Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Random Non-Seahawks Topic - Browns vs. Steelers

I've seen similar sentiments many places, but this post from TheBigLead pushed me just far enough to write about how the Browns compare to the Steelers. TheBigLead has the most egregious rankings disparity (Steelers fourth, Browns nineteenth), but the major sites I've checked out have them even or with the Steelers slightly better (Fox, ESPN, CBS). My sense is that the Browns are rightly ranked in the 10-12 range, while the Steelers need to be put closer to 15 than 5. Why so?

As a baseline, from the end of last season, the two teams were roughly equal, both finishing 10-6 (the Steelers got the division title via having a better record against divisional opponents). Pittsburgh swept the season series, but that stat is a bit misleading - their game in the season opener was the sole Charlie Frye start, and their week nine game in Pittsburgh required a fairly significant comeback by the Steelers for the win. The eye-test reveals the teams were roughly equal. As far as the records go, Cleveland played a fourth-place schedule while Pittsburgh got a second place schedule, translating into games with Oakland and Houston vs. Denver and Jacksonville. Alright, edge Steelers. If the preseason rankings were to be based on last year's performance, then the Steelers should rightly be a few spots ahead of the Browns.

But this is about this year. The teams have changed.

Cleveland picked up a pair of massive defensive tackles, Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers. They added Donte Stallworth as another receiving threat. Yes, they need a corner (or three), but overall they've improved.

Pittsburgh lost Alan Faneca. Two words: Steve Hutchinson. I saw first-hand what losing a premier left guard will do to an offensive line. According to Scouts Inc., the Steelers have the 24th-ranked offensive line now. And the Browns? Number one. That's not even in the same ballpark. Rashard Mendenhall is a nice draft pick, and he'll tandem nicely with Willie Parker, but a running back will only be as good as the line blocking for him. (Seahawks note: The Hawks are ranked 26th. Ouch). On the defensive side, Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton has reported to camp so overweight that he isn't being allowed to practice.

One of these teams is going in the right direction. The other is going in the wrong direction.

Finally, let's look at the schedules. All AFC North teams have a brutal schedule this year, having to play all of the teams from the two toughest divisions, the AFC South and the NFC East. However, both have identical home and road match-ups with those opponents. Wash. Of course divisional match-ups are identical, so the only difference between the schedules are the games dictated by their 2007 final division standings. Pittsburgh, with a first-place schedule, gets games against San Diego and at New England. Cleveland, meanwhile, with a second-place schedule, gets games against Denver and at Buffalo. Which set of games would you rather your team have?

In the end, all that is relevant about this match-up is who will win the AFC North. Their schedules are so difficult that the best they can reasonably hope for is a three-seed from winning their division. And with all other games being equal, their seasons essentially come down to their two head-to-head match-ups and the two games that differ between their schedules. At best Pittsburgh will match records in the two differing games, and it would be reasonable for those games to result in a two-game difference. The first head-to-head match-up is in week two in Cleveland. That game will either big Cleveland a slight lead or Pittsburgh a huge lead. And the second comes in the last game of the season. That will be a great game.

If it isn't obvious from the post, I am biased in favor of the Browns, and way against the Steelers, but I tried to structure the arguments so that they came from an objective thought-process (even if my tone didn't). This will be a fun, completely-unrelated-to-the-Seahawks match-up to follow.


Fattyslick said...

When 2 team are as equal as you believe, football is about skill positions. The Steelers clearly have the edge at QB, RBs, Tight ends. The only close one is WR where Braylon Edwards is a top notch player, but the Steelers depth is much better than the Browns. On top of that, Derek Anderson got progressively worse as the year rolled on last season, there is no reason to believe he will suddenly return back to his play from the first half. Also, the Steelers aren't a team that is ever ran on successfully, and their core of linebackers is younger and better than it's been in a long time. Another thing, the Steelers will have a healthy secondary, as opposed to last year when Polumalu was playing at about 70%. Bottom line is, the Browns are everyone's darling pick to have a good year and that is usually the kiss of death for NFL teams. Throw in the 2nd toughest schedule behind the Steelers and Cleveland is in for a 7-9 season. The Steelers O-line is in question but it is not nearly as shaky as being talked about. Faneca was on his way downhill, all the offensive line stats pointed towards that last year, and when was the last time the Steelers let s free agent leave and it turned out to be a bad move? We shall see, but their solid defense, talented offense led by the still improving (scary) Big Ben and the Steelers will be tough and will beat out the Browns. later

spencer096 said...

