The Ravens are looking for redemption in their second prime-time game, when they play their local rival, the Washington Redskins, on Sunday night.
The Ravens made their only Monday night appearance last week, when they were publicly manhandled by the previously winless Kansas City Chiefs. Now, the Ravens are once again on national television against an equally desperate 1-3 Washington Redskins team.
Ravens coach Brian Billick expects a more spirited effort from his players this time.
"We'll have to turn around very quickly and go back on the national stage, which is a good thing," Billick said. "Having been embarrassed (Monday) night, they'll want to get back and show that they're better than that."
Those comments were mostly directed at the Ravens defense.
Baltimore began talking in training camp of rivaling the statistics of its 2000 group, which spearheaded the franchise's only Super Bowl run. But, a quarter of the way into the season, the Ravens have plummeted to 21st in the NFL in overall defense, giving up 339 yards a game.
The Ravens' defensive front is getting pushed around, the linebackers are getting blocked regularly and their secondary is not communicating.
"Are we all of a sudden not a good defense? I don't think so," Billick said. "They manhandled us (Monday) night. That's going to happen. But we are certainly not going to panic here."
When the Ravens visit Washington, their defense will go against Mark Brunell, the quarterback who has had the most success against this franchise. In 12 games against Baltimore, Brunell (who played for Jacksonville) recorded seven 300-yard games and threw 16 touchdown passes.
Baltimore is in the midst of finding an identity in its secondary.
The Ravens are giving up 222.8 yards passing a game, which is 47.5 yards off last season's per-game average with essentially the same defenders (cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Gary Baxter along with safeties Ed Reed and Will Demps).
But this unit has yet to jell since McAlister re-joined the team after skipping training camp in a contract dispute and Deion Sanders signed just before the season as the nickel back.
"They're still coming together as a unit ... it needs to come together very quickly here," Billick said. "Preseason's over. They've had four games. We've talked about with the pieces coming together, so to speak, with the Chris and Deion situation. We have a lot of faith in that group. But it's a group that needs to step up and continue to get better."
As much as the defense needs to step up, the entire team needs to raise its intensity.
But at this point, there is no sign of concern or urgency.
"We're not going to blink," defensive end Tony Weaver said. "We can't have that hint of doubt in our minds that maybe we're not as good as we thought."
SERIES HISTORY -- Third meeting. The teams have split the series, 1-1. The Redskins beat the Ravens, 10-3, on Oct. 15, 2000 in Washington. Redskins running back Stephen Davis ran for a 33-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter for the game's only touchdown to break a 3-3 tie. The Ravens won the first meeting, 20-17 on Oct. 26, 1997.
--Tight end Todd Heap (ankle), receiver Travis Taylor (groin) and center Mike Flynn collarbone) are all highly unlikely to play Sunday night against the Washington Redskins.
Whether cornerback Deion Sanders (hamstring), who was declared out two hours before the Chiefs game even though he practiced last week, will be back to face his old team remains questionable.
"On the injury front, it looks like it's pretty much status quo," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Got the normal bumps and bruises and pains. But right now, it doesn't look like anybody is in jeopardy from (Monday) night going into the Washington game."
--With Jamal Lewis set to miss as much as four games because of a likely suspension, the Ravens were relieved to hear that Chester Taylor's 's ankle injury suffered late Monday night was not significant.
Taylor has emerged as the unquestioned No. 2 back behind Lewis and stands to take the bulk of the snaps when Lewis is out. Lewis will miss practice tomorrow to enter his plea in his drug conspiracy case in Atlanta.
Third-string back Musa Smith has not had a carry this season.
"The good thing is both of them are actively involved," Billick said. "Musa, even though he's not taking a lot of carries, gets 20, 25 snaps on special teams. He's one of our best special teamers, so he's been in the flow. It's not like he's been sitting on the bench cold, and he will get involved in practice to a larger degree obviously Thursday because Jamal will not be here."
