Gilbert has done pretty well in his rookie campaign, playing in place of injured RT Willie Colon. In Sheard, however, he gets a significant challenge. To this point, the opponent's best pass rusher has come off the offensive left side. Gilbert, the right tackle, will square up with arguably his toughest opponent this season.
Sheard, a rookie from Pitt, gave Ravens RT Michael Oher all he could handle in Baltimore's 24-10 win in Week 13. He plays with intensity, and finds the ball carrier well, whether it's a running back or the quarterback. His 5.5 sacks and 29 quarterback pressures are among the best for his position in the AFC. Accounting for him will be priority No. 1 for the Steelers' offensive line.
RB Rashard Mendenhall vs. LB D'Qwell Jackson
Mendenhall has been making the most out of Pittsburgh's emphasis on the ground game in the red zone recently, racking up four touchdowns in his last three starts (3-0). That commitment to running the ball inside the 20 produced two rushing touchdowns, both from Mendenhall, against Cincinnati in Week 13. They ran on all but one of their red zone plays last week. The one pass was a touchdown to WR Mike Wallace.
Jackson has been the Browns' defensive stalwart this season. His 112 tackles are second most in the NFL. On a short week, Pittsburgh will look to establish Mendenhall as the focal point against the Browns' 31st-ranked run defense (151.3 yards per game). Look for Jackson to follow Mendenhall and Isaac Redman around and spend a lot of time near the line of scrimmage.
It's always a hard-fought battle, but Thomas has typically gotten the better of Harrison over the years. Thomas is one of the best in the game for a reason; he's consistently dominant for four quarters. Harrison tends to feast on tackles who wear down over the game (his three sacks against Cincinnati all came in the second half). Harrison has eight sacks in his eight games played this year.
Harrison, though, may have the advantage against the run. He's able to use his low center of gravity to anchor down the edge, and Thomas isn't at his best in run blocking. The Browns don't have many offensive playmakers, and Pittsburgh can take the run away, making their already weak offense one dimensional.
Cleveland has little going for it offensively. McCoy struggles throwing the ball against the AFC North (80 passer rating outside the division, 66 in it), and will likely have to make plays with his feet to help make up for a lack of playmakers at his disposal.
Farrior will likely spy the young QB, particularly on third downs, to make sure he cannot pick up a first down with his legs. McCoy is a step quicker than Farrior, at least, so he'll have to make that up with his experience. Using proper angles and staying in the right position will help seal off McCoy's routes of escape.