3TFO: Browns @ Steelers, Week 17
A couple of weeks ago the Pittsburgh Steelers season looked to be finished, but with a minor miracle where the Dolphins, Ravens and Charges all lose and the Steelers win they will be the 6th seed in the playoffs. With the Steelers looking to try and get the last playoff spot, the Cleveland Browns, however, are looking at another season with a top 10 draft pick.
The last time Browns and the Steelers played on Week 12, there was controversial no call on the Jason Campbell concussion. Josh Gordon had the first of his 200 yards game season. Troy Polamalu had his best game since 2011, showing his old ability in causing 2 fumble and be an all-around force.
Ike Taylor vs. Josh Gordon
Ike Taylor’s reputation as one of the better cornerbacks in the league has been built on previous performance more than on the ability he has shown this season. However, the Steelers still use him as a corner that will shadow the opponents No. 1 wide receiver nearly 60% of the time.
Back in Week 12, Josh Gordon caught 11 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown against Ike Taylor. When Gordon had a hot streak through Weeks 11 through 14, where gained over 700 yards in 4 games. Ike Taylor was struggling during the same four week stretch. Taylor’s grade over that span was -7.4 while outside of those four weeks he has recorded a more respectable grade of -0.7. This matchup is down to Taylor still being able to have a good a game intermittent between his poor performances.
Over the 13 games that Gordon has played this season, he has been targeted primarily on three routes, go routes, hitch routes and on crossing routes. As a result total of 79 of his 140 targets have come on a combination of these patterns. While Gordon has only caught 33.3% of his go routes he has scored on 6 of his 9 catches and caused a lot of problems for DB’s. This allows him to be highly effective when running hitches as DB’s have to respect his ability on deep passes. Gordon has an Average Depth of Target of 14.5 yards. With the way both of these players have played this season, the most likely outcome will favor Gordon. However, if Taylor can keep Gordon quiet it will likely cause the Browns a lot of difficulty as no one has stepped up to take on the No. 2 weapon on this offense especially with Jordan Cameron struggling with a concussion.
Steelers Run Game vs Browns Run Defense
Over the past three games the Steelers are averaging 4.7 yards per carry and their offense has scored more than 28 points in each contest. Early in the season the Steelers struggled to run the ball and a large part of the problem was the play of the offensive line. However the line has had an uptick in performance. David DeCastro had a good start to the season, and since a down period in Weeks 10 through 14 in which he produced a -6.2 grade he’s returned to form. Outside of DeCastro, though, no other player has a positive grade in run blocking.
In 2012 John Hughes struggled as a rookie 4-3 DT, but since the move to a 3-4 defense he’s been a revelation. He has become the eighth-highest 3-4 DE Run Stop Percentage, with an 8.9% rate. One spot above Hughes is his teammate, Ahtyba Rubin. Rubin entered the league in 2008 and has always played on the interior defensive line, but the move to 3-4 DE has him playing at his highest level of his career. The Browns have been allowing 3.8 yards per carry and just 3.4 when teams attack their left. When going away from right guard, the Steelers are averaging 3.2 yard per carry. The strength of Browns’ run defense will see the Steelers’ best run blocker.
Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed might be the more famous AFC North safeties over the past few years; however T.J. Ward has taken their crown as the best safety in the AFC North for the past two seasons. Ever since Ward entered the league in 2010 he has graded in the Top 10 in run defense and in the past two years he has improved his play to become the best run defender in the league at safety. He currently leads all safeties with 28 stops, which gives him a Run Stop Percentage of 7.1%.
Where Ward is an elite run defender his ability in pass coverage has improved to the point where he has become a Top-15 coverage safety as well. When Ward has been in coverage this season opposing teams have targeted him 49 times and he’s surrendered 29 receptions but has only allowed an 8.6 yard average, which is the ninth-lowest number in the league for safeties. Ward and the Browns’ backfield will be challenged by the Steelers’ passing game. Ward’s +4.3 coverage grade and Joe Haden‘s +3.2 are balanced in the Cleveland starting secondary by the -4.7 and -8.1 marks of Tashaun Gibson and Buster Skrine, respectively. Gibson has had a rough second half of the season and Skrine has had major difficulty — now the fifth-lowest ranked CB this season.
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