--Struggles in the passing game are not the only similarities between the Redskins' and Ravens' offenses.
Conceptually, Billick said what the Ravens try to do is from the same tree originated by Joe Gibbs' old Redskins offense during his first tenure as coach.
"When I went to Minnesota, (coach) Denny Green had a great deal of admiration for what the Redskins were doing," Billick said. "They were obviously Super Bowl champs (in the 1991 season). It was our plan at that time to meld the West Coast system and Coach Gibbs' system into kind of a hybrid that we developed there in Minnesota. It kind of extended here in a certain form.
"Our verbiage is of that verbiage of Coach Gibbs. There's a lot of connection there and a lot of respect for what he's done."
--The Ravens are 3-1 on the road against the NFL East. Their lone loss came in 2000, when they fell in Washington.
--M&T Bank Stadium, the home field of the Ravens, is 29 miles from Washington's FedEx Field.
--The Ravens are 33-8 when they score 21 or more points. But they are coming off a 27-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
--The Ravens are 5-5 on Sunday night football.
--There have been 16 starts lost to injury this season: outside linebacker Peter Boulware (four), center Mike Flynn (4), receiver Travis Taylor (three), nose tackle Kelly Gregg (two), tight end Todd Heap (two) and offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden (1).
BY THE NUMBERS: 50 -- Combined point scored in the two meetings between the Ravens and the Redskins.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We'll regroup from here. We'll definitely, definitely come back." -- Strong safety Ed Reed on the Ravens defense bouncing back from allowing 398 yards of total offense to Kansas City on Monday.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Ravens rank last in the NFL in passing and they don't have the personnel to move out of that position.
Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap and five-year starting receiver Travis Taylor are out with injuries and are not expected to return until after next week's bye. That has left the Ravens with Randy Hymes and Kevin Johnson at receiver and Terry Jones and Daniel Wilcox at tight end. It's a group that rarely gets separation from defenders.
Deion Sanders is expected to return after missing two weeks. He will take over the nickel spot from Ray Walls, who had done a solid job in Sanders' absence.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--RB Jamal Lewis has been held under 100 yards in three of his first four games this season. In 16 games last year, he was held under that mark a total of four times.
--PR B.J. Sams leads all NFL punt returners with a 13.1-yard average. He returned one for a 63-yard touchdown on Monday night.
--WR Randy Hymes has at least two catches and a reception of 14 or more yards in each of the first four games of the season.
--QB Kyle Boller is second among AFC quarterbacks in rushing with 77 yards.
--LB Terrell Suggs has 15 sacks in 20 career games.
--SS Ed Reed has 14 interceptions in 33 games.
GAME PLAN: The Ravens could have to resort to a more balanced attack against the Redskins, who have the NFL's top-ranked run defense. The strategy might be to test Washington downfield early and use that to set up Jamal Lewis and Baltimore's running game. Kyle Boller has increased his accuracy and hasn't thrown an interception in three games.
Defensively, the Ravens have to stop Clinton Portis or they will be on their heels like they were against Kansas City. If Baltimore can make Washington one-dimensional, it can unleash one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. The Ravens want to force quarterback Mark Brunell to beat them.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Ravens RB Jamal Lewis vs. Washington run defense: Lewis is averaging 4.9 yards per carry. The problem is he is only averaging 19 carries per game. The Redskins haven't allowed a running back to gain over 82 yards this season.
Ravens CB Chris McAlister vs. Washington receiver Laveranues Coles: McAlister has not been the same shutdown corner from a year ago and has broken up just three passes in four games. Coles has 24 receptions to lead Washington this season but no touchdowns.
Ravens returner B.J. Sams vs. Washington punt coverage: Sams leads the NFL with a 13.1-yard average. The Redskins are 21st in the league, allowing nine yards per runback.
--C Mike Flynn (broken clavicle) is out for at least another week and will be replaced by Casey Rabach.
