Steelers Won't Take Browns Lightly Again

The Steelers have won 14 of their last 15 meetings against the Cleveland Browns, and will further their success as long as they don't get 'crazy.'

PITTSBURGH – It was offensive coordinator Bruce Arians who was encouraged by the running game last week and it was Arians who was asked if that particular part of the game plan could and should be emphasized by the Steelers (9-3) against the Cleveland Browns (4-8) and their 31st-ranked run defense tonight at Heinz Field.

Arians's answer was baffling, to say the least.

"Every time we play a team that's ranked low in the rushing and high in the passing, we end up throwing the ball more," Arians said. "It's kind of crazy."

Crazy? Like dropping back to pass 43 times on a Thursday, Dec. 10 game in Cleveland with wind gusts of 48 m.p.h. and wind chills of minus six? Crazy like that?

The Steelers, of course, were upset by the lowly Browns that night in 2009, their only loss against their Turnpike Rival in the teams' last 15 meetings. It cost the Steelers a playoff berth, but probably taught them to respect the Browns, even when the Browns' defense is again so soft that the Baltimore Ravens could rush for 290 yards last Sunday and the Cincinnati Bengals could rush for 132 the previous Sunday.

Soft? With classic nose tackles such as 330-pound Ahtyba Rubin and 335-pound rookie Phil Taylor both playing at the same time in a 4-3 set? With veteran D'Qwell Jackson playing middle linebacker? Soft?

"I don't know about that," said Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey. "They do a good job, man. They're the eighth overall defense in the league. I think people overlook that."

Yes, the Browns are ranked eighth behind the No. 1-ranked Steelers in overall defense thanks to the Browns' No. 1-ranked pass defense. But that could just be a by-product of a run defense that allows 151.3 yards rushing per game. Only the St. Louis Rams at 157.8 are worse.

The Browns allow 4.4 yards per carry and have been shredded on the ground of late.

"They have," Pouncey said. "A couple guys are getting out of their gaps, that's the only thing. They're not guys getting physically beat in there."

The Steelers gained 136 yards rushing Sunday against the Bengals, their most productive ground game in almost two months as Rashard Mendenhall scored 2 touchdowns and Isaac Redman gained 51 yards on only 8 carries.

"We did a good job moving guys up out of there and Mendenhall and Redman did a good job of breaking tackles and getting extra yards and making the offensive linemen look a lot better," Pouncey explained.

Of course, if the Steelers can't find those holes that seem to close so quickly when they play the NFL's worst run defenses, they'll find a way to attack.

In this game, perhaps attacking deeper will be better, since the Browns will be without strong safety T.J. Ward and possibly free safety Michael Adams, who's questionable with a shoulder injury.

Offensively, the Browns have added a receiver – finally – from last season, but seem to have lost a running back.

Peyton Hills, the power back who rumbled for 1,177 yards last season, has had this season ravaged by contract squabbles and injuries. He's rushed for only 321 yards this season and is listed as questionable with a hip injury.

Behind Hillis is Chris Ogbonnaya, who was signed off the Houston Texans' practice squad in October. The former University of Texas backup has started four games and compiled 303 yards rushing.

Rookie receiver Greg Little has put up numbers – his 50 catches lead NFL rookies – but quarterback Colt McCoy hasn't benefitted in his second season at the helm.

After a successful debut in Pittsburgh last season, McCoy finished his rookie year with 1,576 yards passing in only eight games. This year, after 12 games, he's thrown for 2,524 yards, but his average per completion is only 5.9 yards as defenses have shown little respect for his arm.

"I think Colt is battling through this year just like all of us," said first-year Browns coach Pat Shurmur. "We are an operation here that is a little bit new when you consider where we started, but that is no excuse, that is a reality. As we move forward we have to find a way to improve and win games. I think Colt is one of those players that fit in that boat for us. He is making improvements. He is battling. Now I think we have to find a way to make enough plays, and make fewer mistakes, where we come out on the winning end."

As long as the Steelers don't get "crazy" with their game plan, that "winning end" for the Browns won't happen this week.

But as history has proven, that can be a big IF.

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