Head to head: Browns RB Peyton Hillis vs. Steelers LB James Farrior

A closer look at the game within the game

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Before he even gets to play in another postseason game, whether as a division champion or wild-card-team, inside linebacker James Farrior will turn 36 -- the oldest player on a defense that features six starters who are age 30 or older. He might even feel older when he tries to tackle Browns running back Peyton Hillis.

But, unlike last season when a couple of missed tackles at key moments sparked concern about his age, there are no signs of Farrior slowing down this season. Not even with the season stretching into another month.

If anything, he appears to be getting better.

"Ah, man, age isn't a factor the way he plays," said outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who is 10 years younger than Farrior. "Ever since I've been playing here, he's been playing hard, hitting hard. He's the leader of our defense and he goes out there with an attitude. You know he's going to give his all so you want to give your all along with him."

Farrior is more than the leader of the defense. He is the focal point of the NFL's No. 1 rush defense that allows an average of 64.1 yards per game -- 26 yards fewer than the next closest team (San Diego) -- and is the only team in the league that has allowed only one run longer than 20 yards.

Unless the Browns rush for more than 234 yards today, the Steelers will easily break the franchise record of 74.7 yards rushing allowed per game, set in 2001. But, if they hold the Browns to 63 yards rushing or fewer, they will set a franchise record for fewest rushing yards allowed in any season, even a 12-game season. The record is 1,125 yards in 12 games in 1953. If they would somehow hold the Browns to less than 9 yards rushing -- an unlikely possibility -- they would break the NFL record for fewest rushing yards allowed in a season (970), set by the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.

"We do a good job of tackling as a team," Woodley said. "That's usually how we stop good running backs."

At the center of it all is Farrior, who leads the team with 96 solo tackles and, maybe more impressive, has five sacks in the past six games.

His primary job against the Browns will be to keep Hillis from becoming a factor in the game, something the Steelers were able to do in their 28-10 victory Oct. 17 at Heinz Field. He rushed for 41 yards on 12 carries and caught six passes for 49 yards. Much of the Browns' offense revolves around their 6-foot-2, 250-pound running back. Not only has he rushed for 1,164 yards and 11 touchdowns, he is second on the team with 60 catches for 474 yards. But, on his second carry in last Sunday's loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Hillis injured his ribs on a hit by safety Ed Reed and was ineffective the rest of the game.

He is expected to wear some type of protective flak jacket against the Steelers.

"We just had all our guys rally around him," Farrior said. "He's not a guy you can bring down with one person. He usually keeps his legs churning after every piece of contact. He's probably one of the toughest runners we face this year. We know what to expect coming into this one."

So do the Browns -- plenty from James Farrior.


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