--TE Todd Heap (sprained ankle) is out one more game. He will be replaced by Terry Jones.
--WR Travis Taylor (groin) is questionable but is considered unlikely to play. He hasn't practiced in two weeks and would be replaced by Randy Hymes.
--CB Deion Sanders (hamstring) should be able to play Sunday after missing the past two games. He was a surprise late scratch Monday night.
--LB T.J. Slaughter (hamstring) is questionable and could practice when players return Thursday.
--FB Ovie Mughelli (hamstring) is questionable and could practice when players return Thursday.
Last year, the Bengals were 1-4 at the the bye but won seven of nine games afterward.
This year, the Bengals are 1-3 and again will emphasize basics on both sides of the ball.
Coach Marvin Lewis was not specific on his goals for the bye week, but part of the plan is to rest his injured team and get players healthy for the Oct. 17 game at Cleveland.
Lewis hopes to have wide receiver Peter Warrick, center Rich Braham, defensive lineman Carl Powell, offensive lineman Larry Moore and safeties Kim Herring and Kevin Kaesviharn back in time for the Browns game. All have missed significant time because of injuries in the season's first month.
"There are a lot of areas we need to work hard on and improve over the next few weeks," Lewis said. "Not only that, but we need to give our guys some rest also. We have a two- edged sword right now. The break comes at a good time because it gives us a chance to rest guys and come out here with a freshness and newness."
Lewis is not planning any lineup changes other than to put starters back in the lineup. Carson Palmer will remain at quarterback. The return of Warrick is expected to help open up some space for Pro Bowl receiver Chad Johnson, who faced constant double teams against Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the previous two games.
And, of course, work continues on finding a way to improve the NFL's worst run defense (165.8 yards a game).
Lewis is also fighting fan frustration in the wake of lofty expectations.
"Last year's 1-3 record was almost a relief," Lewis said. "This year has some people on panic mode, at the edge of their chairs. Last year, the expectation wasn't there, but this year it is a disappointment. No matter how you look at it, both years at this point we are 1 and 3. We have to take care of the little things and get better as we did last season."
The Bengals practiced for 90 minutes Wednesday afternoon.
Braham (knee), Herring (foot) and Kaesviharn (back) ran on the side with trainers. Herring and Kaesviharn said they would be ready to play against the Browns. Tailback Rudi Johnson also did not practice and apparently was just given the day off. Warrick (shin) and right guard Willie Anderson were not seen on the practice field.
Powell returned to practice for the first time since injuring his knee against Miami. He underwent arthroscopic surgery.
Lewis has given his team Friday-Sunday off. The Bengals will return to practice Monday.
-- Defensive end Justin Smith apologized in a prepared statement Wednesday, the day after he was arrested for driving under the influence in Montgomery County, near Dayton, Ohio.
"I just want to apologize today to my teammates, my coaches and our fans for the situation I put myself in and the Bengals organization," Smith said with coach Marvin Lewis sitting next to him. "I cast an unfavorable light and a disruption to our team, and our fans don't deserve it.
"I'm placing my trust in the legal system to have this situation justly resolved as quickly as possible. ... I do know, however, it is important for me to focus now on my commitment to the team and the city and to always cast the organization and myself in a favorable light."
Smith will be arraigned Tuesday.
-- The Bengals' road losing streak to teams with winning records now stands at 42 after they lost Sunday at Pittsburgh to the Steelers, who came in 2-1. The last time they beat a winning team on the road: The Bengals defeated the 6-5 Steelers by a 16-12 score on Dec. 2, 1990.
-- Twelve members of the Bengals roster, practice squad or reserve lists played previously for coach Marvin Lewis. Lewis was Washington's defensive coordinator in 2002 after holding that position in Baltimore from 1996-2001.
