Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Steelers @ Cleveland: The Key Performers

Let's just go over this one more time -- game previews that discuss "individual matchups" are utterly useless. After all, how often do those writing those types of previews go back and evaluate the ultimate impact(s) of the player v. player matchup(s) that they highlighted before the game?

Instead, Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic begins what will be a regular feature each game week -- a look at the key players on each side of the ball, for the Steelers and their opponent. So without further adieu, here's a look at this week's key performers.

Ben Roethlisberger & Charlie Frye
Which would you want playing for your team? Obviously Ben Roethlisberger is the more talented quarterback, right? But a look at their respective statistics reveals that, at least this season, there is less of a difference between the two than Steelers fans would like to believe:

Pass AttCompletionsYardsTDsINTsQB Rating



A little too close for comfort Steelers fans, n'est ce pas?

Whichever of these quarterbacks performs better on Sunday will give his team a significant lift, and that team's chances of winning will be enhanced tremendously.

Kellen Winslow Jr.
Up until this season the only things for which he has been notable were his hyperbolic chatter and his bad motorcycle stunts. However this season Mr Winslow is tied for second in the NFL in receptions (56 -- tied with Donald Driver, and behind Houston's Andre Johnson who leads the league with 68 catches) and is averaging 10 yards per catch; but interestingly he has only three touchdowns (by way of comparison his teammate Braylon Edwards also has three touchdowns -- on 33 catches), and only of those in his last five games.

Keeping tabs on Mr. Winslow between the 20-yard lines will likely help the Steelers defense shut down the Browns offense, but if the Browns end up in the red zone it seems likely that the Browns will be looking for a different "go-to" receiver (i.e. Joe Jurevicius and Braylon Edwards). Of course, given the way that Algee Crumpler abused the Steelers' defense in the Atlanta game anything is possible.

Reuben Droughns & Willie Parker
The Cleveland Browns are tied for 30th in the NFL for rushing yards with 731. Their leading rusher, Mr. Droughns, has accumulated 472 -- 225 of those in two games (100 yards against the Raiders on October 1st, and 125 yards against the Jets on on October 29th) -- of those yards placing him 30th in the league. The numerous injuries to the Cleveland offensive line have had the effect that many thought they would.

Meanwhile Willie Parker finds himself the fourth leading rusher in the NFL -- a 213 yard performance will do that for a running back -- but this season has been one of feast or famine for Mr. Parker. Here's a look at his yardage in the nine games to date: 115, 20 (Jacksonville), 133, 57, 109, 47, 83, 70, 213. Mr. Parker has not had back-to-back 100+ yard games this season (and that includes the game against Oakland -- currently 26th in rushing yards allowed per game), but with Cleveland near the bottom of the league in rushing defense (30th in average rushing yards allowed per game) Mr. Parker and the Steelers offensive line have to establish that phase of the game on Sunday.

Sean Jones
Sure, you're saying "who?" Well, Sean Jones, a third year strong safety out of Georgia, is second in the NFL in interceptions (behind Jacksonville's Rashean Mathis who has had three interceptions in his last two games against the Steelers). Given Ben Roethlisberger's propensity for throwing picks it will be important to keep an eye on this outstanding young player.

Kamerion Wimbley
"Who?" Part Two. Mr. Wimbley, the rookie right outside linebacker from Florida State, leads the Browns in sacks (5.5). Max Starks could be in for a long day.

Dennis Northcutt
Mr. Northcutt is the leading punt returner in the NFL -- he is currently averaging 14.8 yarsd per return -- and with Chris Gardocki performing poorly (he is currently 17th in net punting average) there is very little margin for error (i.e. Mr. Northcutt is more than capable of returning one or more kicks for big gains). Containing Mr. Northcutt is going to be one of, if not the biggest, challenges the Steelers will face on Sunday. Indeed, this phase of the game tilts so strongly to the Browns that we could have a repeat of the game against the Raiders (i.e. the Steelers dominate the statistics but lose the game).

Joshua Cribbs & Najeh Davenport
Mr. Cribbs (ESPN's Chris Berman could nickname him "They call me Mr. Cribbs!" in honor of Sidney Poitier's performance in the movie "In the Heat of the Night") is Cleveland's kick returner, and is currently fourth in the NFL (averaging 26.8 yards per kick).

Meanwhile Najeh Davenport is beginning to emerge as the Steelers' primary kick returner. In the last three games he has returned seven kicks for 160 yards (22.86 yards per return -- which would places him 25th in the league), but his per kick return average has risen in each of those games: 20.0, 23.0, 24.3.

The Bottom Line
Before the season began the prediction here was that the Steelers would sweep the season series with the Browns. Though the Steelers have struggled mightily this season, and turnovers could change everything, this is still a contest that the Steelers should win.

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