Browns-Steelers Preview

And then there was one. The merciful end to the '11 season is upon us as the Browns play host to the playoff-bound Pittsburgh Steelers.

Admit it. When the Cleveland Browns fell behind the Baltimore Ravens 17-0 in the second quarter on Christmas Eve, you either wanted to or did turn off the TV. Some of you didn't even turn it on.

But the Browns rallied and made it close before losing their 11th game of the season 20-14.

One game remains for the Browns at 4:15 p.m. at home on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Will the Browns make it a game? Will it be a blow out? Will you even watch?

This is the second consecutive season the Browns end the season at home against the Steelers. On Jan. 2, 2011, Pittsburgh won 41-9, as the game was over almost as soon as it started.

Less than a month ago, these two teams played on a Thursday night in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won 14-3, but the game's outcome was in doubt for most of the evening. While it was a closer contest, the outcome remained the same, as it has 15 of the last 16 meetings.

"I think our defense found a way to minimize their scoring and that's what you want to do on defense so we need to keep fighting to get points on the board," Browns coach Pat Shurmur said on Thursday.

The Browns were able to minimize the Steelers' scoring on Dec. 8 thanks, in part, to Ben Roethlisberger's second-quarter ankle injury. On Sunday, Roethlisberger is expected to play 25-30 snaps after sitting out the Steelers' Christmas Eve game in which Pittsburgh beat the St. Louis Rams 27-0.

Pittsburgh, at 11-5, is still playing for high stakes. A win over Cleveland and a loss by Baltimore to Cincinnati would give the Steelers the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs and, more importantly, a first-round bye.

Whether a hobbled Roethlisberger is under center or Charlie Batch, the Browns' defense will be keyed on stopping running back Rashard Mendenhall and wide receivers Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace. Against the Browns on Dec. 8, Mendenhall finished with 76 yards rushing on 18 carries while Brown and Wallace combined for nine catches for 208 yards. Through 15 games, Brown has 63 catches for 1,018 yards and Wallace has 71 catches for 1,182 yards.

Now, the Browns are tied for second in the NFL allowing 184.0 yards passing yards per game, but it is only because they are 30th in rushing yards allowed per game (146.5).

"(Brown and Wallace) are awfully fast," Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. "They get on you really quickly and they have a terrific scheme, too."

Although the Browns' defense has allowed some big plays this season, teams are averaging less than 20 points per game. The problem is the Browns' offense is averaging less than 14 points per game.

And now it appears the Browns will go with their backup quarterback for the third consecutive game. Colt McCoy suffered a concussion in the first meeting against Pittsburgh and he was ruled out for Sunday's game.

"He's anxious to get back out there and play, but he realizes there's a process he has to go through," Shurmur said. "He's really like any player that wants to compete."

Seneca Wallace has started the last two games, but his presence has not dramatically helped the offense improve. The Browns have yet to put together four good quarters of offensive football.

There is hope entering the final game. Browns running back Peyton Hillis has regained his 2010 form and rushed for 211 yards on 50 carries the last two games. The Browns' best defense could be a ball-controlled offense.

Yet, for a majority of Browns fans, hope was lost on this season well before Halloween. Some fans want the Browns to lose out to improve their draft positioning.

With one game remaining, the Rams and Indianapolis Colts are tied for the league's worst record at 2-13 followed by the Minnesota Vikings at 3-12 and the Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 4-11.

But this game is against the Steelers. A win over Pittsburgh would force the Steelers to play in the Wildcard round and prevent Roethlsiberger from getting a week's rest.

So, is a higher draft pick really worth seeing the Steelers make another deep playoff run?


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