-- Tailback Rudi Johnson has 355 rushing yards, including a 123-yard showing against the Steelers -- the best mark for a Bengals back against Pittsburgh since 1989 -- and he is on pace for 1,420 yards for the season. That would put him in the neighborhood of Corey Dillon's franchise record 1,435 yards in 2000.
-- The Bengals' last five crowds at Paul Brown Stadium, all sellouts, are the top five home crowds in franchise history.
-- The Bengals are minus in turnover differential in all three losses and were plus in their lone victory.
BY THE NUMBERS: 154 -- NFL leading pass attempts for first-time starting quarterback Carson Palmer, a sign that the Bengals are putting too much pressure on him to win games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He is playing because it is the best way for our team to win games. As long as he isn't the guy who is hindering us, he will be the quarterback." -- Coach Marvin Lewis on quarterback Carson Palmer.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Bengals signed safety Anthony Mitchell to a one-year contract on Wednesday, increasing to eight the number of ex-Ravens and ex-Redskins that Marvin Lewis coached on the Bengals 53-man roster.
Then, on the practice squad and reserve lists, there are four more players who were with Washington in 2002 or with Baltimore any time from 1996-2001.
Mitchell, a fifth-year NFL player, appeared in 16 games in each of his first four NFL seasons. He played for Baltimore from 2000-02. The Ravens traded Mitchell to Jacksonville, and, in 2003, he had two starts among his 16 appearances for the Jaguars.
Mitchell said he would be ready to play in the Oct. 17 game at Cleveland.
"I've got this week and next week," he said. "I think I'll be prepared mentally."
He has 52 career tackles. Mitchell has six games of postseason experience with the Ravens. He played in Baltimore's Super Bowl victory over the Giants after the 2000 season. In the 2000 playoffs against Tennessee, he returned a blocked field goal 90 yards for a touchdown. His most immediate opportunity with the Bengals is expected to come on special teams.
He was released Sept. 5 by Jacksonville.
-- S Rogers Beckett might be out for several weeks after suffering aftereffect double vision from a concussion.
Beckett, who left Sunday's game after experiencing double vision in the first quarter, was examined this week. Beckett suffered a concussion against the Jets in the season opener, missed the next two games and returned to the starting lineup at Pittsburgh.
"I'm concerned because I want to continue to play," Beckett said. "I think it can be avoided, so I'm going to voice my opinion and they'll voice theirs. The decision is going to be made in due time. I'm looking to play in the week that's coming up."
-- DE Elton Patterson was waived Tuesday and signed Wednesday to the practice squad.
-- S Madieu Williams, a rookie, is the team's leading tackler with 30 through four games.
The Browns have an experienced quarterback who has been to three Pro Bowls.
They'll be facing a rookie quarterback with two NFL starts under his belt for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On paper, the Browns should have the clear advantage when the AFC North rivals play at Heinz Field. But they might not. While Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has the benefit of a strong supporting cast, Cleveland's Jeff Garcia is still feeling his way with his Browns teammates and a new offensive system.
"I am getting better," Garcia said Wednesday. "It is something that I am continuing to work on every single week. It is coming. I'm getting more comfortable in situations where I can read and react instead of thinking about what I am doing on the field."
Garcia has made steady progress after hitting rock bottom against Dallas when he had a zero passer rating. His performance in Sunday's victory over Washington was his best of the season. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown. On Cleveland's decisive 80-yard touchdown drive, he completed a clutch third-down pass to Quincy Morgan and then withstood a heavy blitz to complete a 23-yarder to Andre Davis to set up the touchdown.
But it was not a glitch-free performance. He was sacked three times and twice was flagged for intentional grounding.
This week, Garcia will face more blitzing from Pittsburgh's 3-4 scheme. The Steelers are renowned for that, especially with Dick LeBeau back as defensive coordinator, though they have only nine sacks so far.
"They do a great job within their scheme of creating havoc," Garcia said. "Their scheme is different than most teams in the NFL. They have a very athletic defense. They have three or four linebackers who can go out there and make plays. They have a defensive line that never seems to quit, and they have active defensive backs that come up and hit. It is going to be important that we understand their blitz schemes."
