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December 16, 2013
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Steelers Need a Ton of Help — Just Like in 1989

How did this game come about? It wasn't easy.

How did this game come about? It wasn’t easy.

By Alan Robinson

If you’re a Steelers fan, you also need to be a Jets fan.

It might be difficult. It might go against all you value. It might pain you to have to root for a team that is coached by former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. It might trouble you to root for a team that still writes a pay check for Mark Sanchez.

Here’s why: The Jets help offer the one circuitous route to the playoffs that still remains for the Steelers.

After beating the Bengals 30-20 on Sunday night, here’s what the Steelers need to happen:

– The Steelers (6-8), of course, must beat the revitalized Packers (7-6-1) on Sunday in Green Bay and the Browns (4-10) at Heinz Field on Dec. 29. One loss leaves the Steelers out of the playoffs and saddled with their first losing record since they were 6-10 in 2003.

– The Ravens (7-6) must lose two of their three remaining games. They play at the Lions (7-6) on Monday night, the Patriots (10-4) at home on Sunday and at the Bengals (9-5) on Dec. 29. The Bengals, by the way, finish up at home against the Vikings and Ravens as they try to secure the AFC North title.

– The hot Dolphins (8-6) must go cold in a hurry and lose to the Bills (5-9) in Buffalo on Sunday and to the Jets (6-8) in Miami on Dec. 29. One Dolphins victory eliminates the Steelers because Pittsburgh cannot get to nine wins.

– The Chargers (7-7) must lose once as they finish up the season at home, either to the Raiders (4-10) on Sunday or to the Chiefs (11-3) on Dec. 29.

– The Jets not only must beat the Dolphins, they must win Sunday in the Meadowlands against the Browns. Even if the Dolphins lose their final two, it is imperative to the Steelers that the Jets also beat Browns because the Dolphins own the head-to-head tiebreaker with Pittsburgh.

If they all scenarios play out, the Steelers, Ravens, Dolphins, Chargers and Jets all would be 8-8. Because ties are broken first INSIDE THE DIVISION, the Steelers would eliminate the Ravens based on a better division record. Similarly, the Jets would eliminate the Dolphins because of a better division record.

The Steelers then would eliminate the Jets based on head-to-head play (the Steelers’ 19-3 win on Oct. 13) and the Chargers based on a better conference record.

Too much to hope for? The 1989 Steelers faced a similar situation going into the last weekend of the season. When the Oilers beat the Browns, 24-20, in a Saturday game to clinch the AFC Central, the Steelers had a very narrow path to the postseason:

– The Steelers (8-7) had to win at Tampa Bay (5-10).
– The Raiders (8-7) had to lose at the New York Giants (11-4).
– The Colts (8-7) had to lose at the Saints (8-7).
– The Dolphins (8-7) had to lose at home to the Chiefs (7-7-1).
– The Bengals (8-7) had to lose at Minnesota (9-6).

All of the above happened, capped off with a Vikings 29-21 win in a Christmas night game against Cincinnati (more than 24 hours after the Steelers won in Tampa). And those Steelers went on to upset the Oilers in Houston in an AFC wild-card game, then lost narrowly at Denver to just miss reaching the AFC title game — and in a season that began with a 51-0 loss to the Browns and a 41-10 loss to the Bengals.

December 12, 2013
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Clark says Bengals don’t ‘respect’ Steelers — Harrison aside

ryan-clarkJames Harrison, Ben RoethlisbergerBy Alan Robinson

It’s one of the oldest tricks in the motivational playbook.

Want you give your team some incentive? Simply recite the “They don’t respect us” theme.

It’s exactly what Ryan Clark is doing as the Steelers (5-8), all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, take on the Cincinnati Bengals (9-4) Sunday at Heinz Field. The Bengals can lock up the AFC North with a win and a Ravens loss, while a Steelers win would mean only that they still have a chance to avoid their first losing season in 10 years.

Clark believes these Bengals, with a cast largely assembled in the last few seasons, don’t really respect or worry the Steelers all that much.

