Thank Goodness For The Bye Week

After such high expectations to start the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers are suddenly a struggling team. To make matters worse, injuries are starting to take their toll on the team.

What in the world is going on in Cleveland?

So much promise surrounded this team to start the season, at least more promise than usual. Maybe optimism is a better word. Despite the workout, the Browns players were one of the few teams mentioned by the media that were really working as a team during the lockout.

Then came the Cincinnati game and yet another blown fourth quarter lead. After back-to-back wins over the Colts and Dolphins, the Browns hoped to build momentum with a win over the Tennessee Titans. However, that game was a blowout, and not in Cleveland’s favor.

There’s the “locker room” talk as well. Apparently the front office isn’t happy with Peyton Hillis missing the Miami game with strep throat. Thus the reason Hillis’ role against the Titans was slightly diminished. Well, he still got his carries and touches, but not in the key situations.

On fourth and one, Pat Shurmur thought a better call was to fake Hillis up the gut of the defense, and flip it outside to Armond Smith. The play, just so you know, failed. Hillis was seen standing on the sidelines, while Montario Hardesty was working toward the NFL record for dropped passes.

The Tennessee game was also the first game that our defense was just as much of a let down as our offense. Our offense, really, didn’t move the ball all that bad. But the stats certainly don’t tell the story of the game.

When you looked at the box score in Monday’s paper, you would’ve thought that this was a 40-45 type of game. That wasn’t the case. McCoy threw for 350 yards on 40, yes 40, completions. He also tossed for a touchdown and an interception. The interception, however, was returned 97 yards by Tennessee’s Jordan Babineaux for a touchdown.

The defense, the strongest part of the team through the first three games, was a total let down. No sacks, no tackling, no pressure… it was ugly. When the Titans’ Jared Cook rushed 80 yards down the sideline for the team’s second score, you knew it was going to be a long day in Cleveland.

And the offensive line…dear lord, what was that?! Four sacks? Nine QB hits? Pathetic.

Cleveland’s offensive line had only allowed three sacks prior to the Titans game. That didn’t matter. Tony Pashos returned this week to face the Titans. That didn’t matter. I’m not sure what’s going on with the line all of a sudden, but future All-Pro center, Alex Mack, needs to return as quickly as he can from his appendectomy. I’m not as confident that this team can get any wear near Mack’s production out of John Greco.

Fan-favorite Joe Haden was injured during the Tennessee game. It appears to be a sprained knee, so hopefully the bye week takes care of that.

Rumors leaked that Peyton Hillis and Evan Moore were extremely animated during a team meeting earlier this week. Two thoughts on this…

For one, that’s not good. The last thing Shurmur wants to do is lose control of the locker room. He’s been praised for being a player’s coach, and was a huge reason Joe Thomas decided to sign an extension and stay in Cleveland. Nothing good can come from a coach losing his locker room, especially a first year head coach in the NFL.

For two, I like it. You’re damn right they have every reason to be upset. For Hillis, he’s this team’s feature back. Forget what Hardesty did in Hillis’ absence, he was a big reason the offense was as stagnant as it was last Sunday. There’s no doubt Hillis would’ve gotten the first down on the fourth and one pitch to Smith. He almost certainly would’ve caught the passes Hardesty dropped, seeing as he has the sixth most receptions by any back since last year.

And for Evan Moore, you can’t fault him at all. We heard all off-season how Moore was an athletic freak, how he was McCoy’s favorite target in the red zone. We heard how he was a match-up nightmare for the opposing defense. In the preseason, we saw flashes of that. We saw enough of it in the preseason, to have reason to believe the McCoy-Moore connection was going to be one of the nastiest in the NFL. But against Tennessee, McCoy threw the ball 61 times, completing 40. Moore had one reception for 15 yards, and was only targeted twice. He has only seven receptions on the season, and two of those are for touchdowns.

Moral of the story? Get the ball to Moore….more.

The bye week is much needed for this Browns team. They certainly need to take the time to reflect on the beat-down by the Titans. It was easily their worst team game of the season. Usually, the defense plays extremely well, while the offense was completely horrible.

