Instead of telling you the things you don't want to hear, such as the Browns have better odds of getting struck by lightning in January then beating the Steelers, I will desperately try to keep this article positive in the spirit of the holiday season.
This Steelers unit may be just as good as their Super Bowl XL and XLIII winning clubs. But they do have weaknesses; weaknesses that were exposed by several teams already. No football team is perfect, but this team over the past decade or so has come pretty close.
They get mighty lucky sometimes; whenever the game is on the line late in the fourth quarter and beyond, someone manages to pull a golden watch out of their stocking for an amazing game winning play. They've done it at the highest of stages; that's just Steeler football. But if you look hard enough, there are ways of sending this Steelers team squealing.
1. They have a great run defense, but match power with power.
A line-backing core that is made up of LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison is without question the best in the business. Their versatility sets them apart from others, and there isn't a play in the play book that this unit can not successfully run. But if the opposition runs the ball straight down their throat and puts the pressure on them, that is where opposing teams have had success. The Pittsburgh backers often tend to over pursue the ball carrier, which can lead to big holes in the line. It also keeps Ben Roethlisberger and company off of the field; thus limiting their big play opportunities. The Browns' Peyton Hillis can be that dominant force that keeps the Steelers defense off balance, but with a sore back, his effectiveness may be limited. If he aggravates that injury any time during the game come Sunday, the Browns are in real trouble. I'm no offensive coordinator, but it makes sense to run fullback Lawrence Vickers as well. He has compiled only five carries all year, but his physical stature may be able to wear the Steelers down.
2. The Steelers do not play good special teams.
This would normally be an area of the game that should work in the Browns' favor. But when their ace returnee Josh Cribbs is working with four bum toes, it makes things difficult. Most of us average individuals wouldn't even be able to walk under such circumstances. The New York Jets' Brad Smith made a 97-yard opening kickoff return look easy two weeks ago, and if the blocking up front can step up for Cleveland, Cribbs may be able to do the same despite his nagging injury. Cleveland is also one of the best special teams coverage units in the league, so starting field position should also give Pittsburgh some issues.
3. Wide receiver screens make the Steelers secondary look silly.
Yea, I know. Brian Robiskie and Mohammed Massaquoi haven't exactly been big play receivers, or even reliable targets, so this could be a wasted opportunity for the Browns. But if there is one wide receiver play that they do run well, it is quick screens to the flat. The main go to guy in that situation: Chansi Stuckey. Believe it or not, Stuckey is the most fundamentally sound receiver on this Browns core, and is third on the team in receptions, behind only Peyton Hillis and Benjamin Watson. Stuckey is a sure handed guy that has the elusiveness to make a would-be tackler miss.
4. A double tight end set is an excellent way to off set the Steelers blitz schemes.
New England was able to do this effectively. They went with a standard two wide out, single back set. The extra tight end was to aid the overworked offensive line. Basic slant and curl routes were the most effective plays. Protecting the blind side of quarterback Colt McCoy is crucial especially in the early going of his career. Injuries to Evan Moore and Robert Royal have damaged the Browns chances of accomplishing this. But taking leading receiver Ben Watson out of the receiving equation is not an answer, so the offensive front for Cleveland has its work cut out for them.
The Browns' 2010 campaign will likely go down in flames come Sunday, potentially along with head coach Eric Mangini. But there are things to look forward to come 2011; another strong draft, further development of T.J. Ward, Colt McCoy, and Joe Haden, and lack of injury may put the Browns in an interesting scenario come August of next year. But until then, there's much will be decided about the Browns' personnel.