Maybe it’s because the Bengals – headed to the playoffs for a third consecutive season – have reversed a trend that saw them dominated by the Steelers for a decade.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of respect for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Cincinnati,” Clark said on a conference call with Cincinnati reporters. “I don’t think they necessarily understand the history, or know the history, nor care about it.”

The Bengals effectively put the Steelers out of the playoffs by winning in Pittsburgh last December, then beat them 20-10 in a Monday night game the second week of this season.

Before that, the Steelers won 20 of 26 against Cincinnati from 2000-2012, including season series sweeps in 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011.

“Those guys play hard,” Clark said of the Bengals. “They talk and, for me, that’s exciting. It’s always good to play against good players who feel like they’re better than you. It makes for a good game for both teams.”

There’s another angle to the Sunday night game that would have been much bigger before the Steelers effectively slid out of the playoff race: The return of James Harrison to Pittsburgh. The five-time Pro Bowl linebacker left the Steelers after last season because the two sides couldn’t agree to a reworking of his contract.

“Hopefully it (the welcome is) a good one. James did a lot of great things here,” Clark said on the conference call. “A lot of those No. 1 defenses were in large part to the efforts of James Harrison. Hopefully they cheer him. Mike Wallace got booed last week but his situation was a lot different than James’s situation. So hopefully they give him the reception he deserves.”

When the Steelers were in Cincinnati in September, Harrison played only 14 snaps. But he’s now being used in a variety of ways in the Bengals’ defense – even as a tackle, at times – and he played 52 snaps last week.

Clark isn’t surprised the Bengals picked up Harrison, even though, at 35, he is past his prime and isn’t the dominant playmaker he was when he was chosen as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Do the Steelers miss Harrison in the locker room?

“I mean, you’ve tried to talk to him. You know it’s tough to get a conversation out of James,” Clark said on the conference call. “(But) the things you learn from James, you learn by the way he works. To watch a guy in the weight room who works as hard as he does in season and out of season. To watch a guy that when he practices, he practices with a weight vest. He goes hard every play. He runs to the ball every play. He works on his rush moves every play. And this is even after he was named league defensive MVP.

“When you see a person who’s accomplished what he’s accomplished and made the money he’s already made and to still continue to work the way he’s worked? That is contagious. And it’s not only contagious, it’s at least setting an example of what it takes to be a great football player. James did all those things while he was here.”

It is obvious that Ryan Clark respects James Harrison. Even if he believes the Bengals of today don’t have all that much respect for the Steelers of yesterday — James Harrison aside.

December 10, 2013
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Roethlisberger defends Haley — again

By Alan Robinson

Ben Roethlisberger is going from offense to defense – yet again, he is defending Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

Following the 34-28 loss Sunday to the Dolphins, Roethlisberger was asked why Le’Veon Bell was used sparingly as a running back in the second half. Bell touched the ball an equal amount of times in each half, but his primary role past halftime was as a receiver.

Roethlisberger responded by saying, “No idea. Coach Haley’s over there. You can ask him.”

The comments were like several made previously by the quarterback following games this season, and were interpreted by some as him being critical of the play-calling.

But Roethlisberger strongly denied that during his weekly 93.7 FM radio show Tuesday, saying he and the coordinator have an excellent relationship in an offense that he said is working. The Steelers are No. 16 in the league offensively.

“It was taken way out of context. There is absolutely no issue between coach
Haley and I,” Roethlisberger said on the radio show. “I love where this offense is right now.”

He added, “No way, shape or form was it directed negatively at him. I think the offense is as good as it’s been in a long time. We’ve got guys doing some great things. I genuinely am enjoying this offense and what coach Haley is doing with it and where we’re going. We’re getting better every week, and I think we can keep getting better.”

Roethlisberger said he made the remarks because Haley was calling the plays, except when he was doing so in the no-huddle formation.

“He’s our coordinator, if you want to ask questions about play calling, go ask him about it,” Roethlisberger said, explaining his post-game remarks. “He’s the guy that calls the plays. If you want to ask me about the no-huddle and I’m calling them, then you can ask me.’”

