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Pregame Zone Blitz: Steelers at Browns

"You play. To win. The game. Hello??"

-Herm Edwards

"Playoffs?? You kiddin' me??"

-Jim Mora

"I think it's appropriate at this point to acknowledge we have an undesirable pattern of behavior, which produces a series of outcomes that are not what we're looking for."

-Mike Tomlin.

Three coaches. Three separate expressions of frustration. Only one of them is still a coach.

This is no longer about the playoffs, or title defenses. It's very simply about fixing what's wrong. It needs to be fixed for no other reason than the fact it needs to be fixed. No fan is giving up on anything, we're with our team until there isn't another game on the schedule.

We can't clinch a playoff spot with a win tonight anyway, so I'm gonna enjoy a Primetime game against a divisional opponent for what it is, and not worry about the disaster this season has become.

We've beaten Cleveland 12 straight. That streak doesn't have to end because we're 6-6.

Here's what our opponents are saying.

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

A cutesy story about lifelong Browns fan Brady Quinn getting his shot against Pittsburgh

Ryan Kelsey of Dawgs By Nature says Cleveland hates the Steelers.

So does this guy. Interesting concept, though, which Steeler do Browns fans hate the most?

Sort of older news, but an interesting thought nonetheless; Parcells to Cleveland.

Last Game

The universe seems to be sending me clear summaries of how I'm feeling after recent Steelers games. My wife was throwing up in the fourth quarter of the Chiefs game. Now, as I sat in my two-wheel drive sled, fuming mad, "Glory Days" by Bruce Springsteen came on the radio.

"...and I hope when I get older I don't sit ‘round talkin' ‘bout it, but I probably will. Just sittin' back, tryin' to recapture a little of the glory of...but then time slips away, leaves you with nuthin' mister, but, boring stories of Glory Days."

That pretty much wraps it up for the PZB. Resignation takes over for frustration. We just lost to the Raiders, which is as close to the modern definition of a non-playoff team as it gets. The Raiders haven't beaten a team that's gone on to the playoffs that year since they defeated Washington 16-13 in Week 11 of the 2005 season.

It doesn't seem that streak is in jeopardy now, either. I'm going to stick with the Glory Days, though. I'm going to remember last year's team, and to an extent, the 2007 team. Maybe we don't win again, and Pregame Zone Blitz turns into Pre-Draft Zone Blitz. Maybe we go 4-0 in our final four games, squeak into the playoffs, and make some noise a la 2005.

Maybe. Probably be a good idea for the team to just concentrate on winning in a short week on the road against a quietly improving Browns team. Make no mistake, though, the stars are aligned for a strong Browns showing tonight. Not that the Steelers have the luxury of this anyway, but this isn't an opponent to overlook.

Opponent Spotlight: QB Brady Quinn

Speaking of improvement...Quinn led Cleveland's offense to just 35 points in his first five games this season. In his last three, they've scored 66 points, and he's thrown 8 touchdown passes to five INTs.

His 45 attempts last week in San Diego were a little less than half than the amount of attempts he logged in his first two seasons in the league, and it marked the fourth consecutive game his attempts increased. Granted, the Browns have only one once when Quinn starts, it hasn't seemed as if Cleveland's defense has put together a winning effort in some of Quinn's best games.

Detroit wasted his brilliant 304 yard, 4-TD performance, edging out the Browns 38-37 in Week 11. Or maybe it was his defense. The Browns are in the bottom five of all major team defensive statistical categories, but more than anything, they're surrendering over 25 points per game.

Judging by Quinn's improvement over the past few games, and Pittsburgh's continued struggles in the secondary, the Browns will likely rest the vast majority of their game plan on Quinn's shoulders. It wouldn't be at all surprising to see him attack the corners (like everyone else during Pittsburgh's four game slide), particularly with rookies Joe Burnett and/or Keenan Lewis likely to see an increased role.

Quinn hasn't shown a ton so far in regards to deeper passing efficiency, but Cleveland can control the clock and keep their exploitable defense from being abused by keeping it short and simple for Quinn, and rely on the Steelers' recent fourth-quarter woes to pick up their first win over their division "rival" since 2003.

He'll always have this, though...

Steelers Spotlight:  WR Limas Sweed

This really seems to be a do-or-die game for Sweed, donnit? With Ward's hamstring injury likely to hamper him, Sweed will get looks in the Steelers' base offense, and with Cleveland's secondary resembling an average junior varsity squad in both size and ability, Sweed's going to get possession routes called for him. He'll likely get deep routes called for him.

If it's not too much trouble, could someone in the huddle please tell him to catch the ball?

Santonio Holmes has become Pittsburgh's go-to receiver in stretches over the season. A big reason for that is Ward's ability to let the defense know he's still there - particularly early in the game. Pittsburgh has been counting on that spark out of the flanker position all year, and they've gotten it.

It's Sweed's chance to step up. If he's able to get into a groove and patiently work the zone the way Ward does, QB Ben Roethlisberger will see him - he's used to looking to the flanker on first and second downs. It will be Sweed's ability to draw attention away from Holmes that will have the largest impact on the Steelers' passing game.

Make no mistake, they are a pass-to-set-up-the-run-and-pass team now. Rashard Mendenhall started off well last week against Oakland, then barely saw the ball in the second quarter.

If Sweed gets hot, it could be his breakout game. If he drops more passes, it could be the beginning of the end for him.

I See You

I see you, Santonio Holmes, and not just because of your career-high 149 yards, or the fact you're about to pass the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in your career.

Ok, a lot of it is that.

But still, you've typically stepped back in this point of the season, but you are taking over the title of "Go-To-Guy" during a very poor streak of team performance. Your effort is contagious, too. If you hadn't previously shown all-out effort in blocking for your fellow wide receivers, perhaps Mike Wallace doesn't get down field to level a would-be tackler on your big reception against Oakland.

As far as the stats go, you've scored in your past two games, but haven't had less than 74 yards in your last five games. You're one of two receivers in the league to have over 15 yards per catch along with 50 first downs. The other guy is a Patriot named Moss.

Considering you're on pace for over 80 catches and over 1,300 yards going into tonight's game, you may be hearing talk of you challenging Yancey Thigpen's 12-year old single-season receiving record of 1,395.

You seem to be hitting your stride. We can See that, ‘Tone.

Key Stats

  • Pittsburgh has beaten Cleveland 12 straight times. The last time the Steelers lost to the Browns was in Week 5 of 2003, in the middle of the last time the Steelers lost five straight games.
  • Browns QB Brady Quinn has gone 126 pass attempts without throwing an INT.
  • Pittsburgh hasn't earned an interception in 128 straight passes against them (since Week 9 at Denver).
  • In the fourth quarter of Pittsburgh's previous four games, its defense has surrendered 513 yards and 37 points (0-4).
  • Quinn has seven TDs and zero INTs in his past three games.
  • WR Santonio Holmes has 987 receiving yards. Hines Ward has 922, giving them 1,909 yards combined. Ward and Plaxico Burress combined for 2,654 yards in 2002.

Quick Hitters

No Brainer? Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris, responding to a question about whether he would take a cautious approach with KR Clifton Smith's second concussion this season: "That's a no-brainer." Couldn't come up with a better phrase than that, coach? Smith was placed on the IR as a result of his injury.