Last Sunday, the Browns kept Johnson from exploding, per say, but did allow Johnson to double the team’s rushing yardage average all by himself.

Around the AFC North…

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens improved to 3-1 with their win against the Jets on Sunday night. A loss would’ve meant a four-way tie in the AFC North. They appear to be the clear favorite to win the division, which is better than having the Steelers win it.

Cincinnati Bengals: I have a feeling there’s going to be a solid QB rivalry in the future for the Battle of Ohio. McCoy for the Browns, and Dalton for the Bengals. A week after McCoy led his team to a comeback win, Dalton followed suit. Dalton’s, however, was certainly more impressive, taking down the previously undefeated Bills.

Cleveland Browns: It’s still hard to get a feel on the Browns to this point. They’re 2-2 on the season, but could easily be 3-1 heading into the bye week. On the contrary, they could also be 1-3. This team needs to do some real soul searchin’ during the bye. Haden and Mack also need to get healthy.

And the best news, for last…

Pittsburgh Steelers: Remember all the love the Steelers got from the media in the off-season? They were everybody’s pick to return to this year’s Super Bowl, and a lot of people’s pick to win it. They were said to have the best defense in the lead, and the offense can do no wrong with Ben Roethlisberger running the show….

Bahahahahaha.

Yes, I know, coming from a Browns fan, what do I have to boast about? Well, my team is expected to stink, the Steelers? My oh my the expectations were high. Steeler Nation, in my opinion, some of the worst fans in the NFL. Say one negative comment about their almighty Steelers, and they’re quick to remind you that they have six Super Bowl rings. (And if you’re a Browns fan, that you have none).

Now that’s not to say that there aren’t a few good Steelers fans out there. Matt Loede is one of the best people I know, even if he does suffer from Steelersyndrome.

However, I recently had it out with a Steelers fan on the direction his team was heading, vs. the direction the Browns were heading. Now, a few key points here: 1) I never said this was the year that the Browns were going to sweep the Steelers, 2) I never said the Steelers were a horrible team, just a team that wasn’t as good as everyone thought.

While everyone was high on the Steelers, I was thinking about how glad I was Holmgren, Heckert and Jauron got together and decided to get rid of (almost) everyone who was over the age of 30 on defense. The Steelers? Well, they have nine starters over the age of 30. 30 – an age that means the end is near in the NFL.

At the time of the argument, the Steelers were 2-1. They were blown-out by the Ravens on opening day, 35-7. They, in return, blew-out a (league worst) Seahawks team, 24-0. A week after the Browns dominated the Colts, the Steelers squeaked by, 23-20.

All I was trying to say is that the Steelers do not appear to be the team the media envisioned. For Browns fans, the old saying in sports, “they are, who we thought they were”, comes to mind – a bunch of overage, talent declining, mediocre NFL team. Sure, they might beat the Browns both games this season, wouldn’t shock the Dawg Pound one bit I don’t think.

Now, James Harrison is out several weeks and Roethlisberger has an apparent foot injury (though he’s expected to play). Big Ben is bound to take a beating, as the Steelers have one of the worst offensive-lines in the NFL up to this point.

When you look at the truly great teams like the New England Patriots or Green Bay Packers, there never seems to be a drop-off in talent. The Packers were decimated by injuries last season, and won the Super Bowl. Tom Brady went down with a season-ending knee injury, and the team still went 10-6.

I don’t believe the Steelers front office planned for the future. They should’ve known that their guys on defense was aging, and their offensive line was going to need upgraded. They seem to have found a great player in Mike Wallace, but there’s not much after that.

The Browns, once again, are rebuilding. We know. We’ve been rebuilding since ‘99. But for the first time since ‘99, the team is rebuilding the right way. That’s really all there is to say about that.

Prior success doesn’t mean squat. Six Super Bowl rings don’t mean squat. What matters is the now, and right now, the Steelers are declining. The Browns, while struggling, is currently following a plan that will allow for future success. Expect a pretty much lopsided rivalry, suddenly become relevant again in the near future.

For the time being, both teams are 2-2…

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