Despite the Steelers’ 5-8 record, Roethlisberger is on pace for one of the best seasons of his career statistically. He is 320 of 500 for 3,724 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and he has a 94.1 passer rating.

He is on pace to easily surpass his previous career high of 513 passes in 2011.

Roethlisberger’s 320 completions through 13 games are 44 more than he has had in any previous season. And his 3,724 yards are nearly 200 more than he has had in a season to date; his owns the team record of 4,328 yards in 2009.

Antonio Brown also could set some team single-season receiving records. He already has 90 catches; Hines Ward and Brown are the only receivers in team history to make that many catches.

December 3, 2013
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Yet Another Kickoff Video Appears to Support Tomlin’s Case

tomlinBy Alan Robinson

 

Ready for another Mike Tomlin video?

 

The coaches’ tape of the Steelers-Ravens game was finally made available Tuesday by the NFL, and it tends to support Tomlin’s contention that his interference with Ravens kick returner Jacoby Jones was unintentional.

 

A KDKA-TV video posted Monday on the station’s website shows Tomlin moving up against the out-of-bounds line as he watches the Jones’ 73-yard kickoff return play out on the JumboTron  scoreboard in Baltimore. Tomlin puts his right foot on the playing field before hastily sidestepping out of the way only as Jones rushes past him.

 

Unlike the NBC-TV game tape and the KDKA video, the “All-22” coaches video shows Tomlin for most of the kickoff.

 

Just before Shaun Suisham kicks off, Tomlin is watching the JumboTron as he starts walking from the 50-yard-line – he is in the white stripe in front of the bench – toward the Steelers’ end. He is at the Steelers’ 44-yard line as Suisham’s foot hits the ball.

 

Jones is just hitting the Ravens’ 49-yard line as Tomlin reappears again, intently watching the scoreboard video as he stands at the 38-yard line. Tomlin doesn’t begin moving – he takes a quick hop to his left — until Jones’ foot is about to come down on the 38.

 

The moment he gets up from being tackled at the Steelers’ 27 yard line by Cortez Allen, Jones begins pointing with the football he is carrying in his right hand at Tomlin, claiming interference.

During his weekly news conference Tuesday, Tomlin said he became a bit “complacent” because no opponent return had gone past the 50-yard line this season – and he was six yards beyond that even as the play started.

 

 

 

 

December 1, 2013
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Common sense doesn’t prevail with Tomlin sideline incident

tomlinWhat a season it’s been for the Steelers, and that’s not even bringing up their 0-4 start and now playoff unfriendly 5-7 record.

* The offensive coordinator was sued not once, but twice with the latter being over somebody watching his dogs.

* The signed napkin.

* The quarterback asking for a trade, or so it was reported.

* The quarterback demanding he never did … over and over again.

* The report of the organization open to change all offensive coaches after the season, except for James Daniel, of course.

* And now, the sideline incident.

The latest is easily the weirdest … well, maybe second to the dog sitter suing.

The latest report has the NFL looking into Mike Tomlin’s interfering with Jacoby Jones’ kickoff return by standing partially in the field of play with his back turned to the action and watching the return unfold on the JumboTron at Baltimore M&T Bank Stadium.

There are now talks of heavy fines and possible forfeiture of draft picks for the Steelers because of it.

Are they serious? Well, this is the NFL, so the answer is yes.

Watch the video with just an ounce of common sense and it tells you that by no means was Tomlin’s actions on purpose. It would take quite a talent and moreover, quite a lot of guts to try to pull off something like that in front of what is well-known to be a large audience on Thanksgiving night.

Not to mention the logistics (OK, Jones will return the kick 73 yards up the left sideline so let me stand here near the field and watch the play on the JumboTron just in case he breaks one so I can get in his way.)

To add a little personal perspective, I have been on the field at Heinz Field at the two-minute warning for more than a decade. Many times I will watch a play unfold on the JumboTron for a better perspective. Problem is (and it’s happened to me), you lose your perspective of what you are looking at on the screen compared to what’s going on around you. It’ easily done.

So do I believe that’s what happened with Tomlin?

