Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 Schedule Preview: Week 12 & 17 Analysis Versus Cleveland Browns

By Christopher DiMarino

This is another entry in a set of early looks at the teams the Pittsburgh Steelers will play in the 2012-13 season. The goal is to acclimate the average Steelers fan to the offseason changes each team has made. This will make the in-depth analysis in the week before the game more familiar and understandable.

Who: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns

What: Week 12 Regular Season Matchup

Where: Cleveland Browns Stadium

When: 1:00 EST Sunday November 25th, 2012

How: CBS

——————————————————————-

Who: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers

What: Week 17 Regular Season Matchup

Where: Heinz Field

When: 1:00 EST Sunday December 30th, 2012

How: CBS

Key Free Agent Additions and Losses:

Key Free Agent Additions and Losses
PositionName2011 Team2012 TeamRole
DEJuqua ParkerPhiladelphia EaglesCleveland Browns1st String Backup
DEFrostee RuckerCincinnati BengalsCleveland BrownsStarter
PSpencer LanningChicago BearsCleveland BrownsDepth
RBPeyton HillisCleveland BrownsKansas City ChiefsStarter/Injury
RBArmond SmithCleveland BrownsCarolina PanthersDepth
DEJayme MitchellCleveland BrownsTampa Bay BuccaneersStarter
OT/GArtis HicksCleveland BrownsMiami Dolphins1st String Backup
G/CSteve VallosCleveland BrownsPhiladelphia Eagles1st String Backup
GEric SteinbachCleveland BrownsMiami DolphinsStarter / Injury
FSMike AdamsCleveland BrownsDenver BroncosStarter
OTTony PashosCleveland BrownsCUTStarter
MLBTitus BrownCleveland BrownsUFA1st String Backup
LBBrian SmithCleveland BrownsReleased1st String Backup
PRichmond McGeeCleveland BrownsCUTStarter / Injury
PBrad MaynardCleveland BrownsUFAInjury Starter

The Cleveland Browns were not very active in free agency. At first glance, it might seem like they lost a lot more than they gained, but it\’s misleading. Cleveland picked up two pretty good defensive ends and only really lost Peyton Hillis and a no name free safety.

  • By signing Frostee Rucker, the Browns upgraded at defensive end and let Jayme Mitchell go to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
  • The Browns lost a few veteran offensive lineman, but with their cap situation, I think these losses were premeditated.
  • Mike Adams was a big contributor at free safety and his 64 tackles and 3 interceptions in 2011 will be missed.
  • I\’ve never seen a team so unhappy (or unlucky) with punters.

2012 Draft Analysis:

2012 Draft Recap
PositionNameRoundCollegeHeightWeight
RBTrent Richardson1.3(3rd)Alabama5\’9228
QBBrandon Weeden1.22(22nd)Oklahoma St.6\’4221
OTMitchell Schwartz2.5(37th)California6\’5318
DTJohn Hughes3.24(87th)Cincinnati6\’2309
WRTravis Benjamin4.5(100th)Miami5\’10172
ILBJames-Michael Johnson4.25(120th)Nevada6\’1241
GRyan Miller5.25(160th)Colorado6\’7321
OLBEmmanuel Acho6.34(204th)Texas6\’1238
DTBilly Winn6.35(205th)Boise St.6\’4298
CBTrevin Wade7.38(245th)Arizona5\’10192
TEBrad Smelley7.40(247th)Alabama6\’2237
WR**Josh Gordon**2ndBaylor6\’3225

** Supplemental Draft Selection (2013 draft pick surrendered)**

The Browns made up for their uninvolved free agency with an 11 player draft. They had an abundance of picks because of 4 compensatory picks and a pair of trades with the Denver Broncos.

  • The most notable trade was occurred when the Browns traded up 2 spots for Trent Richardson. They made a bold and respectable move to grab one of the more polished and NFL ready running backs in the past few drafts.
  • They then made a questionable move grabbing Brandon Weeden at 22nd overall. Many thought Weeden would be available at their early 2nd round pick, so the move is a bit perplexing.
  • Regardless of value, these two players figure to be starters for the Browns in 2012. This change could be fantastic or result in a catastrophe, but either way it will be exciting to watch.
  • Mitchell Schwartz was considered a late 2nd to early 3rd round prospect, but the Browns gambled on him early in the 2nd round, which might have lead to the Steelers taking T Mike Adams.
  • James-Michael Johnson was considered a good mid round candidate to challenge Stevenson Sylvester and Larry Foote at the BUCK Inside Linebacker position, but the Steelers opted to draft linebacker Sean Spence in the 3rd round instead.
  • Cleveland made the news when they took Josh Gordon with a 2nd round pick in the supplemental draft. This was an aggressive move but was clearly an effort to equip Weeden before his rookie season.

 

Coaching Staff:

Pat Shurmur is returning for his second year as head coach of the Browns. He began coaching in the NFL in 1999 with the Philadelphia Eagles. He upgraded from tight ends to quarterbacks coach before being hired as the offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams. Shurmur had a rough first season as the Browns head coach, but inherited a below average roster. He also had a very limited amount of time to install his system because of the lockout. This team could be in for a big jump with a whole camp and preseason under their belt.

Brad Childress was hired as Cleveland\’s new offensive coordinator. In 2011, the Browns actually played without an offensive coordinator as Shurmur assumed that role as well. The previous offensive coordinator was Brian Daboll. Childress was fired by the Minnesota Vikings in 2010 after he accrued a 3-7 record after 10 games. He was the Vikings head coach for 5 years and amassed a 39-35 record overall including consecutive playoff appearances in 2008-2009.

