receivers have produced next to nothing so far this season, the running game has produced two 100-yard rushers the past two weeks. Harrison had 121 yards against Cincinnati in Week 4, and Lewis put 117 on the Bills in Week 5. Polamalu will be stationed at the line for much of the game, and should expect a physical contest. With the platoon of Travis Kirschke, Nick Eason and rookie Ziggy Hood holding down Smith's left defensive end position, the Browns are libel to run to that side. Polamalu will help shore that potential gap up.

I See You

I see you, Ben Roethlisberger. It isn't just your career-high 73.8 percent completion rate, it's that smirk we saw on your face after throwing your second interception that was returned for a touchdown this season. The confidence you displayed in yourself, seeing you own up to a mistake, is inspiring. More of what we really loved was how you showed your young receivers you believe in them. Limas Sweed's drop woes continued, but your first pass attempt was to him on his first play since the drop against Cincinnati. Granted, he's probably got to catch that slant as well, but you went back to him. Mike Wallace joined the fun, dropping what would have been a 71-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. You could have doghoused him too, and just gone to Ward, Holmes and Miller as you had been all game, but you see the value in involving as many receivers as possible. The more confidence they have in themselves, the better they are. You went back to Wallace, who beat CB William James (the guy who took your out route to the house earlier) as badly as any corner has ever been beaten, and got his first career touchdown.

The confidence you have in your receivers makes them better, and it's as much a factor in your ridonkulous completion percentage as your own ability. It's also a big reason why the Steelers are 3-2 without their best defensive player.

Key Stats

  • Pittsburgh has won the battle of time of possession in nine of their last 11 games
  • Pittsburgh is 2-0 in those games (Dallas in 2008 and Detroit in 2009)
  • James Harrison has forced 18 fumbles in his last 36 regular season starts.
  • Cleveland (11), Oakland (9.8) and St. Louis (6.8) are combining to average 3 points per game less than 2008 league-low Cincinnati (12.8)

Quick Hitters

Thankfully, He Doesn't Play for Us: I would have paid good money to witness the conversation between Bly and Singletary. Good money.

What's Going On In Bravo Company, Matthew?: A classic Col. Nathan Jessup quote to the Cleveland Browns for their most recent PR disaster. My favorite is the sarcasm-laced comment from the league about never having the need to implement rules about players without pads getting hit by players with pads. Only the Mangenius...

I Am Not Talking About No Fine: Chad Ochocinco gets hit hard, and Ray Lewis gets fined. It's kind of a double-win, huh?