The Steelers lead the AFC with 11 takeaways.
Garcia, who had to work his way to the NFL by going to the Canadian Football League, has an appreciation for what Roethlisberger is trying to deal with as a rookie thrust into action.
"It is a tremendous adjustment," Garcia said. "You can't just rely upon your natural athletic ability when you step on the field and try to make plays. It is such a mental game for quarterbacks. There is so much understanding in not only your own offensive system and schemes, but what defenses are trying to do against you as well."
After all, that's what Garcia is still trying to learn now as a 34-year-old.
SERIES HISTORY -- 103rd meeting. The Browns lead the series 55-47. No teams in the AFC have played each other as much as Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The Steelers have won five of the last six meetings, including a 36-33 win in a wild-card game in January 2003. The Browns' only victory in that span was a 33-13 rout in Pittsburgh last October.
To Phil Dawson, the Browns-Steelers rivalry was an abstract notion until he kicked a 39-yard field goal to beat Pittsburgh 16-15 in 1999. That came after the Steelers embarrassed the Browns in their expansion debut.
"It was a big kick for the whole organization," he said. "We needed that one bad. Everybody was so ready to get this Browns-Steelers rivalry going, but we were all implants in '99. We knew nothing about the rivalry.
"To be able to go into Three Rivers Stadium and beat Pittsburgh was an awakening for a lot of people, myself included. (I realized), Wow, this game is really important to the people of Cleveland and the people of Pittsburgh."
--The Browns will face former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who is the Steelers wide receivers coach. Butch Davis fired Arians after last season's disappointing offensive performance.
Davis said the Browns will change some of their offensive terminology as a safeguard against Arians tipping off the Steelers about Cleveland's plays.
--The Browns did not make a serious effort to retain punter Chris Gardocki when he became a free agent after the 2003 season. Cleveland believed Gardocki's skills had started to erode. That decision now looks like a wise one. Gardocki has the seventh-worst net average in the league, averaging 35.0 yards. Gardocki's replacement, Derrick Frost, leads the league with a 40.8-yard average.
BY THE NUMBERS: 18. Phil Dawson has made 18 straight field goals, best in the NFL.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We look forward to going to Pittsburgh. We know they're going to call us every name in the bad-name book." S Earl Little said.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The only roster change came on the practice squad. The Browns signed DL Nick Eason, a fourth-round pick by Denver in 2003, and waived OL Lance Nimmo.
Chris Crocker, normally the nickel cornerback, saw more time at safety, replacing Earl Little for a couple of possessions against Washington. Butch Davis downplayed the move, saying Crocker was used because the Browns were responding to a specific personnel package by the Redskins.
-- RT Ryan Tucker did not practice Wednesday because of a torn quadriceps muscle. He is listed as questionable, but it seems unlikely the Browns will risk a re-injury by playing him this week.
-- DT Gerard Warren did not practice Wednesday because of a strained pectoral muscle. He is listed as questionable.
-- LB Barry Gardner has a groin pull. He is listed as questionable. He did practice Wednesday.
-- LB Kevin Bentley has a quadriceps injury and did not practice Wednesday. He is listed as questionable.
-- LT Ross Verba practiced Wednesday despite a calf injury. He is listed as probable.
GAME PLAN: The Browns had trouble attacking Baltimore's 3-4 defense in the opener, and Pittsburgh's will also pose problems. Cleveland's offensive linemen must work in sync, something they haven't always done this year. Pittsburgh has proven to be an opportunistic defense, so Jeff Garcia must take extra care of the ball. On defense, the Browns won't have to worry about as much razzle-dazzle now that Mike Mularkey is in Buffalo. But Duce Staley is a tough runner, and the Browns will focus on him in hopes of forcing rookie Ben Roethlisberger to have to take some chances. Look for the Browns to try to put pressure on Roethlisberger, in part because the Steelers are very thin behind him at quarterback.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Browns C Jeff Faine against Steelers NT Kim von Oelhoffen. Faine, Cleveland's first-round pick in 2003, believes he's playing better than he ever has. He'll face a tough challenge in the underrate von Oelhoffen. If the Browns are to establish a running game, Faine must control von Oelhoffen.
