The Browns gave up a season-high 290 yards rushing in a 24-10 loss to the Ravens on Sunday. The NFL being the copycat league it is, they expect a similar attack from the Steelers on Thursday night in Heinz Field.
Through 12 games, the Browns rank 31st in run defense. They have given up 1,815 yards on the ground.
The Browns' best defensive ranking against the run since 1999 came in 2003, when they were 23rd while allowing 2,113 yards. They finished 5-11, one year after their only playoff appearance.
D'Qwell Jackson wasn't around for all of the carnage, but he has been around long enough to know there was nothing unusual about what the Ravens did. The middle linebacker was a rookie in 2006. Since then, the Browns were never better than 26th against the run.
Steelers starting running back Rashard Mendenhall isn't the force he once was because Pittsburgh has evolved into using more of a passing offense. But he has rushed for 634 yards, 13th best in the AFC, and has eight rushing touchdowns.
Jackson expects a heavy dose of Mendenhall on Thursday, especially after the Steelers see on DVD how poorly the Browns defended Rice.
"Once we put something like that on film and they have a lot of success with basic runs, you have to expect Pittsburgh to run similar plays," Jackson said. "Until we get it corrected, we're going to face those runs week in and week out.
"I wish I had an answer for it because I'd correct it right now. I just want the guys to know this is not acceptable at all. We have to keep grinding. There is no way backward. It's only forward. That was the worst performance against the run since I've been here."
The Browns drafted huge defensive tackle Phil Taylor and paired him with Ahtyba Rubin inside to prevent such disasters. Rubin and Taylor cannot stone teams by themselves, but so far the plan isn't working.
Last season, the Browns allowed 2,070 yards on the ground and seven rushing touchdowns. They are on pace to give up 2,265 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns this season.
"We just need to do a better job," coach Pat Shurmur said. "I don't know what words I'll use other than we need to do a better job stopping the run, and we have to keep teams from scoring points."
Overall, the Browns are on track to give up fewer points than last season, when they gave up 332. With one quarter of the season to play, they are on pace to yield 300 points.
The offense is also on pace to score less than it did last year, when the Browns scored 271 points. Cleveland is on pace to score 214 this year. One reason for the offensive differential is in all but three games in 2011, the opponent has possessed the ball longer than the Browns, and that is tied directly with Cleveland's inability to stop the run.
SERIES HISTORY: 117th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 60-56. The Browns have beaten the Steelers just once in the last 15 games. Cleveland is 0-2 vs. Pittsburgh in the playoffs.
In second incarnation, Browns haven't solved Steelers
--The Steelers have thoroughly dominated the one-time rivalry since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999. The NFL set the schedule so the two teams would meet in the Browns' first game back in the league. The Steelers, coached by Bill Cowher, humiliated the Browns, 43-0.
Including the 1999 opener, the Browns are 4-21 against the Steelers in the new era. That includes a 36-33 playoff loss after the 2002 season.
--Chris Palmer, the Browns' first coach in the expansion era, was fired after two seasons. He still has the distinction of being the only coach to beat the Steelers twice. The Browns beat Pittsburgh in Three Rivers Stadium in 1999, 16-15, on a field goal by Phil Dawson, and a year later, the Browns beat the Steelers 23-20 in Cleveland.
--Colt McCoy made his first NFL start against the Steelers in Pittsburgh last season. He was 23 of 33 for 281 yards with a touchdown pass. He threw two interceptions and was sacked five times in a game the Browns lost 28-10.
The rematch in Cleveland went worse for McCoy. He was 20 of 41 for 209 yards with one TD pass and three interceptions. He had a passer rating of 41.6 in a 41-9 loss. McCoy is 0-7 against the AFC North.
--The last time Mohamed Massaquoi was in Heinz Field, he was knocked out of the game with a concussion on a vicious hit by Steelers linebacker James Harrison. Harrison was fined $50,000. Massaquoi was not hit as hard this season when a concussion caused him to miss two games and be ineffective in another.
--Joshua Cribbs has returned three kicks for touchdowns against the Steelers. His most recent was a 98-yard return in 2009 in a game the Browns lost 27-14.
The Steelers held Cribbs to 23 yards on three returns in their 41-9 victory in Cleveland last year.
BY THE NUMBERS: 11 -- If the Browns (4-8) lose in Pittsburgh, they will finish with a losing record for the 11th time in 13 years.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You just keep pushing. I think that's the important thing. If this were a real easy thing, then everybody could do it, and so I think you just keep pushing." -- Coach Pat Shurmur, on his message to the team.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Special teams coach Chris Tabor could be on thin ice just one year into his new position after three years as an assistant special teams coach in Pittsburgh.
The Browns have had numerous problems on special teams in 2011. Two field goals were blocked in the 6-3 victory over Seattle. The Seahawks had a punt return for a touchdown negated by a questionable penalty. The Raiders' Jacoby Ford scored on a 102-yard kick return, and the Raiders scored a touchdown on a fake field goal.
Two bad snaps by Ryan Pontbriand on field-goal tries were critical mistakes in two losses in November. Tabor could not get those flaws corrected.
"We've had things happen during special teams," head coach Pat Shurmur said. "I think Chris is a fine coach. Our guys are working extremely hard at it. We just have to find a way to be more productive and more consistent."
Tabor replaced Brad Seely, who left after last two years to join the 49ers staff.
--QB Colt McCoy wore a support sleeve on his sprained right knee in practice Wednesday but practiced without restriction.
--S Mike Adams was limited in practice Tuesday but plans to start against the Steelers.
--RB Peyton Hillis can add a sore hip to his list of injuries. He is expected to start against the Steelers, and if he does, it would be the first time this season he started three straight games. He was limited in practice Tuesday.
--LB D'Qwell Jackson was named the Browns' 2011 recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award. Jackson missed the final 10 games of 2009 and all of 2010 with separate pectoral injuries.
--RB Montario Hardesty is hopeful of getting some carries against the Steelers. He dressed against the Ravens after missing four games with a calf injury, but he did not touch the ball. He participated fully in practice Tuesday.
--WR Joshua Cribbs was a quarterback at Kent State and a teammate of Steelers LB James Harrison. Cribbs recalled his first scrimmage as a freshman. He was wearing the red jersey, but Harrison "welcomed me to college by knocking me out." Cribbs said when he came to, he told Harrison, "Red means stop."
GAME PLAN: The Browns have great respect for speedy Steelers WR Mike Wallace. They plan to make sure they have someone covering deep with the idea of making Wallace catch curls and comeback passes.
CB Joe Haden will be on Wallace most of the time. Haden is tied for the NFL lead with 17 pass breakups.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Browns DE Jabaal Sheard vs. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger -- Sheard leads the Browns with five forced fumbles. He has had a strip-sack in three straight games. The Browns regard Roethlisberger as one of the toughest quarterbacks to sack.
Browns LT Joe Thomas vs. Steelers LB James Harrison -- It is a tough stretch for Thomas. He faced Terrell Suggs on Sunday, and four nights later, he has to go against Harrison. Harrison missed four games with a broken orbital bone but still has eight sacks.