It's a short week, so we've got a short-themed, short PZB.
Pittsburgh's opponent who has a powerful rush defensive end who isn't aware he's too short to be a defensive end. They've got a short quarterback who throws short because he mostly has short receivers. They have a strong running back who excels at picking up short yardage.
Here's the shorter way to say it; Cleveland is not a good team. They weren't a good team in 2009, either. Short weeks mess with the rhythm players have during the week, particularly this late in the season. Teams are used to a schedule. Variation to that can be refreshing, but also disruptive.
PZB's biggest fear is it has all the makings of a 16-9 snoozer. But it's the Short Season (Weeks 12-Playoffs), any win is as good as any other.
Dawgs By Nature's Chris Pokorny highlights Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron's press conference.
Browns RB Peyton Hillis will play tonight.
PZB's mantra has been about the short season for champions. It's not as much Weeks 1-11 as it is Weeks 12-Playoffs. Week 14 throws a bit of a change-up at both Pittsburgh and Cleveland, both teams hoping to not whiff the way the Bengals did.
Another aspect of a championship team; it wins games with all three phases. Pittsburgh won largely due to the momentum caused by its special teams. WR Antonio Brown (a short receiver) was named Special Teams Player of the Week but that's really more of a team reward than anything. RB Rashard Mendenhall ran for two (short) touchdowns, and WR Mike Wallace took a (short) Ben Roethlisberger pass in for a red zone touchdown.
Running the ball should be made a priority tonight. Cincinnati stops the run well. Cleveland does not. Pittsburgh showed it could pick up rushing yards against a good run defense, and it's about time it shows its future opponents this is one of the most multi-dimensional offenses its had in years.
Us Against The World
How utterly ridiculous is it that James Harrison makes a football act and gets fined $75,000, and Richard Seymour, despite whatever happened to provoke him, slugs a player on national TV in full view of the cameras and knocks him to the ground -- and gets fined $25,000. Weak. Very weak.
Browns VP of...whatever, Mike Holmgren, sure is a classy guy. I would hope the multiple Steelers players who were on the roster for their 21-10 win over Holmgren's Seahawks in Super Bowl XL remember this quote.
"We knew it was going to be tough going up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I didn't know we were going to have to play the guys in the striped shirts as well."
Opponent Spotlight: DE Jabaal Sheard
It was a great 2011 Draft for Cleveland. After mining almost all of Atlanta's top picks for this season and next, it drafted Baylor NT Phil Taylor. Not long after that, it selected Pitt's motor rusher Sheard.
Taylor may not quite be "there" yet, but Sheard sure is. One of the most active linemen in the game, he simply does not stop in pursuit.
Steelers RT Marcus Gilbert better have eaten his Wheaties this morning because Sheard is all about energy and effort. His technique will be enough for most pass rushers, but there are times he bull-rushes the tackle well into the backfield, usually in an effort to catch him off-guard.
Sheard is a (short) Tweener kind of defensive end - the latest-but-backward version of LaMarr Woodley. It was said Woodley was too short to play defensive end, and fell to the second round mostly because of his lack of experience playing outside linebacker. The Browns kept Sheard at defensive end, and it's paying big dividends in an otherwise dull season in Cleveland.
Steelers Spotlight: RB Rashard Mendenhall
He's been quietly camping on around 16 carries a game, with a mediocre 3.9 yards per carry average in that time (161 yards on 41 carries and four touchdowns in his last three games).
But he's warming up. He had 44 yards in Week 10, 57 yards in Week 12 and 60 yards in Week 13. And this is easily the worst run defense he's faced in Pittsburgh's last four games.
Mendenhall looks fresh. He's attacking north-to-south, and the offense is giving him more downhill runs to utilize his strength. Baltimore's game plan against Cleveland was Ray Rice left, right and center. Don't expect Pittsburgh to play it that conservatively, but 35 carries between Mendenhall - who will get the lion's share - and Isaac Redman seems to be a winning formula.
I See You
I see you, Chris Hoke. I see you not because of what you did last week, but what you have done for this franchise throughout your career. You won't find many with this stat: 15-1 as a starter over the past 10 years. The development you've helped with in that time is nothing short of admirable.
If this really is the end of your career, Hokey, we're going to really miss you. Wear those rings proudly, you earned them and you deserve them. We may see another guy wearing No. 76, but we'll always think of you.
This will be the last Pregame Zone Blitz. Starting quickly into Week 15, we've decided to break it up, and splice pieces of it as individual posts throughout the week. We'll still have individual player spotlights, and rest assured, any Us Against The World moments will be written. We're likely going to fill the Friday morning spot with a package of opponent analysis, so look forward to some more fun pictures-with-crude-circles posts.
PZB was started in 2009, and it was nothing but a dream and a dumb name. It's expanded to reality with a dumb name. I'm looking forward to re-branding our pre-game analysis here on BTSC, and hoping Mike takes over the naming convention from now on.