Well, put it this way: It’s a better explanation than a Super-Bowl winning and much-respected coach for the model franchise trying to purposely but inadvertently get in a way of an opposing player in a close game.

Come on. Common sense, please.

“I always watch the returns on the JumboTron. It provides better perspective for me. I lost my placement as he broke free and saw at the last second how close I was to the field of play…I was wrong, I accept responsibility for it,” Tomlin said after the game

That’s acceptable for me, but maybe I am naive?

But image is everything for the NFL nowadays, so Tomlin could be made an example.

If that’s the case, might as well take all Dolphins draft choice away for the next 3-5 years right now.

November 29, 2013
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Tomlin explains being on field during kick return

BALTIMORE — Steelers coach Mike Tomlin might have entertained the crowd at M&T Bank Stadium Thanksgiving night, but it wasn’t by design.

Tomlin was shown on the jumbotron at least a half dozen times during replays after slightly altering the course of kick returner Jacoby Jones on a third-quarter kickoff that allowed Cortez Allen to chase him down from behind.

“They always like to show me on the jumbotron here in Baltimore,” Tomlin said. “I appreciate that.”

Of course, Tomlin was joking.

Tomlin said it was an accident that he was within the white area of the sidelines reserved for officials during the 73-yard third-quarter kick return that set up one of Justin Tucker‘s five field goals in Baltimore’s 22-20 win.

Tomlin explained himself after the game.

“I always watch the returns on the jumbrotron, it provides a better perspective for me,” Tomlin said. “I lost my placement as he broke free and saw at the last second how close I was to the field of play.”

Tomlin said he didn’t feel like he interfered with the play. Jones said that Tomlin did alter his path a little, but said that Allen shouldn’t have caught him from behind anyways.

“Once I broke, until I hit the hole, I’m running outside, I’m looking; I promise you, I’m looking at him the whole time,” Jones said. “I am like, ‘Does he know he’s on the field?’ I’m running. I am looking at him as I get close I’m like, ‘Is he going to move?’ I just weaved to get out of the way. It broke my stride a little bit , which I still shouldn’t have got caught. If I was him, I’d do the same thing.”

Tomlin didn’t think it was too funny. When told that he wasn’t permitted on the white boundary line, he quipped: “Tell me something I don’t know. I do it quite often, like everybody else in the National Football League. I was wrong. I accept responsibility for it.”

The Ravens argued that Jones should be awarded the touchdown, but that can only happen if Jones was tripped, which he wasn’t.

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh got a chuckle out of it all.

“I was wondering if they credit him with a tackle on that,” Harbaugh said. “Hey, that stuff happens. It happens. I really don’t have anything to say about it other than, stuff like that happens.”

November 27, 2013
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Al Michaels’ second miracle finish involved the Steelers

Al Michaels and John Madden

Al Michaels and John Madden

By Alan Robinson

Al Michaels wonders if he’ll ever have another game to match this one.

No, not THAT game.

Michaels is the iconic sports announcer best remembered for his “Do you believe in miracles?” call when the United States’ college kids beat the Soviet Union’s all-world ice hockey machine in the 1980 Olympics.

The longtime voice of Monday night football and, now, the Sunday night game on NBC, Michaels has broadcast more than 500 NFL games and numerous Super Bowls. The Thursday night Ravens-Steelers game in Baltimore will be his 26th Steelers primetime telecast.

The best NFL game he’s called? To him, it’s easy: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23 in the 2008 season Super Bowl in Tampa.

To Michaels, this game had it all: Superlative individual performances (James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return touchdown, Larry Fitzgerald’s spectacular catches), a great comeback (by the Cardinals) and, of course, a miracle finish (Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes for 6 yards and the game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds remaining).

Yes, Al Michaels’ second miracle finish.

“I thought it was the most exciting Super Bowl of all — the NFL Network did one of those 10 best Super Bowls and that was ranked No. 1,” Michaels told the Tribune-Review.

It wasn’t necessarily the matchup; NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth thinks the Cardinals (9-7 that season) might have been the worst team to reach the playoffs.