great stuff, much appreciated.

oh, and fatty slick...the oline is a problem because what did the steelers do to improve? nothing. and as good as heath miller is, kellen winslow is a better reciever and heiden is a better blocker, and what good is miller downfield when max starks/willie colon are so bad at RT, he needs to stay in and block 65% of the snaps?

the fact is, the browns improved their defensive line immensely, while the steelers OL, whcih was already poor, only got worse. that's not good no matter how blind your faith is.

steelers do have a top notch defense though, that's impossible to ignore.

Anonymous said...

Fattyslick: The Steelers have an edge at TE? I don't think so.

Kellen Winslow > Heath Miller


Anonymous said...

'Kellen Winslow > Heath Miller'

I am not so sure about this, the difference is marginal at best. The perception mainly because Winslow is slightly overated and Miller the opposite.

The Browns are not better than the Steelers on either the offensive or defensive units. They win some individual battles but overall they are still less than.

Although the Steelers schedule is so brutal it may allow the Browns to sneak past them but it'll be an illusion their better this year.

The Steelers offense is jacked though, you can't cover all those guys.

Anonymous said...

"Although the Steelers schedule is so brutal it may allow the Browns to sneak past them but it'll be an illusion their better this year."...

Did you not read the guy's post? They have practically the SAME schedule! And in addition to what others have said, Heath Miller is not in the same world as Kellen Winslow.

Fattyslick said...

Steelers did improve their center.
Plus, Marvel Smith is healthy again.

When i gave Steelers edge at tight end it was mostly based on depth, my friend. Matt Spaeth anyone? I can't knock Winslow, duh, but Miller isn't far behind, tho he isn't gonna get the ball nearly as much as Winslow so the stats won't compare.

Anonymous said...

You honestly think that the Steelers have a better offense than the Browns? Let's be real...the Browns won 10 games last year by outscoring people. And to the point of everyone's comments, regardless of Faneca, the Browns o-line is one of the best in the business. Everyone knows it starts up front. Even if you give the QB and RB edge to the Steelers, if there are DEs in the backfield on every snap it's tough to make plays. A fantastic o-line is why a "washed-up" Jamal Lewis ran for 1,300 yards last year and Derek Anderson threw 29 touchdowns. Yeah, DA probably overachieved last year, but I'd have to imagine that he'll only get better, and by that I mean throw fewer interceptions. All the comparisons between Heath Miller and Winslow have to stop. Can't knock Miller too bad, he's a great weapon and a better blocker than Winslow (hey, maybe he can even play guard??). But, Miller's not even close to the playmaking ability that Winslow has.

danwise1856 said...

I'll give the Steelers the edge at QB, but if you look at depth, it is much closer.

Also, while skills positions are nice, the game is won in the trenches and Browns (on paper) have the advantage.

TE - Ask any analyst or rational fan who you would rather have. Winslow, Heiden and Rucker or Miller and Spaeth??

WR - Lets call it a wash. An argument could be made to give either team a slight edge

The major advantage the Steelers have is experience. They have owned the Browns for years and know what it is to make the play-offs and deal with expectations. That can all change

Overall, as most people have said, going into the season, both teams are fairly even and should make for a great division race

Shane said...

Big ups to TheBigLead for linking.

The offensive line is the backbone of any offense. Even if you assume the Steelers have superior players at the skill positions on offense, you have to look at their (potential) resulting production from working behind their offensive line. Again, I've seen great line play (Seahawks in 2005) and average line play (Seahawks in 2006, 2007) and it makes a huge difference.

Again, I'm judging the two teams to be roughly equal on a neutral field this year (starting from their finish last year and projecting based on off-season moves), which means the Steelers will have a (relatively) uphill battle to win their division due to their games against New England and San Diego, and the division title will likely come down to the two games the Browns and Steelers play head-to-head.