Angry Browns Are Seeking Payback

And James Harrison, Hines Ward and the rest of the Steeles say come and get it. The holidays are over in Pittsburgh as the Steelers get back to work.

PITTSBURGH – It's been a grand 10 days since the Steelers routed the Carolina Panthers last Thursday night.

The 11-4 Steelers have enjoyed some awards, some days off, some Christmas, and even more awards and honors.

It's been the best of times for a team that only needs to defeat the 5-10 Cleveland Browns today to win the AFC North Division and clinch a first-round bye in the upcoming playoffs.

But does this merry band grasp the importance of the task at hand?

"Yeah, I think if you ask the guys who understand and have been around, we all know," said captain James Farrior. "And if you don't know, just follow us."

It helps that the Steelers lost the last time they visited Cleveland.

"Everybody mentioned it," said rookie center Maurkice Pouncey. It also helps that reports out of Cleveland indicate the Browns are seeking payback for James Harrison's back-to-back knockout hits of Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi in the second quarter of the teams' previous meeting this season.

"When the lights come on, you'll see a lot of pissed-off guys," Cribbs told the Akron Beacon Journal this week.

Cribbs was asked if he wants retribution for the hit that knocked him out of the game.

"Of course," he said. "But I'm not going to talk about it. I'm going to do my talking on the field."

It sounds as if Harrison should keep his head on a swivel today.

"I'm not going to be looking over my shoulder," growled Harrison. "If they get me, they get me. If they don't, they don't."

Hines Ward has seen it all before. He was subjected to rumors of bounties over his head in various pre-game reports against the Baltimore Ravens over the years. But it never affected Ward.

"We've all got James's back," Ward said. "Usually when teams start talking like that they're trying to motivate themselves to play better. But we won't change our style of play. When James hit those guys he continued to hit guys the way he knows how to hit.

"We're not going to get in a war of words with Cleveland. They know what we bring to the table. They know what James is going to bring each and every play. We're not going to change our style. We're not going to be bullied by anybody, especially in the AFC North with Baltimore, Cincinnati and Cleveland. They know which team is the most physical in our division. We're not going to get into any confrontation with those guys. We're just going to play good Steeler football and go up there and try to win a ball game."

The Steelers have done that in 13 of their last 14 games against the Browns. The loss occurred last year when coordinator Rob Ryan's defense sacked Ben Roethlisberger eight times. The Steelers fixed the problem this season by keeping the Browns off Roethlisberger. It was the first complete game played by Roethlisberger in which he was not sacked in over two years (Nov. 20, 2008 vs. Cincinnati).

How did the Steelers fix the problem?

"Identification," said Roethlisberger. "We picked up the blitzes. I got the ball out of my hand pretty quick. Guys made plays. That's always a big key for us."

Has the Cleveland defense changed much since Oct. 17?

"A little bit; different guys in different spots," Roethlisberger said. "At times they're dropping nine guys and it's hard to throw a ball to three or four receivers when there are nine guys out there. We just have to take what they give us, hit the checkdowns, and just try to move the ball."

Defensively, the Steelers must stop rookie quarterback Colt McCoy. He made his professional debut against the Steelers in October and completed 23 of 33 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown.

"We've got to do a better job against him than we did last time, to be quite frank with you," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. "He spread the ball around; looked like he had a pretty comfortable time digesting the things that we threw at them."

"It wasn't good enough because we lost," said McCoy. "But at the same time I think I took a lot away from that game as far as having confidence in myself that I can play and that I can do this."

McCoy was the first freshman to start at the University of Texas since Bobby Layne in 1944, and McCoy went on to become the winningest quarterback in NCAA history. However, McCoy slid to the third round of the draft due to questions about his arm strength. That knock came up again last week when McCoy had trouble cutting through the blustery weather against the Ravens.

Worse conditions are forecast today along the Lake Erie shoreline, so the Browns could be looking to force-feed 1,164-yard running back Peyton Hillis.

But the Steelers held Hillis to 41 yards on 12 carries last meeting, and Hillis has missed most of this practice week with sore ribs after Ed Reed belted him last week. Hillis's replacement would be former New Orleans Saints backup Mike Bell, who's rushed for only 85 yards this season on 42 carries.

Of course, the Browns are always dangerous on special teams with return man Cribbs and venerable placekicker Phil Dawson. This, in fact, will be Dawson's last game, and the Steelers don't want to see him carried off as a hero, particularly when there's so much at stake.

Again, how big is this game for the Steelers?

"It's the biggest game of the year," said Farrior.

Right answer.

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