Matchup: Steelers vs. Browns
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When the Browns have the ball: The Browns have revamped their offense with four rookies, including QB Brandon Weeden and RB Trent Richardson. Weeden is big and stands in the pocket but, like a lot of rookies, has been inconsistent. He has the second-lowest completion percentage in the AFC (55.3) despite playing in a West Coast-style offense that emphasizes shorter passes. The Browns have tried to stretch the field more with deep passes, especially to rookie WR Josh Gordon. That has made Greg Little more of a possession receiver. The offense, though, revolves around Richardson, who leads the team in rushing (670) and receiving (37 catches). The player who has been de-emphasized is Joshua Cribbs, who has only eight touches on offense. Pro Bowl LT Joe Thomas might be the best in the league and has always played well against James Harrison.
When the Steelers have the ball: The Browns rank 24th against the rush and 22nd against the pass in the league, but they are hoping their run defense will improve by having both tackles, Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin, back in the lineup. They played together for the first time this season last week against Dallas. That should help take some of the attention away from former Pitt DE Jabal Sheard, who is tied for the team lead with three sacks. DE Frostee Rucker moves inside when the Browns use their nickel package. Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron has tried to improve the speed at linebacker by moving rookie James-Michael Johnson and Kaluka Maiava into the starting lineup. Part of that was necessitated by season-ending injuries to Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong. The secondary is without CB Joe Haden, who has missed four games because of a league suspension and another with injury. The Browns have allowed 11 touchdown passes in the five games without Haden. The other corner, Sheldon Brown, needs help in deep coverage. But the Steelers will be without WR Antonio Brown (ankle), and QB Charlie Batch will make his first start since 2010 after injuries to Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich.
Keep an eye on
WR Josh Gordon ... He is one of four rookies who start on offense and has brought something the Browns haven't had since Braylon Edwards -- a deep threat. Gordon (6-3, 225) is fourth on the team with 24 catches, but he averages 19.6 yards per catch and leads the Browns with four TD receptions -- tied for most by a rookie this season. Three of his TDs were for 33, 62 and 71 yards. His per-catch average is third in the NFL among players with a minimum 20 catches.
This is the 119th meeting between the teams in a series that dates to 1950. The Steelers have dominated since the 1970 merger, going 55-35 against the Browns and winning 16 of the past 17. They are 12-2 in Cleveland since the Browns returned to the league after being dormant from 1996-98. Mike Tomlin is 9-1 vs. them. ... Five of the Browns' losses this season have been by seven points or fewer, including three by four or fewer. They have lost an NFL-leading 18 games by a touchdown or less since 2010. ... The Steelers have won two in a row on the road and have not lost back-to-back games since Week 13 of the 2009 season.
To win, the Browns must ...
1. Get picks in Batches. The Browns are fifth in the league with 10 interceptions, two of which were returned for TDs.
2. Solve the secondary. The Steelers have not allowed more than 169 yards passing or a passer rating higher than 75.5 in the past five games.
3. Get their Phil of Dawson. He is the only kicker in the league with more than 10 attempts who has not missed a FG (19 of 19) this season.
To win, the Steelers must ...
1. Dent Trent. Richardson has averaged 107 yards rushing the past three games and had 34 touches against the Cowboys.
2. Whack Weeden. The Browns' QB is a classic pocket passer, but he has been sacked only 16 times -- fewest among NFL rookies.
3. Not Josh with Cribbs. The Browns return specialist has three of his 11 career scoring returns against the Steelers -- the most by an opponent against any NFL team.
First Published November 25, 2012 12:00 am