The Ravens won't have their most reliable weapon against the Cincinnati
Bengals Sunday, as running back Jamal Lewis indicated he will not play against
the AFC North rival.
Lewis has rushed for 100 yards in all seven starts against the Bengals, averaging 135 yards a game. Although he is listed as doubtful, the All Pro said he will miss his second straight game with a sprained right ankle.
"I'm not playing," Lewis said.
Despite the loss of Lewis, the Ravens will likely try to exploit Cincinnati's run defense, which is the third-worst in the NFL. The Bengals have allowed a 100-yard rusher in seven of 11 games this season.
But taking advantage of that weak spot is not a guarantee anymore with the Ravens, who have watched their once-vaunted running attack plummet to 14th in the league.
The Ravens have not had a 100-yard rusher in six games. Their rushing average is 3.3 yards a carry in that span.
Some of the blame can be put on Lewis, who has missed two games to injuries and two games to an NFL suspension. Another excuse is the lack of continuity on the offensive line, which has had four starters go down to injuries.
Whatever the reason, the Ravens have not had the same dominating physical play that helped them become the top-ranked rushing team last season.
"It's a concern," left tackle Jonathan Ogden said, "but it's not something that's going to keep me up at night."
The Ravens will start Chester Taylor, who is coming off his worst performance as a starter this season in rushing for 61 yards on 16 carries against the New England Patriots.
Taylor's longest run was for 8 yards.
"I'm going to be ready to go," Taylor said. "I'm going to do whatever I can to help this team win. As long as we keep grinding, one of these times, (a big run) will come."
The Ravens can't afford to lose this game. At 7-4, they believe they have to win all three of their remaining home games to stay in contention for a playoff berth.
"That's one thing about the record, it does not matter how you get to the end of it, it's about getting to the playoffs," linebacker Ray Lewis said.
SERIES HISTORY -- 18th meeting. The Ravens have won 11 of the past 13 meetings, including the last seven in Baltimore. Jamal Lewis broke open a close game with a 75-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter as the Ravens won, 23-9, on Sept. 26. Lewis ran for 186 yards on 18 carries.
--Ravens strong safety Ed Reed was named the Defensive Player of the Month for making game-changing plays in each of the Ravens' three November victories.
"We play this game to achieve goals," said Reed. "I'm grateful for it. I'm definitely blessed to be in this position, just to be having fun and playing the game the way I love."
--For the second time this season, Ravens coach Brian Billick confused one player from a team he is facing with another player in the league.
On Wednesday, he mistakenly identified Bengals receiver Peter Warrick, who is on injured reserved with a shin injury.
"They've had some injuries," Billick said. "They lost (Tony) Williams in the Denver game; Warrick Dunn, who is a big part of their package obviously."
Dunn and Warrick did both attend Florida State, but Dunn has since become a running back with the Atlanta Falcons who has 642 yards this season.
Unlike the last time when Billick confused New York Jets running back Curtis Martin with Jamie Martin, the coach was not called on his mixup.
--With Jamal Lewis expected to miss his second straight game, backup Jamel White figures to get an extended look.
Chester Taylor will start if Lewis is unavailable, but White should be more prepared to play the primary backup role than he was after signing last week and participating in three practices. White had two carries for 6 yards.
"Jamel White is showing some promise," Billick said. "We like what he's done on special teams. We think we can give him some carries to give Chester a (rest). But right now, Chester's got to carry the load."
--As coaches break down film of the Bengals this week, they probably won't spend too much time with Sunday's 58-48 Cincinnati win over the Cleveland Browns.
That game was a one-time affair.
"I was with a coach one time, and we lost, 62-60," Billick said. "Afterward he said, 'I've got to be honest with you, I thought 60 points would be enough.' It was one of those games. You talk about a game taking on a personality and snowballing ... every time you got a frame, the score was different.
"I don't know what to draw from it. The other games we'll have to look at more in detail because that game was unique."
--The Ravens are 3-1 against the AFC North.
--When the Ravens score 21 points or more, they are 34-8 since 1999.
--The Ravens are 6-0 when Terrell Suggs records a sack.