--Browns MLB Andra Davis against Steelers RB Duce Staley. After a breakout 2003 season, Davis has not made as big a splash this year. That may be because the defense as a hole is playing better. But there's little doubt that Davis must come up big if the Browns are to slow Staley. Pittsburgh's solid offensive line will probably neutralize Cleveland's line, leaving Davis as the primary tackler on runs between the tackle.
INJURY IMPACT: LG Paul Zukauskas is not on the injury report this week, but he has been hobbled by a sprained knee and might be replaced by Enoch DeMar. The two battled for the starting job during the preseason, with Zukauskas taking over after DeMar played poorly in the preseason opener against Tennessee.
Pittsburgh, which opened the season at 40-1 odds to win the Super Bowl, have won three of their first four games for the fourth time under coach Bill Cowher, but that record has been built against poor competition.
Their victories against Oakland, Miami and Cincinnati have come against teams with a combined 3-9 record. Their next four opponents are 11-3 combined. Thus, even though the Steelers hold a one-game lead over Baltimore and Cleveland in the AFC North Division, their fall from grace could be imminent.
Cleveland, which visits Heinz Field on Sunday, represents a must win for them if they want to remain playoff contenders because of the stretch of games they have after that - at Dallas and home to undefeated Philadelphia and New England. If they lose to the Browns, they could easily be 3-5 at the midway point of the season.
Pittsburgh is in first place in its division by a full game for the first time at this point in the season in 23 months and Cowher doesn't want them to even think about it.
"We have not played very consistently through the course of this first month in any one phase," Cowher said. "There are a lot of things we have to do a better job of."
Among those things is a pass rush that has produced nine sacks. That's a pace of 36. Their 35 sacks last season was an all-time low for a Cowher team and they put an emphasis on getting to the quarterback more often this season. But their linebackers may not be up to it. Clark Haggans had two sacks in the opener and none since. Joey Porter still does not look like the All-Pro from 2002. He has one sack. Their two safeties are among their top four tacklers, not a good stat in any sense.
While they rank fifth as a defense in yards allowed, teams have been able to run on them. They've allowed two running backs to gain more than 100 yards against them, including Rudi Johnson's 123 for Cincinnati last Sunday. They expect the Bengals to run on them with Lee Suggs and William Green.
"They're definitely going to come out and try to power the ball, seeing what they saw Sunday," linebacker James Farrior said.
Pittsburgh's saving grace so far has been an opportune defense creating turnovers. The Steelers lead the AFC with 11, including Troy Polamalu's 26-yard interception return for a touchdown with two minutes left to secure a victory at home against a poor Cincinnati team that trailed by just four.
Their hopes on offense rest with a rookie quarterback and a ground game that has not been particularly impressive. Duce Staley has consecutive 100-yard games, but the Steelers rank only 22nd in the NFL in rushing yards per carry. Ben Roethlisberger is 2-0 since taking over at quarterback for Tommy Maddox against Miami and Cincinnati. What's he going to do when he faces the Eagles and Patriots defenses, or when there's more video on him and defenses spot his weaknesses and gameplan against him.
There's also an alarming dropoff in the receivers. Hines Ward is having another typical Pro Bowl season, he leads the AFC with 28 receptions and with 394 yards. But Plaxico Burress is second on the team with only nine receptions.
"We do have to play better," Cowher said. "We are not at a point where we can start looking at all the other peripheral things because it will take away from the focus that needs to be done on us executing better in all three phases."