“It was a matchup nobody really expected. The fact Pittsburgh got there wasn’t a surprise, the fact Arizona got there was shocking,” Michaels said. “You have this regal franchise with multiple Super Bowl wins going against this franchise that, when you attach a word to them, the word was futility.”

But, as Michael said, “That game had so many incredible moments.”

“And it wasn’t only James Harrison’s 100-yard return,” Michaels said. “First of all, a 100-yard interception return is phenomenal no matter when it happens. But to happen when it did, with Arizona going in to take the lead? Then he intercepts it and he’s going down the sidelines, and every Cardinal seemingly has a chance to get him, and Larry Fitzgerald is running through the bench area trying to catch him? What people forget is if Harrison is out of bounds at the half-yard line, the (first) half is over. It’s either a touchdown or nothing.”

There was also an Arizona goal-line stand and, ultimately, the game-winning drive led by Roethlisberger that ended with his thread-through-a-needle pass to Holmes that had to be accurate to the inch to succeed.

“The pass off to Holmes was insane, there were three Cardinals around him,” Michaels recalls. “All these things were going on; the drama was spectacular.”

Michaels still makes the occasional journey to Pittsburgh for NFL games, but longtime broadcast partner John Madden, now retired, does not. Don’t expect him to stop by for a vacation, either; since 1972, Pittsburgh has been Madden’s least-favorite NFL venue.

Remember, Madden was the coach on the losing end of the Immaculate Reception.

“He never really liked coming into Pittsburgh, and only because of that game,” Michaels said. “He enjoyed the town but it brought back probably the worst memory of his coaching career.”

Did Madden ever manage to get over losing on what truly was a miracle play, Franco Harris’ shoetop catch of a wildly deflected Terry Bradshaw pass in the final minute of what seemingly was, for the Steelers, a game already lost?

“No, he couldn’t (get over it),” Michaels said. “I tried to joke around a little bit (about it), but his brow would crease a little bit and he wouldn’t laugh. It was something that hung with him. He felt he should have won that game and it could have been another Super Bowl for him.”

Oh, and the NFL’s greatest phenomenal finish? Michaels didn’t call that game. Curt Gowdy did for NBC.

After all, one announcer is allowed only so many miracles in a lifetime.

Al Michaels and John Madden

Al Michaels and John Madden

November 26, 2013
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: It’s the biggest Steelers game in years

heathravensBy Alan Robinson

This could be the Steelers’ biggest game since their playoff upset loss to the Broncos in January 2012.

This dismisses all of last season … but given the way they played throughout a disappointing season in which they never found a rhythm, balance or identity, the Steelers pretty much dismissed that season on their own.

Here’s why.

If they win their fourth in a row and beat the Ravens (5-6), the Steelers (5-6) will haul a coal barge full of momentum into December. They will also continue a pattern that all of their better teams of recent vintage followed by playing their best when the games are most important. Some examples:

— The 2011 and 2010 teams that went 12-4 both won four in a row as December began to unfold, and six of the last seven.
— The 2008 team that won the Super Bowl won five straight and six of its last seven.
— The 2005 team that won the Super Bowl, in danger of missing the playoffs after a three-game losing streak dropped it to 7-5, won its final four games – and then all four in the playoffs.

See a pattern?

The Steelers will have everything to play for in December if they can get past the Ravens, but that will be difficult. AFC North teams are 7-1 at home (the only loss being the Browns to the Steelers on Sunday) and the Ravens have won eight of their last nine at home in the division (the only loss being against the Steelers 23-20 on Dec. 2).

But if they do, the Steelers will head into a final month of the season in which they will leave Pittsburgh only once, on Dec. 22 to play a reeling Packers team that very well could not have Aaron Rodgers, who is injured with no return date imminent.

They’ll be favored to beat the Dolphins on Dec. 8, favored to beat the Browns on Dec. 29 and the Dec. 15 game against Bengals (which NBC is expected to keep as its Sunday night contest) could be a tossup.

If the Steelers win Thursday – look for a long run by Le’Veon Bell to make the difference if they do – they can even start thinking about winning the AFC North, not going just for the second AFC wild card spot.

