December 22, 2014

Elyria
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With Anderson at QB, Browns confident they can handle Steelers’ blitzing

BEREA – Depressing Browns stat of the week: Tim Couch is the only quarterback to beat the Steelers since the team`s return to the NFL in 1999. The Browns are 3-15 vs. their archrival.
Optimistic Browns observation of the week: Derek Anderson gives them a better chance to beat Pittsburgh than Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer and Charlie Frye before him. The reason: Anderson can handle the blitz.
The Browns have gone 5-2 since a 34-7 opening loss to the Steelers, and Anderson has received much of the credit for the turnaround.
“We feel very confident as an offense, because D.A.`s just been playing well,” center Hank Fraley said Wednesday as Steelers Week kicked into high gear. “He`s been playing great ball, getting better every week.”
Anderson took over for Frye in the second quarter in Week 1, but by then the Browns were down 17-0. Anderson went 13-for-28 for 184 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
He threw five touchdown passes in Week 2 and has been solid since. He`s completed 58 percent of his passes for 2,108 yards, 17 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 91.7 rating.
“I don`t think it`s me by myself,” Anderson said of the team`s turnaround. “It`s the whole deal. We`ve done some good things. We moved on and continued to improve.”
The Steelers (6-2) have the league`s top defense in yardage (237.8 per game) and scoring (12.3 points). They are the only team that hasn`t allowed 100 points this season, and second-ranked Tennessee has allowed 3.3 more points per game.
The zone blitz continues to be a strength of the Steelers under rookie coach Mike Tomlin. They use the confusing scheme to get pressure on the quarterback (25 sacks) and create turnovers (16). It worked brilliantly Monday vs. Baltimore, as Pittsburgh had six sacks and forced four turnovers.
Frye understood the Rust Belt rivalry better than most players, but he never figured out the blitz. He was sacked 18 times in less than 2½ games, including five times in the opener.
Anderson was sacked just once in the opener – convincing general manager Phil Savage to trade Frye – and wasn`t sacked by Pittsburgh in his first career start last December. He`s been sacked just eight times all year.
“He does have a quick release,” Pittsburgh linebacker James Farrior said on a conference call. “Frye might`ve been a little afraid to put the ball in some tight spots. Anderson, he`ll try to zip it in there.”
Quick decision-making and a strong arm have made Anderson one of the biggest surprises of the NFL season. Coach Romeo Crennel saw the potential during the trip to Pittsburgh last year.
The Browns lost 27-7, but Anderson was victimized by at least eight dropped passes. He finished 21-of-37 for 276 yards, a touchdown, an interception, a lost fumble and a 78.2 rating.
“He was throwing balls to guys and we didn`t catch `em the way we needed to catch `em,” Crennel said. “It kinda let me know he did have some ability.”
Farrior sees an improved Anderson this year.
“He looks more poised in the pocket,” he said. “He`ll sit in there, try to wait and throw the ball at the last second. He`s a lot more accurate than he was in the past.”
Anderson was hit with question after question Wednesday about the Steelers defense. While he gave it its due, he said he wasn`t scared by the Steelers` 38-7 win Monday night.
“They put on their pants just like we do,” he said. “Obviously, they`ve been playing well. But you`ve just got to go in with confidence and continue to do the same things we`ve been doing. If you go out there intimidated, you`re in for a long day.”
Anderson`s confidence has been buoyed by the line`s performance all year. Rookie Joe Thomas has been even better than expected at left tackle, and free agent Eric Steinbach has been a huge upgrade at left guard. The Seahawks, who ranked fourth in the league in sacks, were shut out in 48 Anderson pass attempts Sunday.
“Seattle blitzed just as much as Pittsburgh does and (the line) did a heckuva job picking up their pressures last week,” Anderson said. “It falls on the line picking it up, me seeing it, the receivers seeing it and running the right routes. It`s the whole package. The reason we`ve been successful is because everybody is on the same page.”
With Anderson leading the way.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.