Browns-Steelers Preview

A sense of dread creeps into Brownstown with the Steelers up next -- and on national TV.

Is anybody really looking forward to this game? Hopefully, the players on the Cleveland Browns are, but from the outside-looking-in standpoint, this Thursday night special at Pittsburgh is full of dread.

Hey, at least there won't be a Browns game this Sunday.

We all know the disappointing history on this once-great rivalry. The Browns have beaten the Steelers four times since 1999 and are 2-14 since the 2003.

This will be Browns head coach Pat Shurmur's first foray into the "rivalry." He was asked on Tuesday if he addressed the team on this meaning of the Steelers game.

"I will and I have mentioned it," he said. "I think we all understand what the AFC North rivalries are. I talk about it through the week in my team meetings and how important it is to win a division game. I think the most important thing is this is our next game and I think we need to keep that in mind as well."

Can the Browns win this game? Nobody outside the Browns locker room actually believes they can, but that's the great thing about pro football. What matters is in the locker room. The players and coaches wearing orange and brown are in the NFL, too. We've seen numerous games this year throughout the NFL where the outcome causes head scratching.

And of course who could forget the last time the Browns and Steelers played on a Thursday night? On Dec. 10, 2009, in freezing cold temperatures, the Browns beat the Steelers 13-6 in Cleveland. That was the same season the Browns started 1-11. This time the game is in Pittsburgh. Sadly, the last time the Browns won in Pittsburgh was Oct. 5, 2003, and Tim Couch started for Cleveland. Yikes.

The Browns enter this game coming off another disappointing performance and another loss to an AFC North opponent. So what will change this week?

Last Sunday, Baltimore did not try to do too much. Quarterback Joe Flacco took the snap and handed the ball off to Ray Rice or Ricky Williams. The Ravens finished with 290 yards rushing compared to only 158 yards passing. Sure, the Browns defense may be first in the NFL in passing yards allowed (173.3), but it is because opponents have such success running the ball.

The Steelers running game is only ranked 17th in the NFL in yards rushing per game, but the Pittsburgh's air game has thrived. Ben Roethlisberger has completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 3,246 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and the speedy Mike Wallace has been the top target with 58 catches for 977 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Browns top-ranked pass defense will be put to the test.

"They're throwing the ball a lot this year," Browns middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. "Facing Big Ben, he's like an extra runner. Anytime you play those guys, in the secondary you always have to cover a bit longer because Ben Roethlisberger is able to extend plays. (Rashard) Mendenhall is a great back, he's been there for a few years and he complements that offense well."

Meanwhile, the Browns offense has been unable to sustain drives and, as a result, score points. Last week against the Ravens, the Browns had 13 first downs for the entire game.

To make matters worse, Peyton Hillis is questionable and while Colt McCoy is probable, he is nursing a sprained knee. As a team, the Browns are 30th in the NFL in yards per game (290.7), 30th in rushing yards per game (93.7) and 24th in passing yards per game (197.0). The Steelers are once again playing their trademark defense, as they are ranked first overall in yards allowed per game (273.8).

For a struggling Browns offense, the Steelers defense is the last defense they would want to face. But again, this is the NFL and stranger things have happened.

"I think beating Pittsburgh is something that we want to be able to do and that we have to do to move forward as an organization," Shurmur said. "Any victory you have takes the sour taste out of your mouth for at least one week and then your next opponent comes into view so I think that's what we need to keep in mind. Obviously division games, although we take them one at a time, when you look back on them in the offseason, they're a little bit more special."


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