They currently trail the Bengals (7-4) by two games with five to go, a huge disadvantage to overcome with so few games remaining. But if the Steelers beat the Ravens and the Dolphins, and the Bengals lose either Sunday at San Diego (5-6) or the following week to the Colts (7-4), the Steelers could tie the Bengals by beating them in Pittsburgh.

Both teams would be 8-6, but the Steelers would own the tiebreaker based on a better division record (the Steelers would be 4-1; the Bengals 2-3).

Then, the Steelers would be in control of their own destiny, not just for the wild card but for the division — inconceivable when they were 0-4.

The remaining Bengals schedule:
Sunday, at Chargers (5-6); Dec. 8, Colts (7-4) in Cincinnati; Dec. 15, at Steelers; Dec. 22, Vikings (2-8-1) in Cincinnati; Dec. 29, Ravens (5-6) in Cincinnati.

So the Steelers and Bengals have three home games remaining, but the Bengals’ schedule down the stretch looks slightly more difficult; both Cincinnati and Baltimore could have playoff hopes riding Dec. 29, the same day the Steelers are at home against Cleveland.

See how important this Ravens game is? It could make the Steelers season or, conceivably, all but end it. That’s a lot riding on one game.

And consider this: If the Steelers lose to the Ravens and then fade down the stretch in December, perhaps finishing 7-9, it could lead to an offseason teardown and rebuilding the likes of which the Steelers haven’t seen in years. Given general manager Kevin Colbert’s unhappiness at last season’s 8-8, and the changes that followed (most notably the heavy reliance on the 2013 draft class), it’s difficult to imagine him staying with a status quo in 2014 – especially given the large number of over-30 players who are due to make big, big salaries next season.

That’s why this Ravens game is so big. It could set the course not only for this season, but for 2014, 2015 and 2016, too.

Records of Steelers and Ravens after 11 games
Season Ravens Steelers
1996 3-8 8-3*
1997 4-7 8-3*
1998 4-7 7-4
1999 4-7 5-6
2000- 7-4*+ 5-6
2001 7-4* 9-2*
2002 5-6 6-5*
2003 6-5* 4-7
2004 7-4 10-1*
2005 3-8 7-4*+
2006 9-2* 4-7
2007 4-7 8-3*
2008 7-4* 8-3*+
2009 6-5* 6-5
2010 8-3* 8-3*
2011 8-3* 8-3*
2012 9-2*+ 6-5
2013 5-6 5-6

*Made playoffs
+ Won Super Bowl

November 25, 2013
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Jarvis Jones and his trypanophobia

With only four days in between season-altering games on the road in Cleveland and then Baltimore, the Steelers must get their bodies right in a hurry.

Some choose the cold tub like linebacker Jason Worilds.

Others go down a different route like rookie first-round pick Jarvis Jones.

Despite his immense fear of needles (the medical term is trypanophobia), Jones has become a believer in acupuncture where he gets as many as 180 needles jammed into his various parts of his aching body on a weekly basis.

Teammate Ryan Clark turned Jones onto the procedure a few months back.

“I told her my body is sore so the first time she sort of stuck me all over,” Jones said. “I can deal with a little pain here and there but my main focus is where it is really painful.”

Jones says it works wonders and alleviates.

“You feel refreshed and you definitely feel the pressure is released,” Jones said. “Say your hamstring is tight so you get a couple needles there. The next day you will feel the release and I don’t even like needles. That’s why I cut it down from 180.”

The Steelers will become the first team to play two back-to-back road games on a short week when they travel to Baltimore for a Thanksgiving night game.

The Steelers and Ravens are 5-6 and are in the sixth and final playoff spot out of the AFC.

November 23, 2013
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Ten Things to Watch in Steelers vs. Browns 11/24/13

Ben Roethlisberger is 15-1 in his career against the home-state Browns.

Ben Roethlisberger is 15-1 in his career against the home-state Browns.

By Alan Robinson

The Steelers (4-6) travel to chilly Cleveland on Sunday for what might be a playoff elimination game Sunday against the Browns (4-6), who haven’t beaten their rival at home in successive seasons since 1992-93.