--The Ravens are 4-0 when leading after three quarters.
--Only one quarterback has thrown for 300 yards against the Ravens in their past 16 games.
BY THE NUMBERS: 195.7 -- Ravens' average yards rushing in past three games against the Bengals.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We weren't good enough to challenge the defending champions (Patriots) Sunday. We have to respond to that and not let the good things we were doing going into the Patriot game disappear. We're a good team. We don't back down from that." -- Coach Brian Billick on the team's mindset after the Ravens lost in New England, 24-3, on Sunday.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Chester Taylor will start for the fourth time this season at running back in place of Jamal Lewis, who will be sidelined with a sprained ankle. Taylor is more of a slashing-type back but doesn't have the same power as Lewis.
The offensive line remains in flux, with right tackle Orlando Brown expected to be out with a knee injury. He will be replaced by Ethan Brooks, who has played better on the left side than the right this season.
With Deion Sanders out at nickel back with a toe injury, cornerback Gary Baxter will move inside on nickel situations to cover the slot receiver and Corey Fuller will play in Baxter's normal spot outside.
--QB Kyle Boller has been picked off just once in his last 188 passes. He had a 100.7 quarterback rating against the Bengals in Week 3, his third-best this season.
--RB Chester Taylor has nine catches for 42 yards in his past two games.
--WR Travis Taylor has 24 catches in his last four games.
--LB Terrell Suggs has 1.5 sacks over his last five games.
--K Matt Stover has a field goal in all 11 games this season.
--LB Ray Lewis has recorded 10 or more tackles in 19 straight games.
--SS Ed Reed has scored six touchdowns in 43 career games.
GAME PLAN: The Ravens need to get back to doing what they do best and that's running the football. They have tried to become a more pass-oriented team but they need to exploit Cincinnati's run defense, which ranks second to last in the NFL. Even though the Ravens will be without Jamal Lewis, they can still grind out yards and control the clock if they give Chester Taylor 25 to 30 carries.
Defensively, the Ravens will play both of their safeties deep to protect themselves from the deep passes despite struggling recently against the run. The Ravens have enough confidence in their front seven to generate pressure against a Bengals team that has given up 28 sacks this season. As usual, the Ravens will take chances with run blitzes by safety Ed Reed.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Ravens running back Chester Taylor vs. Bengals run defense: Taylor averaged 76 yards in his three starts this season. Cincinnati is giving up 137.4 yards a game rushing, the third-worst in the NFL.
--Ravens nose tackle Kelly Gregg vs. Bengals center Rich Braham: Gregg has been sporadic this season in clogging up the middle. An undersized lineman, Gregg relies on leverage. Braham is a powerful drive blocker who can clear running lanes when he has a lineman directly on top of him.
--Ravens safety Ed Reed vs. Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer: Reed has six interceptions, including three in the past four games. Palmer has thrown 16 interceptions, including six in the past three games.
--Ravens kicker Matt Stover vs. Bengals kicker Shayne Graham: Stover is 18-for-19 on field goals this season, including 10 straight. Graham is 22-for-24 on field goals, including 13 straight.
--P Dave Zastudil (separated shoulder) will miss at least one more game. Nick Murphy, who has placed six of his 15 punts inside the 20-yard line, will replace him for a third straight game.
--RB Jamal Lewis (ankle) is out for a second straight week. He will be replaced by Chester Taylor.
--TE Todd Heap (sprained ankle) could play for the first time in 10 games but would be limited to 20 to 25 snaps.
--CB Chris McAlister (neck) could start in his first game since suffering a stinger in his shoulder. He played only on third downs last week.
--CB Deion Sanders (toe) is expected to miss his fourth straight game with a toe injury. He would be replaced by Corey Fuller, who would push starting cornerback Gary Baxter into covering the slot receiver.
--OT Orlando Brown (knee) is expected to miss two to three weeks. He will be replaced by Ethan Brooks.
--FB Alan Ricard (knee) is expected to start.
--LB Cornell Brown (infection) should be able to play his usual role on special teams.
--LB Bart Scott (ankle) would be available for special teams.
