Cleveland Browns (4-8) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-7)
KICKOFF: Thursday, 8:00 ET
TV: NFL Network, Bryant Gumbel, Cris Collinsworth
DISCUSSION: Official Watercooler Game Thread (un-official)
LIVE GAME CHAT: Click that mouse right here, yep.
SERIES: 110th meeting. The Browns lead the regular-season series 55-52 but the Steelers beat the Browns in the only two playoff games the rivals have played. The Browns' last victory over the Steelers was in Pittsburgh on Oct. 5, 2003.
2006 RANKINGS: Browns: offense 29th (30th rush, 24th pass); defense 21st (24th rush, 16th pass). Steelers: offense 7th (19th rush, 7th pass); defense 10th (8th rush, 14th pass)
PREDICTION: Steelers 23-13
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Browns limited Steelers RB Willie Parker to 46 yards on 16 carries in the first meeting, but repeating the feat could prove difficult with Parker averaging 116.8 rushing yards at home. Pittsburgh's offensive line has been struggling to protect QB Ben Roethlisberger, so the Steelers need a strong ground presence against Cleveland's 24th-ranked run defense. The Browns' offense has had its own issues with pass protection, including allowing five sacks to Pittsburgh three weeks ago. The Steelers' blitz-zone scheme always brings pressure from virtually every spot on the field, and Pittsburgh will be relentless in coming after Browns QB Derek Anderson, who is likely to make his first career start in place of Charlie Frye (wrist). After rushing for 150 yards as a team last Sunday, Cleveland must get similar production to give Anderson a legitimate shot to move the ball through the air.
FAST FACTS: Browns: Lead the series 55-52 but are 21-32 in Pittsburgh and have lost 13 of the past 14 meetings. Steelers: Are 17-5 at home since 2004. ... Have scored at least 20 points in all 16 home games started by Roethlisberger. ... Have won the past six meetings.
--QB Charlie Frye did not practice Tuesday. He wore sweats and watched. He is wearing a brace and splint on his bruised right wrist.
--TE Kellen Winslow did not practice. He rested his knee as he usually does on Wednesday. Since it is a short week, Winslow will not practice before the game.
--DE Orpheus Roye missed practice because of a knee injury. The injury kept him out of the Kansas City game.
--LB Willie McGinest is playing with an on-going pectoral injury. Despite that he made 12 tackles last week.
--RB Willie Parker needs 24 yards rushing to become only the third back in team history to have consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis were the others.
--WR Hines Ward will miss a second straight game for the first time in his 9-year career. Ward was on his way to his most productive season of his past three before he was injured.
--QB Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 37 times. The team record is 51 by Cliff Stoudt in 1983.
--RB Najeh Davenport continues to play on third downs but he has received very few carries as the backup to Willie Parker. He has 31 carries, 117 yards.
--DE Brett Keisel leads the Steelers with 20 quarterback hurries to go with four sacks and a fumble recovery. He also leads the linemen with 50 tackles.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
BROWNS: A bone bruise on his right wrist will likely keep starting quarterback Charlie Frye on the sideline Thursday night in Heinz Field, and that means Browns backup Derek Anderson will likely make his first NFL start against a Steelers' team that has beaten the Browns 12 times in the last 13 meetings.
Anderson was the hero of the Browns' come from behind 31-28 victory over the Chiefs Sunday. He completed 12 of 21 passes for 171 yards, threw two touchdown passes and led the overtime drive resulting in a field goal by Phil Dawson.
Anderson had taken only one other snap this season, handing off to Reuben Droughns in the Denver game while Frye recovered from a concussion. Frye returned on the next play.
Anderson looked composed against the Chiefs. He did not scramble the instant he took the snap as Frye sometimes does. When he threw the ball he threw a rope. He got out of trouble twice with shovel passes.
The challenge for Anderson is the Steelers play much more aggressively on defense. Anderson did not have to worry about Kansas City blitzing. The Chiefs did not sack Frye in the first half and sacked Anderson only once.