SERIES HISTORY - 105th meeting, including two playoff games. The Browns lead the series 55-49, but the Steelers are 40-24 against Cleveland since the NFL merger in 1970 and are 27-6 at home during that time, including the two playoff victories. Bill Cowher's record against the Browns is 13-5, 7-2at home. However, Cleveland beat them in Heinz Field 33-13 in their last visit, Oct. 5, 2003.
-- LB James Farrior is tied for the NFL lead with three fumble recoveries on defense.
"That's the best thing you can do for your team is to get the ball back," Farrior said. "What other way can you help your team out than getting the ball back for your offense?"
-- Former Eagles and Browns head coach Nick Skorich, who died at age 83 on Saturday, got his first head coaching job at Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School in the late 1940s. It came after his short playing days with the Steelers.
In 1949, Skorich's high school team was favored to beat rival North Catholic High Scool, which was quarterbacked by Dan Rooney.
"We beat him," Rooney said. "He never could get over it."
--RB Verron Haynes says there's been no complaining among the running backs how they've been used this season. Duce Staley starts and leads them with 372 yards rushing. Haynes is the third-down back and Jerome Bettis comes into the game at the goalline, where he's scored five touchdowns.
"We have three backs that can do the job in our own unique kind of ways," Haynes said. "Duce gets us down there and Jerome plugs it in. I come in on third down to help us out. All, individually, we get the job done in our own different ways but collectively as long as we win that's all that matters."
BY THE NUMBERS: 118.6 -- Rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's passer rating in the fourth quarter, which ranks third in the AFC, fifth in the NFL.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Part of managing a game is not handcuffing him because managing the game means that he might have to go out there and lead us on a drive and take the game into your own hands." -- Bill Cowher on rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
-- S Troy Polamalu continues to lead the team with 33 total tackles and is tied with 23 solo tackles. He's also tied with two interceptions.
-- RB Duce Staley has rushed 87 times. He had 78 carries all last season with the Eagles. He's going for his third consecutive 100 yard game Sunday, something he's never done.
-- LB James Harrison, who was on the street until an injury to Clark Haggans caused the Steelers to sign him the week before training camp opened, leads the special teams with eight tackles. He has also been the top backup outside linebacker on gamedays because Alonzo Jackson no longer dresses.
-- FB Dan Kreider does not have a carry nor a reception after four games, but he's blowing defenders up with his blocking.
-- P Chris Gardocki was signed as a free agent so the Steelers could release veteran P Josh Miller. Gardocki ranks 10th in the AFC with a 43.5-yard average (35.0 net) and Miller ranks second at 47.7 (39.5 net) with New England.
GAME PLAN: The Steelers will continue to try to run against Cleveland, which has been good against the run, including a game against Jamal Lewis. But the Steelers also are gaining confidence in the ability of rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and won't be shy about letting him cut loose on Sunday against a Browns defense that ranks 26th in yards allowed per pass. They believe the Browns will try to run on them, even though Cleveland's ground game has not been particularly potent. Butch Davis loves to throw on the Steelers and his teams have had success doing that against them.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Browns WR Quincy Morgan vs. Steelers CB Chad Scott; Browns FS Earl Little vs. WR Heins Ward, who once knocked him out with a block; Pittsburgh's running game against watered-down Browns defensive line without Gerard Warren and Courtney Brown; Steelers OT Marvel Smith, who has played well, vs. DE Kenard Lang, who leads the AFC with four sacks.
INJURY IMPACT: LB Kendrell Bell will miss at least two more games after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia on Wednesday. There's been a relief that they finally discovered the true nature of what they were calling a groin injury that has kept Bell from playing at all this season. Larry Foote has played well in his absence and is tied on the team with 23 solo tackles. ... QB Tommy Maddox (elbow) has at least three more weeks to go on the shelf. ... RB Duce Staley is listed as probable with a toe injury, and he did not practice on Wednesday.
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