The Battle of 4-6 Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns

Nov 23, 2013

Confidence is growing by the week in the Pittsburgh locker room now that the Steelers have put together back-to-back wins over Buffalo (23-10) and Detroit (37-27).  However, last week’s double-digit win over the Lions was misleading in that the Steelers were the beneficiaries of a +3 turnover margin, together with a botched fake field goal attempt.  Pittsburgh was actually outgained 451-398 by the Lions, and I expect the Browns to secure their fifth win of the season Sunday afternoon.

Cleveland’s strength is an outstanding defense that is allowing 23.8 points per game at 3.5 yards per rush play, 5.5 yards per pass attempt and 4.7 yards per play.  At home, the Browns are limiting opponents to a mere 3.3 yards per rush play, 5.5 yards per pass play and 4.7 yards per play.  Overall, Cleveland has the league’s fifth-ranked defense that is 0.4 yards per rush play, 1.0 yards per pass attempt and 0.7 yards per play better than average in 2013.  And, those numbers are certainly good enough to limit a pedestrian Pittsburgh attack that is a nominal 0.1 yards per play better than average.

Cleveland Defense vs. Pittsburgh Offense:

  • +1.0 yards per rush play advantage
  • +0.8 yards per pass attempt advantage
  • +0.6 yards per play advantage overall

Cleveland cornerbacks  Joe Haden and Buster Skrine lead a secondary that is among the league’s best at taking away deep passes.  For the season, the Browns have allowed just 25 passes of 20 yards or longer, fourth-fewest in the NFL. “We have an extreme amount of potential,” said Browns linebacker Paul Kruger.  “For us, it’s just going to be about preparing and doing what we need to do to beat Pittsburgh.  I think the coaches do a great job of keeping us focused on what we’re doing.”

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s defense is yielding 27.2 points per game on the road at 4.9 yards per rush play, 7.7 yards per pass attempt and 391 total yards (6.4 yards per play).  Overall, the Steelers are 0.2 yards per pass attempt and 0.1 yards per play worse than average defensively this season, which is still good enough to limit a bad Cleveland attack that is only averaging 5.0 yards per play at home.

From a technical standpoint, Pittsburgh is a money-burning 6-15 ATS on the road over the last three seasons, including 4-13 ATS versus conference opponents.  Moreover, .499 0r worse division teams off a non-division upset win at home are 0-20 SU and 3-17 ATS since 1980, provided they scored 30 or  more points in the victory.