Game Day Matchups

Neal Coolong breaks down the top matchups in today's Steelers-Browns game:

SS Troy Polamalu or Ryan Mundy vs. QB Colt McCoy

The Steelers don't need to win this game to qualify for the playoffs, but considering a first-round bye and a divisional round game at Heinz Field are on the line, the Steelers will want their team-selected MVP to suit up. Coach Mike Tomlin has said they will make a game-time decision on whether to play him or let him rest another week. In his absence, Mundy has played well, particularly in Week 16, when the Steelers held Carolina to the lowest offensive output they've surrendered all year.

It's a great match-up for either of them. McCoy's arm strength will not scare the Steelers into a two-deep safety look, allowing the strong safety to attack the line of scrimmage. How well the Browns will be able to run the ball is a matter of conjecture, but with nothing to play for but pride, the Browns are likely to pull gadget plays from deep in the playbook, and could try to exploit over-aggressiveness from the Steelers' safeties.

ILB James Farrior vs. RBs Peyton Hillis or Mike Bell

While James Harrison was the only Steelers linebacker to make the Pro Bowl squad, the argument can be made Farrior has been the most productive in that space. He's notched 127 tackles for the league's best run defense, and his six sacks lead all AFC inside linebackers (tied with San Diego's Kevin Burnett). Farrior has anchored the run defense over the second half of the season, and the Browns are going to need their featured back to rush for more than the 35 yards Hillis had against Baltimore in Week 16.

Hillis was cracked by Ravens FS Ed Reed early in the game, and wasn't the same after it. He missed practice this week because of the rib injury he sustained on that play, but Browns coach Eric Mangini said he expects Hillis to play. It's rare when a player misses Friday's practice and plays Sunday, and if he isn't able to get on the field, Bell will be the starter. That's a setback for the Browns. Hillis paced an up-and-down Browns offense in 2010, and couldn't have missed a Pro Bowl selection by much. The Browns have to establish him on the ground and through the air if they want to keep the Steelers overpowering defense from taking over the game.

OLB LaMarr Woodley vs. RT John St. Clair

Woodley has hit a slide of late. He notched two sacks against Cincinnati, but that is the only game of the last five in which he's taken down the quarterback. He had a favorable match-up against Wayne Hunter, but provided little pressure as the Steelers only got one sack.

He'll face St. Clair, who's been hurt and tormented by pass rushers as of late. Bengals' defensive ends Robert Geathers and Carlos Dunlap gave him all kinds of problems in Cincinnati's 19-17 win over the Browns in Week 15. Perhaps a lack of faith in their pass protection is a reason why the Browns throw the ball 29 times per game – the second lowest average in the NFL. If the Browns want to compete in this game, they're going to have to put it in the air more often than that.

WR Mike Wallace vs. CB Joe Haden

Haden finally locked down the starting left cornerback position in Week 12 after showing steady improvement all season. He has five interceptions in his last seven games, and his first career pick was off Ben Roethlisberger in Week 5. Haden has gotten stronger as the Browns' season has spiraled downward, and would likely be the Defensive Rookie of the Year if not for Detroit DT Ndamukong Suh.

Opposite him is another player, Wallace, who's improved steadily as the year has progressed. While Cleveland doesn't give its opponents much of a reason to not run the ball 30+ times a game (allowing 131 rushing yards a game), Wallace has improved as a short-field receiver, and the Steelers will need to complete passes on those routes to get a blitz-happy Browns team out of running lanes along the line of scrimmage.

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