Game 16 Matchup: Steelers vs. Browns
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When the Browns have the ball: The offense revolves around RB Peyton Hillis, who has rushed for 1,164 yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 60 passes for 474 yards. But, against the Steelers' No. 1 rush defense, the Browns will need to get plays from rookie QB Colt McCoy, who played well against the Steelers in the first meeting in his NFL debut. McCoy is 2-5 as a starter, but he completes a high percentage of passes (63.5), especially when he moves out of the pocket. TE Ben Watson leads the team with 61 catches. Watson and Evan Moore combined for 10 catches and 172 yards in the first meeting. WR Mohamed Massaquoi has only 33 catches, a low total for a No. 1 receiver, but the Browns used him to throw a 29-yard TD pass to WR Brian Robiskie against the Ravens. RT John St. Clair, who has struggled since replacing injured Tony Pashos, has to contain OLB LaMarr Woodley.
When the Steelers have the ball: The Browns are seventh in scoring defense (291 points) and the only team in the league to not allow 30 points in a game. They are sixth in the league in red-zone defense (19 TDs on 43 trips inside the 20) and have a plus-2 turnover ratio. Rookie CB Joe Haden has been dynamic since moving into the starting lineup, intercepting a team-high six passes -- tied for the NFL lead among rookies. But QB Ben Roethlisberger has not thrown an INT in his past 136 attempts, the longest streak of his career and the best since Kordell Stewart in 2001 (159). The Browns try to create confusion up front by using sub packages in which they employ just one or no defensive linemen, often standing and moving around seven linebackers. RB Rashard Mendenhall will be a facing run defense that has allowed a running back to gain 92 or more yards in each of the past three games.
WR/KR Joshua Cribbs ... It has not been a Pro Bowl year for Cribbs, who has three career scoring returns against the Steelers. His longest kick return this season has been 37 yards, and he hasn't caught a touchdown since Week 2. The Browns have the lowest kick-return average in the league (18.0), although part of the reason is teams have been kicking away from Cribbs. What's more, he hasn't been the same since he dislocated four toes on his right foot against the New York Jets on Nov. 14
The Steelers had won eight in a row in Cleveland and 12 in a row overall against the Browns before a 13-6 upset loss on Dec. 10, 2009. The Steelers have won 20 of the past 23 meetings overall, including a 28-10 victory Oct. 17 in Heinz Field. ... The Browns are the only team to beat New England and New Orleans this season -- teams who have just one loss combined since those defeats. But the Browns are 2-5 since those back-to-back victories. This is the ninth time in 12 seasons the Browns have had double-digit losses.
1. Run down-Hillis. The 250-pound back is the focal point of their offense, combining for 1,638 yards on 324 touches.
2. Not let Ben mend. The Browns are fifth in the league in takeaways (28), but Roethlisberger has been mistake-free and efficient despite his injuries.
3. Have Colt be the real McCoy. He was poised and impressive in his NFL debut at Heinz Field, completing 23 of 33 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown.
1. Take the lead. With so much at stake, the veteran leaders of the team -- Hines Ward and James Farrior -- have to show the way.
2. Not let the dogs out. Browns' LBs Marcus Bernard (7.5) and Matt Roth (3.5) have combined for 11 of the team's 27 sacks.
3. Go hard with Rashard. The Browns have allowed the past three opposing backs -- Fred Jackson, Cedric Benson and Ray Rice -- an average of 118 yards per game.
Game: Steelers (11-4) at Cleveland Browns (5-10).
When: 1 p.m.
Radio: WDVE-FM (102.5), WBGG-AM (970) and the Steelers Radio Network.
Favored: Steelers by 6.
First Published January 2, 2011 12:00 am