Cleveland Browns (1-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:30 ET
TV: ESPN, Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann, Paul Maguire, Suzy Kolber
SERIES: 103rd meeting. Cleveland leads the series 54-48, but are 0-2 in the playoffs, including a 36-33 loss to Pittsburgh in a wild-card game after last season. The Steelers are 27-5 at home against the Browns since the NFL merger in 1970.
2003 RANKINGS: Browns: offense 30th (29th rush, 24th pass); defense 14th (27th rush, 4th pass). Steelers: offense 3rd (23rd rush, 1st pass); defense 2nd (6th rush, 2nd pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: Steelers QB Tommy Maddox is making too many poor decisions (six INTs in four games), but he needs better protection from his offensive line. Pittsburgh also needs to produce touchdowns in the red zone, something it has done only 33.3 percent of the time because it hasn't utilized WR Plaxico Burress enough. As long as teams don't fear Browns RB William Green, who gets precious few holes to run through from his offensive line, defenses will stack up against the pass. That puts the onus on Cleveland QB Tim Couch to protect the ball. The Steelers' cornerbacks are not playing well, but will receive plenty of help unless Green gets going early.
FAST FACTS: Browns: The team has won five consecutive road games when QB Tim Couch starts. ... DE Courtney Brown has six sacks in five career games against Pittsburgh. Steelers: WR Hines Ward is second on the team's all-time list with 361 receptions. ... LB Jason Gildon needs two sacks to pass L.C. Greenwood for the most in franchise history. ... They have won nine of their past 10 home games against Cleveland.
PREDICTED SCORE: Steelers 24, Browns 16
TE Aaron Shea is out for the game with the Steelers because of a shoulder injury.
QB Kelly Holcomb has improved enough he might be the second quarterback behind Couch in Pittsburgh. Holcomb is listed as questionable with a fractured right fibula.
DB Michael Lehan remains questionable with a hamstring pull.
OT Marvel Smith practiced for the first time in nearly two weeks and will likely start Sunday against Cleveland. Smith, still listed as questionable with a shoulder injury, did not play last Sunday.
TE Jay Riemersma missed practice again and may not start on Sunday. Riemersma has a shoulder injury.
SS Troy Polamalu, the team's first-round draft pick, has had no impact in four games. He plays in the nickel and dime defenses but not in their base, and has just one solo tackle and no passes
LB James Farrior still dominates the defensive statistics, even though he's no longer on the field in the dime passing defense after Joey Porter's return. Farrior's 24 tackles leads the next defender by eight and he has an interception and 4 ½ tackles for losses.
PK Jeff Reed has made 7 of 9 field goal tries but he's missed two in his past two games from 24 and 30 yards.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Protecting Tim Couch is the No. 1 priority of the Browns' offensive line Sunday in Pittsburgh, and the most important protector, Barry Stokes, is limping on a sore right ankle.
Stokes has been limited in practice since injuring the ankle Sept. 14 in Baltimore. He is not on the injury report and was on the report last week, but he is far from 100 percent.
"This is Pittsburgh Steelers week," Stokes said. "I'm going to do everything I can to get out there on the field Sunday. To get in this position in my career to have an injury get in the way is unimaginable for me.
"Whether I can or can't, I'm going to (play Sunday) and we're going to get out there and beat the Steelers. I can already sense it in the locker room. You feel when you're going to have a good game. The energy is there."
Stokes started the first four games at left tackle as a replacement for Ross Verba, who is out with torn biceps tendon. Stokes was a journeyman, bouncing around seven NFL teams and two NFL Europe teams since 1996 until the Browns signed him to be the starting left guard last season.
Joaquin Gonzalez is Stokes' backup. He said Stokes is in more pain than he is letting on.
Pittsburgh will try again to get its running game going when the Steelers play Cleveland Sunday night at Heinz Field.
The first quarter of the season has been very un-Steelers like: They lead the NFL in passing and they're ranked 23rd in rushing. They've never ranked lower than 18th for a season since at least 1969, and they are on pace to have their fewest yards rushing since at least 1969.
They ranked No. 1 in the NFL on the ground two years ago. They are on pace to rush for only 1,420 yards. Amos Zereoue leads them with 224 yards and Jerome Bettis is second with only 86. The Steelers average 3.1 yards a carry, down a full yard from last season.
"That's not who we are, even if we can pass the ball we still have to run the ball," All-Pro guard Alan Faneca said. "We have to give Amos and Jerome the ball and let them get their yards and let us wear on people. That's our mentality on offense, we're going to wear on you. You can't wear on people if you're throwing the ball all day."
The Browns rank 27th against the rush but that's the product of one game, one man when Baltimore's Jamal Lewis set an NFL record by running for 295 yards against them. In their other three games, Cleveland's allowed only 222 yards on the ground.
"I think teams are aware what we can do throwing the football," receiver Plaxico Burress said, "but we have to be more aggressive in the running game."
Browns - Steelers Game Preview
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