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Steelers-Browns pregame stretch

November 23, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) vs. Cleveland Browns (2-8)

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

Weather – or not?: Mostly cloudy, flurries, 39. A totally bland, non-descript winter day in Cleveland. How fun. Seriously, the weather in Cleveland has been similar to Pittsburgh the last few weeks , meaning the frosty nights and rain-free days are likely starting to do a number on what’s left of the turf there (which is Kentucky bluegrass, btw, thank you Wikipedia).

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Announcers: Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots

Annoyance factor: After a long string of #1 crews, we return to one of the more, um, challenged broadcasting teams working this week, especially in the person of Wilcots, who, to be fair, has improved from “unwatchable” to “mild annoying but still uninteresting” but still has not figured out how to pronounce Men-ing-hall or Rot-lis-berger. Hopefully, CBS has shelved the gimmicky “Wisdom of Solomon” segment where Wilcots usually told us something we already knew.

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Referee: Ron Winter

Competence factor: As the shadowy (and knowledgeable) @Preth3 pointed out on the Twitter, at least it took 12 weeks for the Steelers to get Winter-ized, meaning this will be the one and only guest appearance by the league’s worst white hat (and most overofficious crew) on this year’s schedule. We won’t bore you with the specifics. If you pay attention you know. But Winter is an equal opportunity offender and instead of costing the Steelers his next mangling of the game rules might benefit them – but probably not.

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The line: Steelers -1

Smarts say: With the uncertainty at quarterback for Pittsburgh, there are still several big-time betting houses that don’t have a line on this game. Most of those that do have it as a pick ‘em but we’re using the Las Vegas Hilton’s since they were first to post one this week. With an over/under of 34.5, we’re talking 17-16 Pittsburgh.

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+ Injury information in the NFL is guarded like the nuclear launch codes so we might never know exactly what Ben Roethlisberger’s dealing with right now, but it became clear this week that there are conflicting narratives on the subject. Shortly after the Steelers reported Roethlisberger suffered a “shoulder sprain” against the Chiefs, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cited anonymous “sources” (likely the QB himself or his agent) in reporting that there was a “second” injury to a rib that was more serious than the shoulder. The Steelers later further clarified the injury as a dislocated sterno-clavicular joint. The next day at Steelers practice Roethlisberger himself told reporters that a “dislocated rib” also could threaten his aorta. After that, the two-injury story became gospel, even though no medical doctor who examined Roethlisberger confirmed it. However, a full week later, Coach Mike Tomlin matter-of-factly told reporters that the reported injuries are “one in the same.” A quick Google search shows that a dislocated SC joint can threaten the aorta so it certainly seems plausible that Roethlisberger is dealing with one complex injury rather than two separate ones.

+ No matter what the injury is, by all reports, Roethlisberger was sling-free and moving better at practice on Wednesday and CBS insider Jason La Canfora, who first reported this was a 1-3 week injury while others were talking months, said on Wednesday there’s considerable optimism Roethlisberger will be able to play next week at Baltimore.

Key matchup: Brown rushers Jabaal Sheard and Frostee Rucker vs. Steelers tackles Max Starks and Mike Adams

Because: We have considerable confidence that Charlie Batch has the talent and experience to play relatively mistake-free football, put 21 points on the board and help the Steelers win this game. We have considerably less confidence that he’ll remain healthy enough to do that. Batch is even less mobile than Byron Leftwich and his 38-year-old bones and joints won’t take many big hits. The Browns defense is young and fast and coming off a strong showing at Dallas. Starks has surrendered a sack each of the past two games and Adams struggled mightily Monday with Paul Kruger’s speed rush. If Heath Miller has to chip Rucker to help Adams again, that’s another 8-12 plays where he’s not in a pass pattern.

Quick hits:

+ By all accounts, Plaxico Burress is in great shape. He certainly said all the right things this week about returning to his roots (and to #80). If he can simply take some attention off Miller in the red zone, that alone is probably worth the veteran minimum he’s being paid. Also, don’t overlook the fact that Roethlisberger lobbied several times in the past for Pittsburgh to re-sign Burress and the gesture this time could be as much about keeping Ben happy as it is covering for Antonio Brown (who we told you would be out at least four weeks) and Jericho Cotchery. Speaking of which, we hope Cotchery gets back before the Burress departs so we can have the “Plaxico and Jericho Show.”

+ While there might be a tendency for the Steelers to want to get those injured players back for the rematch in Baltimore next week, that game is likely will mean very little to Pittsburgh’s playoff positioning. Even if the Steelers were to gain the split with the Ravens, it’s unlikely they’d be able to turn around the conference-record tiebreaker, which the Raven’s currently hold at 7-1 vs. 3-4, to claim the division, so they’d still be looking at a #5 or #6 seed. Conversely, if the injured players rested another week of two and Pittsburgh won at home over Cincinnati (Dec. 23) and San Diego (Dec. 9), the two teams nearest in the playoff race, that would just about guarantee a playoff spot and the same #5 or #6 seed.

The pick: We’d like to pick Pittsburgh to win this game, but we just can’t, not after last Sunday’s night’s poor and puzzling performance. The Steelers apparently will stubbornly start Rashard Mendenhall at halfback again, taking 10-12 valuable carries away from Jon Dwyer, who has shown over a prolonged period now that he’s a better fit for the offense. As noted above, we’ll likely once again see Heath Miller spend as much time chipping blitzers as running routes. That leaves Charlie Batch, Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders to carry the load against an underrated Browns defense…Cleveland 14-13.

Last week: We misfired on the winner but cashed in against the spread with the Steelers +3.5 to go 7-3 on the year.

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