STEELER WEEK #6 (NO MORE WATERBOYS)
In the Adam Sandler comedy movie ' The Waterboy', the Mud Dogs are a team much like the long-suffering Cleveland Browns. Theyhave a forty game losing streak, the players are mediocre, the coaching is inept and the fans only attend games out of loyalty. Things are so bad, the cheerleaders and mascot (a brown dog) whip themselves into a drunken stupor drinking syzurp during games. And oh yeah, the team colors are strikingly burnt Orange and Brown. Whether or not these analogies were intentional is irrelevant. The fact is, Sandler got it right if his motive was to tell the story of the Browns. It's a very funny movie and it ironically captured the comic antics and fortunes of the NFL's northern Ohio team.
Sandler was the lead character in the movie and he played a water boy named Bobby Bouche' (Boo-Shay). He went from sideline sap to hero when it was discovered he had phenomenal football talent. Eventually he joined the team and took them from laughingstocks to champions in one season. In real life, Cleveland's had only two winning records since 1994 (9-7 in 2002 and 10-6 in 2007) and made the playoffs just once. That was a 36-33 Wildcard loss to the Steelers 18 years ago. The constant losing has led to numerous high draft picks and trades. And not one has resulted in a savior with the likes of Bobby Bouche'.
This year's version of the Browns are 4-1 and as it turns out they never needed a Bobby Bouche'; they needed a coach Klein. Veteran actor Henry Winkler played Coach Klein in the movie and like Bouche' he went through a transformation. His character started as an introvert and developed into an extrovert. He became a sideline general who was masterful at game planning and outcoaching his opponents. Over the years, Cleveland has had its share of coaching clunkers including Mike Pettine, Hue Jackson, Pat Shurmur and just last season, Freddie Kitchens. Like Coach Klein, each one could get lost in the players at times and it was not clear who was running the ship. Enter, Kevin Stefanski. The Browns first year head coach is a former offensive coordinator who has come in and balanced the offense, stabilized the defense and gotten the Browns off to their best record since 1994 at 4-1.
This week they will take on the Steelers in a game that will answer one key question for both teams; Just how good are they? Pittsburgh is undefeated but their opponents have combined for only three wins. They also allowed an offensively challenged Philadelphia Eagles team to score 28 points on their home field. Cleveland is still a mystery. They beat Washington, Cincinnati, Dallas and Indianapolis, but they lost to Baltimore. So their jury is still out.
Offensively, QB Baker Mayfield is nursing sore ribs from hits he took last week. There not been much news about it, but if you saw some of the licks he took from the Colts defense you know he's aching when he throws. The Steelers game plan should be to stop the run and force the tv pitchman to make plays. Nick Chubb is still injured so they will have to stop Kareem Hunt. That's doable, but in open space and in the passing game he's hard to deal with. Steelers linebackers better be on alert to cover him out the backfield. Also, beware of D'Ernest Johnson. He's a slasher back-up runningback and a big play threat. If that's not enough to defend, Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry have gotten in sync with Mayfield and expect both to get a lot of touches.
Defensively, Myles Garrett is getting to the quarterback quick! Pittsburgh has a banged up offensive line so Ben Roethlisberger is gonna be on the run. Steeler backs will have to do a lot of mass protecting for splash plays to work and the ball has to come out fast. Expect a lot of 1-2-3 quick passing plays. This will put more pressure on the receivers to make plays and the Browns secondary has playmakers of their own in Denzel Ward and Terrance Mitchell.
Who wins? These teams are more even that Steelers fans would like to believe. It's shaping up as being a season in which the teams will split. That means the home team normally has the edge. However, we didn't mention Coach Klein for nothing. Kevin Stefanski has the pro Mud Dogs barking and they do have some bite. They went to Dallas and made a statement in Jerry's World and have plans to make a bigger one in the stadium just off the turnpike. The Browns will Rock n' Roll their way into first place tie in the AFC North.
Baltimore hasn't traveled far in three weeks. Two weeks ago the Ravens were in Washington, this week they take a short ride to Philadelphia where they will beat the Eagles. Cincinnati needs more weapons than rookie quarterback Joe Burrow. The Bengals won't travel far when they play in Indianapolis, but the Colts will rebound and hand them their fourth loss.
For more on the Steelers on this site go to our Steel Talkin' page.