Browns - Steelers Game Scout

The what, where, when for the Browns season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now for how, check back for Don Delco's game preview.

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-4) at Cleveland Browns (4-11)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET

GAMEDATE: 12/26/11

SURFACE: Field Turf

TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots

PREDICTION: Steelers 26-13

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Steelers will likely be scoreboard watching. If Baltimore is beating the Bengals handily, Pittsburgh will be tempted to remove more starters early knowing it will be playing next week as runner-up to the Ravens in the division. QB Ben Roethlisberger appears ready to return after resting his injured ankle last week, as does C Maurkice Pouncey (ankle). Still, expect Pittsburgh to hammer away at the Browns' 30th-ranked run defense with a conservative game plan. QB Seneca Wallace is likely to start his third straight game. But the real key is RB Peyton Hillis, who has 211 rushing yards the past two weeks and must have success against stacked fronts because Wallace lacks the weapons to stretch the field.

FAST FACTS: Batch is 5-2 as a starter with the Steelers. ... Cleveland has four rushing touchdowns, compared to 13 last season.



As the Steelers enter a Sunday finale that could be crucial to their chances of returning to the Super Bowl, the verdict seems in on three key injured players:

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and center Maurkice Pouncey are in, and linebacker LaMarr Woodley is out. Safety Troy Polamalu's status is uncertain after he missed his second straight practice with an undisclosed knee injury, but he has missed Wednesday and Thursday practices many times in the past only to practice on Friday and start on Sunday.

Roethlisberger missed just one game with a high left ankle sprain, last Saturday's 27-0 victory over St. Louis, but he lost four turnovers his last time out in San Francisco in a 20-3 loss after the ankle was injured in the previous game.

He will again wear a brace inside his left shoe.

"He made it around good today, a little better than yesterday," offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said after practice outdoors Thursday. "Being on grass helped, I think. It's good to be outside in the cold and get a little blood flowing. It was good, real good."

Pouncey, who missed the last two games with a high ankle sprain, went through his second full practice and is ready to go. However, Woodley won't play.

"Does it make sense to hold out and maybe rest this hamstring a little bit more before the playoffs?" Woodley asked. "That makes more sense. We're just going to play it day by day, what's best for me and what's best for the team."

Emmanuel Sanders went through another full practice and will play Sunday after missing three games with a foot injury. Mike Wallace also went through a full practice and expects t start after he was limited on Wednesday with an ankle injury.


Sunday is the last chance Peyton Hillis has to prove to the Browns they should re-sign him after closing out the season in a home game against the Steelers.

Hillis was unproductive on the field and moped in the locker room from mid-September through the end of November. He rushed for 99 yards in Arizona and 112 yards last week in Baltimore.

"At the beginning of the year it was tough because I was injured," Hillis said. "I was trying to go out there and play 100 percent, and it was tough, because you really can't help your team.

"You have a lot of people doubting you or thinking that you're not trying to play hard. I love this team, and I love going out there and playing football. I've been doing this since I was five. I don't like people questioning that, because my heart is big, and I want to do great things for this team."

The Browns are guaranteed picking no lower than fifth if they lose to the Steelers on New Year's Day. They could spend that first pick on Alabama running back Trent Richardson, but with so many other holes to fill they might prefer to re-sign Hillis and use the first pick on wide receiver Justin Blackmon from Oklahoma State, defensive end Quinton Coples from North Carolina, cornerback Morris Claiborne from LSU or quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Hillis would have to want to return to the Browns, because he would be a free agent in March. The Browns have been non-committal.

"Obviously, he can play," general manager Tom Heckert said recently. "We know that. That's not the issue. It's just what we decide, what direction we want to go."

Hillis is in his fourth season. Against Arizona and Baltimore he ran like the hard-nosed back that in 2010 came from nowhere to rush for 1,177 yards and 13 touchdowns. He can be a punishing runner when healthy.

The Browns would have to get another back from either the draft or free agency if they do not re-sign Hillis. The other running backs on the roster are Chris Ogbonnaya and Montario Hardesty. Brandon Jackson has been on injured reserve since suffering a turf toe injury in preseason.



--QB Ben Roethlisberger's 3,856 yards passing are second in Steelers history, but he's not likely to break his own record of 4,328 yards, set in 2009. Terry Bradshaw held the record for 20 years after throwing for 3,724 yards in 1979.

--C Maurkice Pouncey, elected as a starter in the Pro Bowl, will return to play Sunday after missing two games with a high ankle sprain.

--WR Emmanuel Sanders, who has missed the past three games with a foot injury, went through an entire practice Wednesday, and he will play Sunday.

--QB Charlie Batch, who improved his record to 5-2 as a starter Saturday, probably will play in the second half against Cleveland on Sunday because the Steelers hope to limit Ben Roethlisberger's snaps.

--WR Antonio Brown, who made his first Pro Bowl in his second season as a return man, also was voted as the fifth wide receiver and should see playing time in the game at that position, too.


--RT Tony Pashos missed practice for a second straight day with a stomach virus.

--QB Colt McCoy has not been cleared to practice but hopes to be cleared so he can at least be on the sideline Sunday.

--WR Jordan Norwood missed practice with concussion symptoms.

--LB Quinton Spears was limited in practice with concussion symptoms.

--WR Mohamed Massaquoi was a foot injury but had full participation.

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