Ten things to watch for — not including the temperature, which is expected to crest in the low 20s but, with a nasty wind blowing off Lake Erie, will feel like single digits.

1) WILL CLEVELAND BE THE WINDY CITY? It might not be the cold that most influences the outcome, but rather the wind. Current projects by AccuWeather call for a steady breeze in the 13-mph range, with gusts into the 20s. Stiff winds can do strange things to footballs flying in the air. Statistic of note: Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t thrown an interception since 2006 in what is now known as FirstEnergy Stadium. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said the Steelers will have a big-man package available if the elements force them into a running-heavy game.

2) THE OBVIOUS: STEELERS WR ANTONIO BROWN VS. BROWNS CB JOE HADEN. Haden is playing as consistently well as any AFC North defensive back; Brown is playing as consistently well as any AFC North wide receiver. Haden, for example, held Mike Wallace to once catch for 15 yards and A.J. Green of Cincinnati to two catches for 7 yards last week, and he’s given up only one touchdown all season. But Brown is coming off his second two touchdown-catch effort of the season (seven catches, 147 yards vs. Detroit) and he’s proving to be a handful for any defender because of his ability to gain a step on a defender, then catch the ball when it’s thrown in his vicinity. No NFL receiver has caught more passes on fewer targets.

3) WILL PHIL TAYLOR GET HIS? Taylor, the Browns defensive tackle, was fined $7,975 for a blindside forearm to the head of Steelers lineman Kelvin Beachum last season. That prompted Steelers tackle Marcus Gilbert to say, “I am pretty sure he (Taylor) is going to get his. It was a dirty play and he put it on film. Once it is on film, it is out there.” All three — Taylor, Beachum, Gilbert — will be on the field Sunday.

4) THE RED ZONE. The Steelers aren’t operating as efficiently in the red zone as they did last season, but Jerricho Cotchery has picked that up by making five touchdown catches in his last three games. Cotchery’s effectiveness inside an opponent’s 20 was a key to the wins over the Bills and Lions. And the Browns are 32nd and last in the NFL in red zone defense, allowing 19 touchdowns on their opponents’ 28 visits inside the 20. No matter the weather conditions, the Steelers can’t rely on Shaun Suisham to produce their in-close points.

5) TROY POLAMALU VS. JASON CAMPBELL. At least on paper, this isn’t a favorable matchup for the Browns. Campbell is 0-2 with a QB rating of below 45.0 against the Steelers, and Polamalu has eight career interceptions against Cleveland, the most he has against any opponent. Polamalu’s interception against Oakland on Oct. 27 was his first against any opponent except Cleveland since 2010; his previous four picks were against the Browns.

6) CONTROLLING THE MIDDLE. The Steelers effectively shut down Lions defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley last week. But Haley said the Browns’ Ahtyba Rubin and Taylor are even better operating out of Cleveland’s 3-4 defense. They could be havoc-creators if the Steelers must dial down Roethlisberger’s passing due to the elements.

7) RUN AGROUND. The Browns and Steelers are two of the NFL’s worst rushing offenses, Cleveland is No. 26 and Pittsburgh is No. 30. The Browns don’t have a runner who’s hit the 300-yard mark for the season yet. The Steelers keep waiting for Le’Veon Bell’s breakout game; Sunday could be a good day for it.

8) BEN Vs. THE BROWNS. One of the NFL’s biggest mismatches. Roethlisberger is 15-1 against the Browns, and he delights playing in his home state of Ohio. He dully notes each time he plays against the Browns that they were one of 10 teams that passed him over in the 2004 NFL Draft.

9) THE DEEP BALL. The Browns have permitted only 25 passes of 20 yards or longer; the Steelers seemingly gave up that many against the Patriots alone. Whichever defense can prevent the home-run ball might prove the winner of a game that could effectively end the loser’s playoff hopes.

10) THE HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE. AFC North teams are 7-0 at home against their division opponents; the Browns will be trying to complete a sweep of the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers. But the Steelers are 11-3 in Cleveland since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999.

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