3 We Can Learn: Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 14)
This matchup might be a bit of a beatdown. Last week the Browns were clinically executed by the Ravens at home, and I can’t see things getting much better in the week 17 return leg. As for the Steelers in week 14? Yeah… I don’t see a surprise going down. Mark those words! They will be the ones you quote when you laugh at me for my blasé attitude towards the Browns’ week 14 hopes should they win; color me impressed if the Cleveland offense springs a surprise, but I just don’t believe it has the firepower on tap.
Will they one day have the weapons to threaten the AFC North hierarchy? Well the 2012 offseason will be the second year of the Holmgren-Heckert experiment, and I for one hope to see them curtail their conservative attitude towards free agency. We have covered three areas the draft can improve before (and the players that Cleveland may target in the 2012 draft), but today we are going to examine three areas the Steelers will expose as in need of free agency upgrade. Pitt’s best vs. our weakest: what free agents can plug these holes in time for next year’s matchup?
1) Why You Talkin’ ‘Bout Wallace?
Move over Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown is here and he looks like a faaaaaantastic football player. Maybe that is overstating the Brown-over-Wallace momentum in Pittsburgh right now, but Brown leads the team in total targets (86), deep targets of 20+ yards (19) and is 4th in the league for yards-per-route-run (2.56). Wallace is definitely the touchdown-go-to, but if Cleveland feels confident draping Joe Haden all over him (#23 allowed just 1 reception to Wallace in both Browns-Steelers matchups from 2010 combined), they need to come up with a solution for Brown. Dealing with two dynamic stud receivers is always a nightmare, but Sheldon Brown’s value is depreciating by the day and the 2012 free agency class might be the only option for an immediate solution.
N.B. We have also mentioned Dre Kirkpatrick from the 2012 draft as an option.
There are some exceptional free agent corners available in 2012. Brent Grimes, Leon Hall and Carlos Rogers, headline the class, but all will likely be retained by their incumbent teams after exceptional 2011’s. However… Brandon Carr is part of an impressive Kansas City Chiefs secondary which already has $50 million tied up in Brandon Flowers and a top-10 rookie contract over the head of Eric Berry. I just don’t think it conceivable they shell out big on their number two corner.
That is not to say that Carr is some scrub. He is a massive upgrade over Sheldon Brown and has the skills to push Haden for the number 1 gig. Carr has allowed just 35 receptions on the year (15th in the NFL amongst corners with 670+ snaps), which equates to a respectable catch % of 56 for balls thrown his direction. Some may even argue that this is a down year for Carr, and that his 2010 promised more.
If Holmgren-Heckert put money on the table, the chance to join an amiable group of hawkish defensive backs in Cleveland may be enough to convert Brandon Carr into a Brown.
2) Kei to Victory
Remember Brett Keisel’s beard?
Ah… brilliant. Pittsburgh – like Baltimore and further afield the 49ers – play 3-4 defensive fronts. 5-techniques like Keisel, Suggs (1 sack, 2 pressures vs. the Browns last week), or Justin Smith (2 hits and a pressure in week 8 ) face up over Cleveland’s guards and annually bully them. Jason Pinkston has seen a late season maturation, but Shawn Lauvao remains a liability at right guard. The industrious nature of interior offensive linemen often means their skills can be purchased for cheap, but even so, 2012 free agent guards is a class of one: Bobbie Williams. (N.B. Assumption here being that worthless 49ers right guard Adam Snyder doesn’t count as a player. Really. He doesn’t)
The 35 year old Bengals veteran is enjoying a career year, and could easily be a stop-gap solution to survival in the AFC North until a rookie can be groomed. Coming from Cincinnati he already has in-division savviness and his punchy, physical style will help elevate one of the worst interior run units in football. Bobbie Williams – an aging solution at an affordable price.
3) Run Rashard Run
The Ray Rice explosion of a week ago was an exception as supposed to the rule. Cleveland have actually played pretty tight run defense all season. AND… Rashard Mendenhall is not a very good runner right now (he averages 3.8 yards-per-carry in 2011). However, I want to talk about the state of Cleveland’s defensive end run defense. Jayme Mitchell started the year pretty good against the run, but his play has fallen off and – considering he offers nothing in the pass rush – he attracted the wrath of Cleveland’s coaches who benched him for week 12.
Whilst pass rushers (after quarterbacks and offensive tackles) are some of the most best paid free agents around as teams prioritise this skill, a run stopping specialist at the position could be a valuable asset at a depressed price. If Heckert-Holmgren are reluctant to drop big money, then aggressively pursuing a run stopping role player could maximise the bang for their buck.
Raheem Brock is a name I’ve brought up before (and have a love affair for), but he may not come at the cheap price we’re looking for. How about another odd-one-out?
Juqua Parker was the big loser of the “dream team” formation in Philadelphia. Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins and Daryl Tapp all moved ahead of him in the pecking order, and with free agency looming I doubt we see him back with the Eagles in 2012. Parker’s specialty? Tough tackling against the run.
Parker is playing in an average of just 24% of Philadelphia’s defensive snaps, which is down on last year’s figure of 52%. Despite limited playing time in both years, Parker had 18 stops last season, and incidentally his 6 sacks and 24 pressures put him in a class of his own amongst efficient pass rushers. Juqua Parker might not be a long term solution, but as a sure-fire free agent to be he would be an exceeding upgrade to our reeling run defense.
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