Four Down Territory: Previewing Pittsburgh

Too many bad things happened the last time the Browns and the Steelers met. On opening weekend, the Steelers thought it was acceptable to not only win, but to karate kick Spencer Lanning in the face. For starters, it’s never acceptable for the Steelers to win. They should know that by now.

Additionally, it is NOT OK TO KARATE KICK SPENCER LANNING IN THE FACE, PITTSBURGH. Look, I know that if this would have happened to, say, Brad Wing and the perpetrator was, say, Travis Benjamin, Cleveland fans would likely have thought differently. Shoot, maybe it would have been encouraged. I’m glad we’re over all of this, though. I really am. I don’t want any kind of plotted retaliation, I just…

The only logical way to even the score this week is with a Browns win, of course. Also, if Spencer Lanning wants to take the ball and run with it on a fake punt and happens to accidentally karate kick a Steeler in the face while he’s leaping into the endzone for a touchdown because there’s really no other way to get around the defender but to channel his inner Jackie Chan, fine. I won’t cheer for it, though, because what happened to Spencer Lanning’s face in Week 1 was wrong, disrespectful and downright dangerous.

Anyway, if you took a look at last week’s Titans preview, you’ll notice that a few things mentioned in there actually did happen to help the Browns to victory. Notably, longsnapper Christian Yount was phenomenal (he made a tackle, for goodness sake), Ben Tate’s return was impactful and Browns fans that made the trek to Tennessee were noticeably loud in big moments. Since it was such a success, this is now going to be a weekly thing here on Believing Since 1999 in a new segment we’ll call “Four Down Territory”. Each one of these puppies will include three keys and an in-depth prediction.  It’s a super-creative name, doesn’t require ten different bullet points and still allows me to use my football expertise (used loosely) to prognosticate about the weekend ahead. Everyone wins.

Without further ado, here are the three things that will decide what happens when the Browns take on the Steelers on the lake shore on this afternoon followed by a prediction that will be bold if you’re a Steelers fan and logical if you’re a Browns fan.

FIRST DOWN: The run game will be critical for both teams on both sides of the ball

Mike Pettine admitted this week that Le’Veon Bell is a premier back in the NFL, and he certainly wasn’t wrong in his assessment. It’s unfortunate that Bell’s ability happens to target the weakest area of the Browns’ defense (Cleveland will enter the game 29th in rushing yards allowed at just over 150 per game), but trying to control him could be the single-most deciding factor this afternoon. It won’t guarantee a win, but it will make things much easier.

Conversely, the Steelers will want to pay attention to the run when they’re on defense as well. With Ben Tate healthy and coming off of a big day in his return from injury, the Browns boast an impressive rushing attack themselves that adds up to the fourth-best unit in the NFL. They average just over 140 yards per game on the ground, and gashed Pittsburgh with 191 yards when the two teams met on opening weekend.

SECOND DOWN:  Whoever dominates the line of scrimmage will win the game

While it may be true that dominating the line of scrimmage equals success in nearly every football game, it would be a welcome change for the Browns to do it today. Ben Roethlisberger is probably a better escape artist than Jake Locker is, and if Locker had been able to finish the game last week, we could have easily seen a Browns loss. The same thing could happen if a better performance from the front seven doesn’t come against Pittsburgh.

Dominating the line of scrimmage obviously helps defend against breakout runs from Bell and others, but it has even more to do with getting to Big Ben when he drops back to pass. By “getting to Big Ben”, we’re of course talking about reaching the point where he actually gets hit and can’t be an effective passer. This is even more important if (God forbid) something happens to re-aggravate Joe Haden and the secondary becomes even more suspect. Either way, the secondary has struggled (27th in the NFL in passing yards allowed at 269 yards per game), so pressure at the line is welcomed. We’ve been waiting for the edge rushers that the Browns have invested heavily in (Paul Kruger, Barkevious Mingo, etc.) to have a profound effect on a game, and today would be a wonderful time for that to happen.

THIRD DOWN: Force turnovers, don’t commit them

Another obvious thing in principle, but especially pertinent when talking about these two teams. We all know that the Browns committed their first turnover of the season last weekend with Brian Hoyer’s fourth quarter interception, but so far, that’s been it. They’re in good company, as Seattle is the only other team in the NFL that has only committed one turnover all season. If Hoyer and company can continue to protect the ball, it will give them a distinct advantage for all of the reasons you’ve probably already ran through in your head. This will all be helpful in contrast, because…

The Steelers are not as immune to turning the ball over and have given the ball away six times this season. Comparatively speaking, that’s still a well above-average number, especially since the Browns are one of the worst teams in the NFL at forcing turnovers, but if the Browns can win this particular battle, they will be in a position to win at the end of the day. For what it’s worth, Roethlisberger did throw a pick in Week One, even though it was when the offense was in its least-efficient state of the season at the time. We’ll see what happens.

FOURTH DOWN: Prediction time.

If two of the three aforementioned areas go the Browns’ way today, they will leave FirstEnergy Stadium with a victory. Given the optimistic moniker of this blog, you can probably guess what kind of outlook is coming next. Throw on your rose-colored glasses, because it’s time to wrap this thing up.

The Browns have been depressingly bad against the Steelers since their reincarnation, but they will give Cleveland something to believe in today. Brian Hoyer will throw for a couple of touchdowns (no picks), one to Jordan Cameron and another to Travis Benjamin, who will continue to emerge as the Browns’ best receiver just like we all anticipated heading into the season. Ben Tate will fumble once, but will post 100+ yards again and reach paydirt for his first touchdown in a Browns uniform. Spencer Lanning will blast rockets all day long and repeatedly pin the Steelers deep, but won’t karate kick anyone in the face because he’s classier than that and knows that the high road is always the best road. This will make things hard on Roethlisberger and company, who will capitalize on good field position from that Tate fumble with a Le’Veon Bell score. Other than that, Pittsburgh will only manage a pair of Shaun Suisham chip shots that come after red-zone stands by the Cleveland defense. If my shoddy math skills aren’t failing me, that adds up to a 21-13 victory for the Browns.

Sounds good, right? Looking forward to celebrating a second straight Victory Monday tomorrow with everyone.

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