When the Browns have the ball: Brady Quinn has brought the vertical passing attack to the anemic Browns. He has passed for 675 yards and accounted for eight touchdowns in the past three games. And that after the Browns had scored just five offensive touchdowns in their previous 15 games. With the season-ending injury to RB Jamal Lewis, the Browns have to rely on Jerome Harrison, who is tied for the team lead with 28 catches; and former CFL free-agent Chris Jennings, an inside runner who was signed from the practice squad in October. Right tackle John St. Clair has struggled with penalties and protection, which could be a problem against OLB LaMarr Woodley, who has six sacks in the past four games.
When the Steelers have the ball: When coach Mike Tomlin talked about changes in schematics, he might have been referring to a return to an emphasis on the run. And surely that would make sense against the Browns, especially after they lost NT Shaun Rogers and both inside linebackers, Eric Barton and D'Qwell Jackson, to season-ending injuries. The Browns allow an average of 154.2 yards per game and gave up 210 yards to the Bengals two weeks ago. But they have just as many problems against the pass, where they have allowed 905 yards the past three games. CB Brandon McDonald, who had problems in the first meeting against Hines Ward (eight catches, 159 yards, 52-yard TD) has been benched and replaced by Mike Adams. Ward could play tonight despite a hamstring injury. With a season-ending injury to S Brodney Pool, former Steelers CB Hank Poteat has been moved to safety. It's so bad the Browns have used WR Mike Furry, a converted defensive back, at safety, too.
KR Joshua Cribbs: The Steelers have not allowed a kick return for touchdown in the past two games, a credible accomplishment after allowing four in the previous five games. But one of those TDs was by Joshua Cribbs, who had a 98-yard kick return in the first meeting. Since that game, Cribbs hasn't had a kick return longer than 42 yards. His return average of 25.8 yards, fifth in the AFC, actually ranks behind Stefan Logan (26.7).
Game: Steelers (6-6) at Browns (1-11).
When: 8:30 p.m.
Where: Cleveland Browns Stadium.
TV: KDKA, NFL Network.
Radio: WDVE-FM (102.5), WBGG-AM (970).
Skinny: While tied for the final AFC wild-card spot, the Steelers don't hold any of tiebreakers.
The Browns have lost a league-high seven in a row and are 1-17 in their past 18 games, dating to last season. They lost the first meeting with the Steelers, 27-14, on Oct. 18 at Heinz Field. The Steelers have lost four in a row -- only Cleveland has lost more consecutive games -- but they have won the past 12 meetings and 18 of the past 19 against the Browns.
To win, the Browns must ...
1. Throw, throw, throw. Quinn has to throw against a secondary that has allowed 590 yards passing in the 2nd half the past three games.
2. Burn Burnett. CB Joe Burnett will start or rotate with CB William Gay and will likely be tested on deep passes.
3. Have dibs on Cribbs. Teams have been kicking away from the Pro Bowl return specialist, who has two scoring returns this season.
To win, the Steelers must ...
1. Make more plays than Shakespeare. The failure to protect leads is surpassed only by the inability of the CBs to have an interception this season.
2. Get to Brady in bunches. Quinn has brought some energy to the Browns, throwing for seven TDs and rushing for another in the past three games.
3. Not bar Heath. TE Heath Miller, who had just two catches in the past two games, needs to be more involved.