By contrast, the Steelers sacked Frye a total of 13 times in the last two games. They beat the Browns 41-0 on Christmas Eve and 24-20 last month. In that November game the Browns scored on a 57-yard interception return by Daven Holly and 92-yard kick return by Joshua Cribbs, but they did not score on offense.
"He'll see the Pittsburgh-style defense and they are a blitz - zone team," coach Romeo Crennel said. "They are not going to change that because of who the quarterback is. They might do more of it considering who the quarterback is."
Anderson has the strongest arm among the Browns quarterbacks. He does not have Frye's mobility, but in some cases Frye's mobility has been a detriment because he bails out of the pocket too quickly and then what protection he has breaks down. Frye has been sacked 43 times but ironically he was not sacked when he was injured; he was hit after throwing a pass and was hurt as he braced himself when he fell.
Wide receiver Joe Jurevicius said Anderson is 'arrogant' in a positive sort of way because when he makes a mistake he does not get down on himself. Anderson threw an interception late in the fourth quarter in the Chiefs game. No harm was done. The game-winning field goal was scored on the Browns first overtime possession.
"It will be a challenge, but I think having Charlie will help him because he went through it last year," Crennel said. "Charlie can explain to him about what to look for and some keys to their coverage schemes. Derek probably won't be perfect, but he might have a little advantage because of Charlie."
Frye has made 17 straight starts dating back to the 11th game of 2005.
STEELERS: The Steelers will be without four starters when they play the Cleveland Browns Thursday night at Heinz Field -- both receivers and both safeties.
Free safety Ryan Clark (groin) joins All-Pro strong safety Troy Polamalu (MCL sprain) on the sideline against the Browns. Cedrick Wilson (high ankle sprain) joins Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward (knee surgery) as starting wide receivers who will not play Thursday.
Veteran strong safety Tyrone Carter and second-year wide receiver Nate Washington will get their second consecutive starts. It also means that rookies Santonio Holmes and Anthony Smith, the team's first two draft picks, will get their first NFL starts.
Smith will start at free safety and be responsible for many of the calls that must be made to line up the defense.
"Everybody in the secondary communicates, so we all have to make the calls," Smith said.
Smith played last week in the dime defense, as he did the week before after Polamalu was injured in Baltimore. Otherwise, he's played mostly on special teams this season.
"He was challenged the last couple of weeks," coach Bill Cowher said. "He's answered that, particularly from a kicking-game standpoint. He's ready, and I think Tyrone's done an outstanding job filling in for Troy these last couple of weeks.
"Tyrone's played free safety as well, so he'll be doing a lot of talking out there and making sure everyone gets set. But we're not going to change anything we're doing.
"Troy and Ryan will be doing a lot of coaching on the sideline with these guys between series."
While Holmes will make his first start, he's second on the team with 33 receptions. He has alternated every third series with Wilson for much of the season.
With Holmes at split end and Washington at flanker, it means the Steelers' two starting wide receivers had no official pro catches entering this season. Washington caught one pass as a rookie in the AFC championship game in Denver.
Washington led Steelers receivers Sunday with 78 yards on three receptions. His 30 receptions are fourth on the team but he leads them with an average of 17.1 yards per catch.
"Nate's played really well," Cowher said. "He's had a couple of drops this year, but he's made some tough catches, he really has. He's a good young player, just like Santonio. They're going to get better the more they play. I don't like the circumstances, but they're going to be playing a lot more now."
"Certainly a guy like Heath - he's such a multitalented guy,'' Cowher said. "He's got great hands. Some of those you have to have contingency plans during a game. We will take the players we have and utilize packages that we have."
The Steelers likely will promote Sean Morey to No. 3 wide receiver and then use either Walter Young, signed from their practice squad Nov. 25, or Lee Mays, signed on Monday, as their No. 4 wide receiver.