The returning defensive coordinator for the Browns entering his second season is Dick Jauron. Jauron has been a defensive contributor or head coach for several teams in the NFL but has never really stuck. In fact, aside from an early job as a defensive backs coach for the Green Bay Packers, he hasn\’t lasted more than 5 years on a team. He owns a 60-82 record in 9 seasons as a head coach split between the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills. In 2011, he replaced Rob Ryan, who left to become the defensive coordinator in Dallas.

Aside from Childress there are 3 new coaches on the Browns in 2012. Cleveland hired a new offensive and defensive senior assistant as well as Tim Hauck to be the new defensive backs coach. Shawn Mennenga is the special teams coordinator and is currently in his 2nd year with the Browns.

Last Year\’s Stats:

2011 Team Stats
OFFENSE
StatBrownsRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Yards/Game288.829372.312346.8
Points/Game13.63020.32122.2
Pass Yards/Game193.124253.410229.7
Rush Yards/Game95.728118.914117.1
First Downs/Game17.42521.3919.5
Interceptions (2011)138151716
Interception Rate2.28%102.78%182.91%
Fumbles Lost (2011)65132610
Sacks Allowed (2011)3918422337
Sack Rate6.84%177.79%236.82%
Avg Time of Possession29:07:002332:33:00230:00:00
DEFENSE
StatBrownsRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Yards/Game332.410271.81346.8
Points/Game19.2514.2122.2
Pass Yards/Game184.29171.91229.7
Rush Yards/Game147.43099.88117.1
First Downs/Game18.81316.5119.5
Interceptions (2011)928112416
Interception Rate1.92%252.08%242.91%
Fumbles Recovered (2011)11743010
Sacks (2011)3223351737
Sack Rate6.82%156.60%186.82%
SPECIAL TEAMS
StatBrownsRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Punt Return Avg For11.1910.5139.9
Punt Return Avg Against11.7238.4129.9
Kick Return Avg For23.61725.1823.8
Kick Return Avg Against22.91223.71623.8
Field Goals Made82.76%1774.19%3182.89%
EFFICIENCY
StatBrownsRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Turnover Differential113-13280
3rd Down % Offense38.66%1245.92%438.00%
3rd Down % Defense41.30%2438.91%1938.00%
4th Down % Offense55.56%837.50%1943.26%
4th Down % Defense42.86%1761.54%2843.26%
Red Zone % Offense41.94%2850.94%1852.18%
Red Zone % Defense40.82%354.84%1752.18%

Cleveland had a rough statistical year in 2011. Their offense was one of the worst in the NFL but didn\’t turn the ball over too much. The Browns defense had highs and lows, but some of the stats are skewed because of their poor performance on the scoreboard. They were average on special teams and about the same in terms of efficiency.

In 2010, Hillis became the heart and soul of this offense, so when he missed multiple weeks in 2011 because of injuries, the Browns offense had some identity issues. Their rushing yards were right near the bottom of the NFL and their passing yards, points scored and first downs weren\’t much better. However, even with their poor offensive performance, which led to below average time of possession, they did a good job of securing the ball. The Browns ranked in the top 10 for fumbles lost and interceptions thrown.

A quick look at the Cleveland defense can be misleading. They ranked in the top 10 in points allowed and passing yards, but allowed the 3rd most rushing yards. What the stats sheet doesn\’t show is that opposing teams would establish early leads on the Browns and then play a conservative running styled game to grind out the victory. So had the Browns offense put more points on the board, opposing teams might have passed more and could have lead to more points. Another indicator of this trend is the fact that the Browns sack total ranked 23rd, while their sack rate was 15th.

The Browns were right around average returning and covering kicks. Josh Cribbs remains their primary kick and punt returner and amassed just over 1300 yards and 1 touchdown. Phil Dawson is still kicking strong after 13 years with the Browns. His almost 83% kicking accuracy ranked right in the middle of the NFL, but what\’s alarming is that he missed 2 kicks from between 20 and 29 yards.

Final Remarks:

The Browns are now considered the little brother of the AFC North more than ever. Since Cincinnati finally looks ready to re-establish themselves as a perennial competitor, Cleveland will have to step it up to become relevant. They made some bold moves this offseason by releasing a lot of players and drafting aggressively. They have a coaching staff entering its sophomore year for the most part. This team looks like it still needs more, but they are beginning the rebuilding process well.

I have a bone to pick with the Weeden draft pick. There has been opposing opinions, but I think Colt McCoy could have been different with better weapons. Instead, the Browns drafted Weeden and effectively have given up on McCoy. However, they are just putting another quarterback in the same mess. They could\’ve used that 1st round pick to draft a receiver and give themselves an arsenal. While Cleveland used a 2013 2nd round pick to select Gordon out of Baylor, I\’m not sold on him. There\’s always baggage with supplemental drafted players, and Gordon only had one good season in college.

I also disagree with the fundamental way that Cleveland is rebuilding. When you\’re in a rebuilding phase, it can be counterproductive to be aggressive. A team like Cleveland should be conservative and pool their picks on talented players rather than gambling on old men or suspended players. Having an early pick in every round is an advantage that should be built on by putting a focus on scouting. So while I think Cleveland made some good moves, they always seem to make a few questionable ones to offset.

Key Stat:

Supremacy. In the past decade, the Browns have only beaten the Steelers 2 times. The Steelers have beaten the Browns 20 times in that time frame. That means that the Browns should have around a 9% chance of beating the Steelers in 2012. Obviously past stats mean nothing going forward, but with Dick LeBeau\’s history against rookie quarterbacks, this Steelers over Browns supremacy has a good chance of continuing in 2012.

Follow me on twitter @chrisdimarino