The Bengals are 5-6, and their slimmest of playoff hopes could get a boost with a victory Sunday at Baltimore, where their season fell apart last season with a Game 13 loss.
But while the Bengals remain in contention, attention began to focus this week on a major offseason issue -- will the Bengals re-sign running back Rudi Johnson? Johnson rushed for 202 yards against the Browns, the second best single-game performance in the league this season, to bring his 11-game total to 1,049. He is on pace for 1,526 yards, which would eclipse Corey Dillon's 1,435 from 2000 as the franchise single-season record.
Still, the Bengals apparently aren't sure they want to invest huge money in Johnson, even though he is proving durable and productive and is the ultimate team player in Cincinnati that Dillon was not. Johnson is extremely popular with fans, who relate to his blue-collar work ethic, quiet professionalism and humble attitude. Chants of "Roo-di, Roo-di, Roo-di" are common at Paul Brown Stadium.
Johnson, typically, did not criticize the organization for its position and said he was not upset that a deal had not been done. He repeated his wish to be a career Bengal.
"It is what it is. It doesn't bother me," Johnson said. "Each week, I know what I have to do, go out and play."
Is he surprised he is not signed?
"It is what it is," he said. "Slow motion, baby, slow motion."
With five games left, Johnson could be an unrestricted free agent if he and the Bengals can't come to an agreement. He and agent Peter Schaffer have not set a deadline and would not set a deadline, Schaffer said.
Schaffer is believed to be asking for a multi-year contract paying $4-5 million a season. The Bengals apparently think that's too much to pay Johnson, especially given the big contracts invested in quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Chad Johnson.
If the Bengals let Rudi Johnson go, they could sign a free agent at half of his apparent asking price, such as the Jets LaMont Jordan. Stuck behind Curtis Martin, Jordan has 1,094 yards in his fourth season. He could team in the backfield next season with Chris Perry, who has missed seven games because of injuries -- the last six because of a strained abdominal muscle. The Bengals drafted Perry 26th overall, and after a 10-day training camp contract holdout, he has carried the ball just twice for one yard and has three catches for 33 yards.
The Bengals would like to re-sign Johnson, but a deal has to make financial sense in the salary cap.
"It's the same priority it was when we started the season," coach Marvin Lewis said Wednesday at his news conference when asked about Johnson's situation. "We're not going to talk about contracts here anymore, OK?"
Some of Johnson's teammates are lobbying for the Bengals to re-sign him. Right tackle Willie Anderson said running backs are "not a dime a dozen," especially one like Johnson who projects to run for 1,500 yards.
"Rudi fits our (power) scheme very well. He's good at getting downhill and making people miss," Anderson said. "He's a guy teammates like to be around, and to have a great attitude is a rare quality."
SERIES HISTORY: 18th meeting -- Baltimore Ravens lead series 12-5 over the Cincinnati Bengals. The Ravens lead 7-1 in Baltimore and have won seven in a row there over the Bengals. The last six have been at M&T Bank Stadium, where the Bengals have been shutout three times and lost by a combined score of 175-64.
-- The Bengals-Browns game Sunday was the second highest scoring game in NFL history. The Bengals won, 58-48, and the 106 total points are second only to the 113 scored in the Redskins' 72-41 victory against the Giants on Nov. 27, 1966. The 106 points also are the most in a game since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Cleveland's 48 points were the second most in a loss in NFL history, behind only Houston's 49 in a 52-49 loss at Oakland on Dec. 22, 1963.
"It seemed like a pinball machine the way the scoreboard was lighting up," said Bengals linebacker Brian Simmons.
Browns quarterback Kelly Holcomb, starting for Jeff Garcia, threw five touchdowns passes and for 413 yards. But Bengals starter Carson Palmer, despite throwing three interceptions that led to 17 Browns points, threw four touchdown passes and directed a big-play offense that scored 51 points.
Palmer threw touchdowns strikes of 46 yards to Chad Johnson and 53 yards to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Rudi Johnson surpassed the 1,000-yard mark by running for 202 yards and two seven-yard touchdowns.
The Bengals had 253 rushing yards and 251 passing yards, just the third time in franchise history they have exceeded 250 yards in the air and on the ground in the same game and the first since 1986.
