Steelers Opponent Preview: Last Stand in Cleveland
I’m hoping it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, because I don’t know if I have a thousand words in me on this rematch. The Steelers need to win it. The Bills need to beat the Jets. That’s what this amazingly exhilarating and devastating and frustrating season comes down to.
In some ways the previous game between these two clubs is a microcosm of the season. The Steelers-Browns game was one of the few that week which wasn’t an upset, including Houston beating the undefeated Bengals. If anything, the game was an upset from the Browns’ point of view, as the starting quarterback for the Steelers was Landry Jones. Ben Roethlisberger relieved him after he sprained his ankle and set an NFL record for a quarterback coming off the bench.
The Browns will look, in terms of personnel, possibly rather different than the team the Steelers played in November. There were nine Browns players who did not practice yesterday, although one of those was “not injury related.” Johnny Manziel was one of the players who probably won’t play. He’s in the concussion protocol, as is Tramon Williams (DB). Marlon Moore (WR) and Glenn Winston (RB.) In addition, their best receiver, Travis Benjamin, did not practice with an ankle injury, starting left tackle all-Pro Joe Thomas did not practice with a knee injury, and LB Karlos Dansby did not practice with a toe injury. Of course, we may well see some or all of them on Sunday anyhow, because this is the last hurrah for the Browns.
The exception is probably Manziel. If the concussion protocol isn’t enough to keep him on the bench, the pictures which surfaced early this week of him out partying yet again will probably do the trick. [Update—the Browns have ruled him out.]
The assumption is, Austin Davis will probably start, but they could even start their relatively recently signed wide receiver Terrelle Pryor. Yes, THAT Terrelle Pryor. The one who burned the Steelers for a 96-yard TD run from a read option when he was playing QB for the Raiders two years ago. Let us hope not. But what’s the old saying? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
It would be easy to assume that the Browns don’t really care that much. Some people may have thought that about the Ravens game as well, and we all know how that turned out. Left tackle Joe Thomas suggested to the local beat writer that the score of the Bills-Jets game be prominently displayed on Sunday if the Jets are winning. I guess when you play for Cleveland you have to take your victories where you can find them.
And speaking of taking your victories where you can find them, I’m certainly not guaranteeing a win against the Browns on Sunday, despite the fact that all the history and stats and everything else suggest the Steelers should beat them handily. But I would like to put to rest this notion that the Steelers “play down” to their opponents. What follows is thanks to the Asked and Answered column written by Bob Labriola for Steelers.com, and the information is so interesting I am going to quote it in its entirety in case you missed it. The first portion comes from the Monday column this week:
MICHAEL BALABAN FROM CHARLESTON, S.C.:
First time writing in. Looking back through the last three years, on ESPN’s website, we have played a team with a losing record 26 times and have only won 10 of those games for a .385 winning percentage. The notion that we play down to competition is somewhat backed up by the statistics. At what point do Mike Tomlin and the Rooneys address this and make a change? I’m not saying Tomlin needs to be fired, but when will the Rooneys or Tomlin have enough of this ineptitude? What do you attribute this to?
I’m not going to dispute your facts, because I have no interest in doing the work to check them, but I did look up a couple of things that I would like to point out: In 2014, the Steelers lost to the Ravens in Baltimore on a Thursday night during Week 2 of the schedule. The previous week, the Ravens lost to Cincinnati, so when the Steelers played them in Week 2, they were a team with a losing record. Those Ravens went on to finish 10-6 and make the playoffs. Same situation in 2013, but only this time it was the Bengals. The Steelers visited the 0-1 Bengals in Week 2 of the 2013 season and lost, and that Cincinnati team finished 11-5 and won the AFC North. Under your scenario, and the statistics you cite on ESPN.com, both the 2014 Ravens and the 2013 Bengals were teams with “losing records,” which is mathematically accurate but also paints a distorted picture of what they turned out to be. Same thing this year with the Chiefs, a 1-5 team at one time but now a 10-5 juggernaut suddenly being anointed as “the team nobody wants to face in the playoffs.”
There also is a misconception, I believe, in how business is conducted here on a daily basis throughout the course of a 17-week NFL regular season. I am here daily, and I can tell you there was no difference between the week leading up to the game against Denver and the week leading up to the game against the Ravens. The schedule was the same. Meetings, practice, extra video, a good number of players coming into the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on their day off for extra work. Coaches in their offices early, and then staying late into the night. There is no shirking of responsibilities after a win, and I give you Antonio Brown as an example. This is a guy who does his work – practice, meetings, extra work after practice – and then goes to a Gold’s Gym afterward in the evening for another workout. Every week this happens. Same thing. Yet in the game against the Ravens, he had a touchdown reversed because he didn’t secure a catch in the end zone, and in a game the Steelers lost by three points, that mathematical difference right there covers Baltimore’s margin of victory. Are you trying to tell me not making that play was because of a lack of preparation? Or because the Ravens came into the game at 4-10 and he was overlooking them? He ran the route, the ball was delivered, the touchdown was overturned on replay. I guarantee you that play, and many others like it from that game, had nothing to do with taking the opponent lightly. That’s an over-simplification.
Fascinating. Now comes yesterday’s column, with an update:
NATHAN SMITH FROM WASHINGTON, D.C.:
Following up on the conversation in the Dec. 29 Asked and Answered, I actually did take the time to look up Mike Tomlin’s record vs. teams that ended the season with a winning and losing record, through his first eight full seasons as the Steelers’ coach. I also broke out his record against the very good (10-6 or better) and the very bad (6-10 or worse). For kicks, I also did this for Bill Cowher’s first eight full seasons.
Using the wonderful Profootballreference.com, and not promising I didn’t make at least a couple of small mistakes, this is what I found: Tomlin is 46-16 against teams ending the season with a losing record, and 34-10 against the really bad teams. He is 25-23 against teams ending the season with a winning record, and 19-21 against the really good teams.
Cowher was 43-18 against losing teams and 31-15 against the really bad teams (both slightly worse than Tomlin). Against winning teams, he was 22-24 and 15-17, both slightly worse than Tomlin.
And a couple of things those romanticizing the past may not remember: the very good 1997 Steelers team (11-5 AFC Central Division champions and the host of the AFC Championship Game) lost at home to a 6-10 Cowboys team – 37-7 in the home opener – and another game to a 6-9-1 Eagles team – 23-20. The following year, which was 1998, the Bengals won three games, and two of those were against the Steelers.
The Steelers have certainly lost to some teams they “should” have beaten. But that’s why they play the games.
Rebrn.com conveniently published this season’s ouroboros in time for this article. (The ouroboros is the ancient symbol of a snake eating its own tail.) Here it is:
I have nothing to add but Go Steelers, and Go Bills!