In a marque matchup, the Steelers play the Browns tonight...can you catch my sarcasm? The Steelers need the win to stay in the playoff hunt, so this game should be a rout.
Passing Attack: When these two teams hooked up earlier this year, Ben Roethlisberger threw for 417 yards, the most since a 433 yard performance against Denver back in 2006. Cleveland has lost its last seven games, but the Browns have actually played respectable defense recently. They were torched through the air last week against San Diego, but they held Cincinnati the previous week to 96 passing yards and Baltimore to 146 passing yards in week 10. We’ll see if Big Ben and crew can exploit the Browns on Thursday.
Roethlisberger’s task of leading the reeling Pittsburgh passing game will be made difficult if Hines Ward doesn’t play. The team’s leading receiver has a hamstring injury that will limit his effectiveness if he plays, but if he doesn’t play, Mike Wallace will take his spot and be the deep threat he’s been all season. And don’t look now, but Santonio Holmes has scored in the last two games after not scoring in nine straight. Cleveland’s 32nd ranked defense could be in retreat mode for most of the game, as Holmes could be the driving force of the passing game. You should keep in mind, though, that there could be inclement weather in Cleveland. Snow and wind are possibilities, both of which could hinder the passing game somewhat.
Running Attack: The five games leading up to last week’s contest were okay for Rashard Mendenhall from a yardage standpoint, but they lacked the TDs necessary to make him the consistent low-end #1/high-end #2 RB he’s turned into. His 103 yard effort last week against Oakland, coupled with the fact that he’s had at least 20 carries in 4 of the last 5 games translates into Mendenhall being a valuable commodity right now. The Browns have had trouble stopping the run most of the year, and with DT Shaun Rogers out for the year, that only makes their problem worse. Mendenhall was held to only 62 yards in the first meeting this year, but he did score a TD. And again, with the weather playing a potentially important role, he should be counted on and given every opportunity to at least put up those kinds of numbers this week. The Browns have given up 14 rushing TDs, so expect Mendenhall to get in the end zone this week as well.
And now for the Browns:
Passing Attack: Ok, who was that impersonating an NFL-caliber QB last week for the Cleveland Browns? Couldn’t have been Brady Quinn, right? Well, actually it was. In fact, Quinn had a solid performance against San Diego, throwing for 271 yards, 3 scores and no interceptions. And while Pittsburgh remains one of the league’s toughest defenses, one needn’t look any further than last week’s game against Oakland when Bruce Gradkowski played great in the second half against the Steelers. Cleveland’s offense is just as putrid as Oakland’s, so conventional wisdom says if the Raiders can succeed against the Steelers, the Browns should too. We’ll see if that is indeed the case.
As it stands now, however, be cautious about starting a Cleveland Brown with any level of confidence. Their receivers are still works in progress, and each game in fantasy football this time of year is simply too big to risk playing subpar players against a formidable opponent. Table any thought you may have of starting a Cleveland receiver.
Running Attack: Can you believe that after 12 games the Cleveland Browns only have 3 rushing TDs? That’s an incredible number, but one that hammers home the struggles of this team’s ground attack. With Jamal Lewis on IR, the rushing duties fall on the shoulders of Jerome Harrison, who’s nothing more than a 3rd down back in this league. His fantasy production will be kept at a minimal this week and into the foreseeable future. Perhaps his biggest contribution can be made in the passing game. He did have 7 receptions last week and scored on two of those catches, so there is value there. Just keep your expectations in line this week.
My Prediction: Steelers 24 - Cleveland 13