The Bengals, as a franchise, have played 558 games. The 58-48 victory Sunday against Cleveland was the first time a Bengals team has scored in double-figures in each of the four quarters. The Bengals scored 14, 13, 14 and 17 points in the four quarters.
-- The Bengals finished 3-1 in November to improve their November records in two seasons under Marvin Lewis to 7-2. The Bengals are 6-12 under Lewis in months other than November.
-- The Bengals have scored 90 points off turnovers this season (either scored by the defense or by the offense on the subsequent possession), which ties them for first with Indianapolis.
-- Jim Anderson, Bengals running backs coach for 21 seasons, has produced 12 1,000-yard seasons from Bengals runners. Under Anderson, Corey Dillon had six 1,000-yard seasons; James Brooks, three; Harold Green, one; Ickey Woods, one; and Rudi Johnson, (one). Johnson went over 1,000 on Sunday with a 202-yard effort against Cleveland. He now has 1,049 yards.
-- Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and Ravens coach Brian Billick both were critical Wednesday of the firing of Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham and the forced resignation of Browns coach Butch Davis on Tuesday. Davis' last game was the loss Sunday to the Bengals, just as his last victory was against the Bengals on Oct. 17 in Cleveland.
"Three seasons ago, they had their programs at what the people thought were the height of what they could do," Lewis said. "And I think it's a lesson learned for everybody -- coaches, fans, media -- of how quickly your opinions of those things change. The coach didn't change. The coach didn't get dumb in two years. Same guy."
Both Lewis and Billick are friends of Willingham's. Billick, whose Ravens will play host to the Bengals on Sunday, also was critical Wednesday of Notre Dame's decision.
"Nobody can do these jobs; no one is good enough," he said. "There's so much criticism and speculation, (nobody) can do this job for any length of time to the satisfaction of the masses."
BY THE NUMBERS: 42 -- Consecutive road losses to teams with winning records by the Bengals. Not since they beat 6-5 Pittsburgh Dec. 2, 1990, have the Bengals defeated a team with a winning record on the road.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a tough place to play. It was a tough game last year. It's a fun place to play. Ray Lewis brings a ton of energy there. When you play there, you don't think of the Ravens, you think of Ray Lewis. He's all over the big screen; everybody's focused on him." -- Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, on playing at M&T Bank Stadium.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
At this time in 2003, the Bengals were the only team to have yet put a player on injured reserve. They put just three players on IR all season.
On Wednesday, rookie defensive tackle Matthias Askew (knee) became the 14th Bengal on IR this year. He is the 15th Bengal to be put on a reserve list; cornerback Dennis Weathersby is on the reserve/non-football injury list (head injury from car crash).
To take Askew's place, the Bengals signed defensive tackle Shaun Smith to the 53-man roster. New Orleans waived him Tuesday. He played in five games with 16 tackles for the Saints, his third team this season. He is a first-year player from South Carolina, where he played alongside Bengals defensive tackle Langston Moore.
The Bengals also signed rookie defensive tackle Derrick Crawford to the practice squad.
-- CB Tory James has had a hand in nine of the Bengals 27 takeaways, which is third in the NFL behind Indianapolis (29) and Seattle (28). James leads the NFL with seven interceptions and has forced one fumble and recovered another.
-- RT Willie Anderson was announced as the team's winner of the Ed Block Courage Award. It honors NFL players who demonstrate values of sportsmanship and courage. Anderson has overcome a right knee injury to start every game, extending his consecutive start streak to 75. Anderson also dealt with his father's death this season without missing a game.
-- WR Chad Johnson, who usually holds court at his locker with reporters on Wednesday, skipped the open locker room session and is believed to be trying to keep a low (and silent) profile leading up to the Baltimore game.
GAME PLAN: The Bengals' chances of winning will improve if running back Jamal Lewis, who told reporters Wednesday that he will not play, is really out. Lewis has seven career 100-yard games against the Bengals and six touchdowns. The Bengals want to run the ball effectively with Rudi Johnson and control the clock. They also have to stop the run when the Ravens' offense does get on the field.
