Steelers brace for Browns' blitz
It was a bitter cold Thursday night last December, so cold that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger recalls not warming up before facing the Cleveland Browns.
"We didn't go out and warm up. It was cold and windy," Roethlisberger said Monday.
Roethlisberger remembers something else from the Steelers' dreadful 13-6 loss at Cleveland Browns Stadium, by far their worst defeat in 2009.
"They got after us, and we couldn't do anything on offense," Roethlisberger said. "Point blank, they kicked our butts."
Blitzing from all angles, Cleveland sacked Roethlisberger a season-high eight times, and the Steelers managed only two Jeff Reed field goals. It was the Steelers' fourth loss to an AFC North opponent last season and contributed to knocking them out of the playoffs.
In anticipation of Sunday's rematch against Cleveland at Heinz Field, Roethlisberger and the rest of the offensive starters realize they have their work cut out for them against the Browns' aggressive and sometimes unpredictable defense.
"They did a lot of different looks and blitzes that keep you on your heels," said Roethlisberger, who was 18 of 32 for 201 yards.
Added wide receiver Mike Wallace, who was a rookie last season: "The blitz they were sending, they were disguising things. This year we'll be more prepared for it. Our coaches have everything cleared up."
Left guard Chris Kemoeatu said the offensive line failed to make the proper reads, despite having success in their first meeting two months earlier against the Browns.
In that game, Roethlisberger completed 23 of 35 passes for 417 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-14 win.
"They did a whole lot of fake blitzes, a whole lot of things we didn't execute as far as identifying and executing and getting where we're supposed to get," Kemoeatu said.
However, the Steelers' offensive line woes went much deeper in the second meeting.
"We got confused," Kemoeatu admitted. "Their safeties would walk up, and we would think that we got them when we should have picked up the big guys.
"We've just got to know who we've got and call them out and go to those people."
While Roethlisberger said the Steelers should have a better idea what to expect this time, the trick against the Browns is knowing when the blitz is coming and when it isn't.
"I have no idea," Roethlisberger said. "With (Browns defensive coordinator Rob) Ryan, you never know what to expect. I would imagine they'll probably do a little bit of the things they've done this year."
Kemoeatu said the players will take full advantage of an extra day of practice (courtesy of the bye week). Despite not practicing for the Browns last week, the Steelers' defense was able to show the offensive line several different looks as sort of an early preview for the game.
"We're expecting everything," Kemoeatu said. "We're going to practice every possible look they can give us. Last week it was Steelers vs. Steelers. It was good because our defense brings a lot of stuff. We go into the game kind of having an idea."
Even if Cleveland's defense shows the Steelers something different, Roethlisberger said the offense will be better equipped to counter it this time.
"We'll just have to wait and see and be ready to make adjustments and changes on the sideline," Roethlisberger said.