Thursday Night Football: Pittsburgh Should Still Pass Against Cleveland, Who Is Not the #1 Pass Defense

Let’s get this straight. The Browns do not have the #1 pass defense in the league, and the Steelers are not going to suddenly start running throughout the first half because of Cleveland’s defensive rankings by the official NFL numbers in passing and rushing. The NFL ranks by yards allowed. The Browns have been trailing a fair amount. Teams choose to run on them, for a couple of reasons.

First, the rush defense is a little more vulnerable, but it’s not as pronounced as the rankings would suggest. Second, the opposing quarterbacks haven’t been a murderer’s row. The best quarterback they played is Matt Schaub, followed by either Andy Dalton or Matt Hasselbeck. The teams they have played have preferred to run because they don’t have strong passing games.

By passer rating allowed, they are 9th best, and by adjusted net yards, they are 12th. Adjusting for opponent would move them down a little further. Joe Haden is the truth at corner, but this is not a dominant pass defense unit.

They have not played the Steelers yet, and this will easily be the best passing opponent they face. Pittsburgh’s identity is the big play in the passing game, with Big Ben extending plays and looking for Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Heath Miller, Hines Ward and Emmanuel Sanders. I expect him to be selective in going Haden’s direction, but I also don’t expect Pittsburgh to go three yards and a cloud of dust in this one just because the Browns are 31st in rush yards allowed, and 1st in passing yards allowed. Sure, if they build a lead, I do expect Pittsburgh to then try to control the clock in the second half. But I look for first quarter passing from the Steelers.

Pittsburgh has won 15 of the last 16 games in this “rivalry”, and if Cleveland is going to change that, they will actually have to play like the best pass defense in the league.

[photo via Getty]













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