Coach Marvin Lewis was asked Wednesday how New England beat the Ravens last week: "Wore 'em out, and they had field position," he said.
What do you need to do to beat the Ravens?
"Wear 'em out and gain field position. That's what (the Patriots) did. They had field position, and they just kept banging and banging and banging, and bang a hole in people."
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bengals QB Carson Palmer vs. Ravens S Ed Reed. Reed had two of the three interceptions against Palmer in the first game, a 23-9 Baltimore victory Sept. 26 at Paul Brown Stadium. Reed had 90 yards in interception returns. The Bengals have a chance if Palmer avoids turnovers. He had four in the first game, the three interceptions and a lost fumble.
-- Bengals offensive line vs. Ravens front seven. The Bengals' line gave up four sacks in the first Baltimore game, and Palmer was often pressured, which contributed to his three interceptions that day. After allowing a total of 19 sacks in the first seven games, the Bengals have given up just three in the past four games (three of those games, all victories, Palmer was not sacked). The Ravens have 31 sacks, 8.5 by linebacker Terrell Suggs, and if the Bengals can reduce the pressure on Palmer, the fewer mistakes he will make and the better the odds of the Bengals winning.
-- The Bengals vs. the game's first six minutes. The Bengals want to start fast, especially by avoiding an early turnover, and do what they can to take the crowd out of the game. They have lost seven in a row at Baltimore and seem overwhelmed and intimidated by the environment. The Bengals have done well in the first quarters this season, outscoring opponents 55-51.
-- Bengals safeties and linebackers vs. Ravens TE Todd Heap. Heap, the Ravens' best receiver, is expected to play for the first time since suffering an ankle injury in Week 2. The Bengals had a poor performance from their safeties and linebackers last week against Cleveland. The Browns threw to their tights ends in the middle of the field, a move the Bengals had not prepared for and could not adjust to during the game. Cleveland tight ends Steve Heiden and Aaron Shea had a combined 12 receptions for 149 yards and three touchdowns.
INJURY IMPACT: Safety Rogers Beckett (neck) is questionable, which would force rookie Madieu Williams to move from free safety to strong and put Kim Herring back in the starting lineup at free safety.
Wide receiver Cliff Russell (concussion) has not responded well in tests and could miss the Baltimore game. He is questionable and would be replaced by wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and running back Kenny Watson on kickoff returns.
Deltha O'Neal (ankle) and right tackle Willie Anderson (knee) did not practice Wednesday but are probable and will start.
The Browns would be decided underdogs against the New England Patriots even under the best of circumstances.
That's hardly the case. The Browns will be breaking in a new coach and likely a new quarterback when they try to snap a five-game losing streak against New England on Sunday.
Terry Robiskie replaces Butch Davis as coach following Davis' resignation Tuesday. This is the second time Robiskie has played the fill-in role. He did it for the final three games of the 2000 season in Washington.
Chances are, Robiskie will have to rely on rookie quarterback Luke McCown, a fourth-round pick from Louisiana Tech.
That's because Jeff Garcia's recovery from a strained rotator cuff continues to go slowly and Kelly Holcomb sustained three crack ribs in last week's loss to Cincinnati.
"My ribs are pretty sore," Holcomb said. "We'll see how it goes the latter part of the week. Right now, I can't even pick my kids up."
Unlike Davis, Robiskie won't insist that a hurting quarterback take practice reps before playing on Sunday.
"If he feels Saturday that his body feels good, I have no problem with his arm and his mind (being ready)," Robiskie said.
Holcomb may have set some sort of dubious record on Sunday. In 13 career NFL starts, he has now broken a bone in four of them.
Holcomb first hurt the ribs when Bengals defensive end Justin Smith nailed him to start the second quarter. Holcomb took another shot in the fourth quarter. That didn't stop him from throwing for 413 yards and five touchdowns.
"The whole left side of my body went numb on one of those hits," Holcomb said. "I knew that I'd probably done something pretty bad."
It's a familiar feeling. In his only start for the Colts as a rookie in 1997, he broke his hand. He fractured his tibia against Baltimore in 2002 and his fibula a year ago in San Francisco. Holcomb kept playing in all four games.
"It's a never-ending saga," Holcomb said. "It's frustrating. It seems like once you get up, something knocks you down. That's the game. You've just got to keep fighting."
The idea of starting McCown against the Patriots isn't all that appealing to Robiskie, even if it gives the Browns a chance to get the quarterback some experience.
"We could say on one hand for the good of the organization, let's play Luke and see how he does," Robiskie said. "But look at it realistically. If you take Luke and throw him out there against the New England Patriots, it might be good to see for the organization, but it might not be good for Luke.
"When people say what do you have to lose, it's like Bill Parcells said, you've got the player to lose. That has happened to a lot of young quarterbacks."
Robiskie may not have an alternative.
SERIES HISTORY - 18th meeting. Cleveland Browns lead 11-7. The last game came last year when the Browns lost 9-3 at Gillette Stadium. The Browns beat New England 19-11 in 2000 in the teams' last meeting at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
A team that has lost five straight and is 3-8 and had its coach quit might be expected to pack it in. But the Browns say terry Robiskie's elevation to head coach gives them a fresh start.
"Butch ran a dictatorship," fullback Terrelle Smith said. "With Terry, we're all in this together. `I'm going to fight for you.' That's the way the NFL should be run."
--Robiskie's first significant change was to condense the players' daily schedule. Robiskie believed too much dead time had been built in to the previous schedule.
"He's a former player, so he truly understands how players feel in weeks 12 or 13," safety Robert Griffith said. "Terry brings a player's mentality to the head coaching position. It's welcome here. A lot of guys needed a change, for whatever reason."
The idea of playing an elite team like the Patriots should be familiar to the Browns. Cleveland has played the toughest schedule in the NFL. Their opponents have a 74-47 (.612) record.
The Browns have faced the eventual Super Bowl champion the last five seasons, and it looks like that streak may continue. Cleveland has already played Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and now face New England.
--The loss of Kellen Winslow Jr. has not resulted in lack of production from the tight-end position. Steve Heiden and Aaron Shea combined for 12 catches and 149 yards against Cincinnati. Heiden caught three touchdown passes.
For the season, Heiden and Shea have combined for eight touchdowns, 42 receptions and 430 yards.
--Antonio Bryant had a breakout game for the Browns last week, catching eight balls for 131 yards and two touchdowns. He has 19 catches for 262 yards in five games.
BY THE NUMBERS: 41. Difference in points the Browns scored from the New York Jets game (7) to last week's Bengals game (48).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "To me, that looks like, `OK, I'm taking $12 million, I'll see you guys later.' I mean, battle. Fight to the finish with us." -- FB Terrelle Smith, expressing resentment that Butch Davis didn't forfeit any money when he resigned.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Browns placed middle linebacker Andra Davis on injured reserve with a torn left MCL. Barry Gardner will replace Davis. To take Davis' roster spot, the Browns signed LB Sherrod Coates, who played strictly on special teams for Cleveland in 2003. He was cut at the end of the preseason this year.
The Browns also signed QB Nate Hybl, LB Deryck Toles and RB Dante Brown to the practice squad. Hybl spent most of 2003 on the active roster but was waived at the end of training camp.
Luke McCown is likely to start at quarterback for the Browns because of injuries to Jeff Garcia and Kelly Holcomb. McCown's only pass this season came on an unsuccessful Hail Mary against Dallas.
Lewis Sanders, a once-promising cornerback now relegated to special teams, may have to start because of injuries to Daylon McCutcheon and backup Michael Lehan.
--QB Jeff Garcia is making slow progress with his strained rotator cuff and is not expected to be available Sunday except for an emergency.
--QB Kelly Holcomb's cracked ribs make him a longshot to play against the Patriots.
--RB Lee Suggs did not practice Wednesday because of turf toe. He is questionable.
--CB Daylon McCutcheon separated his shoulder against the Bengals. He kept playing but all but ruled himself out of Sunday's game.
--WR Andre Davis did not practice because of turf toe. He is questionable.
GAME PLAN: The Browns will hope their defense bounces back from last week's debacle against Cincinnati. With Luke McCown likely to make his starting debut, the Browns will a superb performance from their defense to have any chance. It won't be easy. Rudi Johnson tore up the Browns for 202 yards last week, and Corey Dillon is even better. Somehow, the Browns will try to knock the unflappable Tom Brady off his game. Offensively, the Browns hope they can establish a running game to take the pressure off McCown. McCown has an excellent arm, athletic ability and is regarded as being a savvy player, but he hasn't faced anything like the Patriots defense. His goal isn't to win the game, just not to lose it.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Browns LT Ross Verba vs. Patriots DE Richard Seymour. Seymour has four sacks and 51 tackles this year and is a disruptive force. Verba has played reasonably well this year. It will be his job to keep Seymour from punishing McCown, whose skinny frame is not conducive to a lot of pounding.
--Browns MLB Barry Gardner vs. Patriots RB Corey Dillon. Gardner has decent speed and is smart, but he isn't a big hitter. Dillon has averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Gardner will have to make sure he doesn't overpursue Dillon, an excellent cutback runner.
--Lehan's injury means the Browns will need to find another gunner on the punt-coverage team. Leigh Bodden is hurt. Chris Crocker may be pressed into action.
Bill Cowher is weary of seeing his rookie quarterback dumped by blitzing defenses and he wants it to stop. Problem is, will it?
Ben Roethlisberger may be 9-0 as an NFL starter but he has been enjoying it less lately. He has been sacked 15 times over the past four starts after only five sacks in his first five starts. The rookie was sacked 11 times the past two games.
"Certainly we have to rectify that," Cowher said. "That's something that is too many negative yards. It has hurt us particularly as we have got into the red zone with our inefficiency down there because of the too many third and longs, and having to overcome second-and-fifteens and sixteens. Certainly, those are things that we have to do better jobs of in terms of throwing the football."
Earlier this season, Cowher admitted he became enamored with the passing game last season and that caused all kinds of problems, the least of which was a 6-10 record. But after improving the running game from No. 31 last year to No. 2 this season, the passing game has suffered - it dropped from No. 14 last year to No. 28 today.
"While we've been able to run the ball," Cowher said, "we've been very sporadic throwing the football."
Roethlisberger hasn't thrown for much yardage since he took over for the injured Tommy Maddox Oct. 19. In his nine starts, he passed for 200 yards once, against Cleveland Oct. 10.
He has had his three lowest passing games of the season over the past three weeks -- 134, 138 and 131 yards. Through his first six starts, Roethlisberger completed 70.4 percent of his passes and had a passer rating of 108.9. In his past three starts, he has completed 59.7 percent of his passes and has a passer rating of 79.8.
The Steelers have run the ball and played good defense and special teams. The one area they've lacked is in their passing game. Cowher isn't so much concerned about the lack of passing yards as he is worried by the number of sacks.
"That's something that is too many negative yards," Cowher said.
The offensive line has been praised for its performance this season and given credit for Pittsburgh's turnaround from 6-10 to 10-1. But Cowher indirectly put the blame on the line when he absolved Roethlisberger for the high number of sacks lately.
"I think it would be very, very unfair to put it on Ben. I think that it's a result of a lot of things. A couple of times we just had bad calls against what they blitzed us with. They brought one more than we could protect with."
The sacks have caused the Steelers to be inefficient in the red zone lately. They once led the league in the red zone. But they've fallen to 16th with a 52.4 percent success at scoring touchdowns once inside the 20.
"It has hurt us particularly as we have got into the red zone with our inefficiency down there," Cowher said, "because of the too many third and longs, and having to overcome second and fifteens and sixteens. Certainly, those are things that we have to do better jobs of in terms of throwing the football."
Some suggest that without Plaxico Burress, Roethlisberger not only lost his deep threat but defenses are putting eight and nine in a box because they no longer respect the Steelers vertical game. Also, Roethlisberger does not have a quick release, and goes down under the blitz when he should have hit a hot receiver.
SERIES HISTORY - 16th meeting. Jacksonville leads the series 8-7 including a 6-2 record in Jacksonville. The Steelers, though, have won the past two games, including a 25-23 victory in Jacksonville in 2002. This will be the first meeting between coach Bill Cowher and Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio.
-- Pittsburgh's imbalance on offense could affect Hines Ward's chances at making his fourth straight Pro Bowl. Ward, who once led the AFC in receiving, is tied for eighth with 60 receptions, 10 off the lead.
"I've been to the Pro Bowl," Ward said. "This game is about winning the Super Bowl. I'd rather have a Super Bowl than a Pro Bowl any day."
-- QB Ben Roethlisberger was warned by the league to stop writing the No. 40 and the initials "PFJ" on his white shoes on gamedays. The "40" was in honor of late Cardinals safety Pat Tillman. The initials stand for Play For Jesus.
-- Veteran CB Willie Williams said fellow cornerback Deshea Townsend deserves a place in the Pro Bowl.
"He reminds me of Ronde Barber. He's a great corner. He's been consistent all year. Hopefully, he will get a shot at the Pro Bowl."
Townsend leads all defensive backs with four sacks and his four interceptions tie him for third in the AFC.
-- Bill Cowher beat Butch Davis' Cleveland Browns teams eight out of nine times, which may be a reason why Davis is the former Browns coach today. The two had their differences but Cowher empathized with Davis this week.
"Butch is resilient. He will come back," Cowher said. "I have a lot of respect for Butch Davis, and I always will. You don't like to see anything like that happen to anybody in this business. Anybody who has been in it understands that."
BY THE NUMBERS: 61.6 - The percent of times the Steelers have run the ball through their 11 games, the highest in the NFL.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Right now we're in the driver's seat, and we want to continue to be in the driver's seat." -- WR Hines Ward, on Pittsburgh's 10-1 record.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
-- WR Plaxico Burress has been remarkably durable throughout his career. He missed his first game last week since his rookie season in 2000 when he was put on injured reserve with a hand injury. He could miss his second straight game.
-- QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Hines Ward have as many touchdowns rushing as RB Duce Staley. Each has one.
-- LB Clark Haggans has five sacks in his first season as a starter, but it's not his career high. He had 6.5 in 2002 when he was the right rush end in the passing defense.
-- DE Aaron Smith was credited with another sack on Wednesday from Sunday's game, giving him eight for the season, tying his career high. The sack originally was credited to LB James Farrior.
-- WR Hines Ward will stretch his streak to 100 consecutive games with a reception if he catches a pass in Jacksonville Sunday. Ward has long held the Steelers record.
GAME PLAN: The Steelers want to throw the ball more but those plans could be hampered if WR Plaxico Burress misses the game. If that's the case, they will do what has brought them here, run the ball, control the clock. On defense, their focus is stopping Fred Taylor. Look for them to bring Troy Polamalu close to the line of scrimmage near the linebackers because they are worried more about Taylor than they are the Jaguars' deep passing game, although Jimmy Smith has given them problems through the years.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: WR Jimmy Smith of Jacksonville vs. Steelers CBs Willie Williams and Deshea Townsend; RB Fred Taylor of Jacksonville vs. Steelers No. 2 rush defense; QB Ben Roethlisberger, sacked 11 times in the past two games, against a tough Jacksonville front that has only 21 sacks in 11 games; RB Duce Staley vs. a good Jaguars run defense that allows an average of 3.8 yards per rush.
INJURY IMPACT: The Steelers must play again without LB Kendrell Bell (groin) and CB Chad Scott (thigh). They've done well without those two with LB Larry Foote making his 12th start and CB Willie Williams making his sixth consecutive start. It appears that WR Plaxico Burress (hamstring, questionable) will miss his second straight game and his absence hurts them the most. Antwaan Randle El starts for Burress but the big dropoff comes when they use three wide receivers. RB Verron Haynes (questionable, knee) would be replaced by rookie Willie Parker, who has dropped both passes thrown to him. Also out is backup DE Brett Keisel (hamstring).
AFCN Thursday notes and game previews
The Ravens won't have their most reliable weapon against the Cincinnati
Bengals Sunday, as running back Jamal Lewis indicated he will not play against
the AFC North rival.