Do Browns Change on New Year's Day?

The Steelers are looking to unload on the Cleveland Browns on this New Year's weekend the same as the last.

The Steelers hope to open this New Year the way they opened the last one:

With a division and bye-clinching win in Cleveland over the Browns.

Of course, the Steelers didn't need help from another team for those clinchings last year, as they do this year.

Last year's Steelers wrapped up a 12-4 season with a 41-9 pummeling of the Browns, a win that helped force major changes in Cleveland. The Browns enter this game with a new coach, a new defensive philosophy, and a new quarterback.

But the more things change ... the more the Browns are 4-11.

The Steelers – as they were last New Year's Day – are 11-5. But they have more respect for the Browns this season because of the presence of veteran quarterback Seneca Wallace and a healthy running game.

"Seneca's experience makes him a little bit better," Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said when asked to compare Wallace to injured quarterback Colt McCoy.

"The way Colt hurt us was moving out of the pocket," Clark said. "If you look at that movement compared to Seneca's movement, (Seneca) is a different level up. You're almost talking about a guy who's an athlete first and then a quarterback, when you're speaking of Seneca.

"But he can also throw the ball, place the ball. If you look at their offense's production the last few weeks, it was better than it was coming into the week they were playing us with Colt."

The Browns have gained 589 yards and scored 31 points the last two weeks. They gained 509 and scored 30 points in the two games prior to a 14-3 loss to the Steelers on Dec. 8.

The slight edge in the current Browns mirrors the slight statistical edge Wallace enjoys over McCoy.

McCoy has made 21 starts in two NFL seasons. He's 6-15.

Wallace has made 20 starts in nine NFL seasons. He's 6-14.

Wallace owns a better career completion percentage than McCoy (60.3 to 58.4), a better yards-per-attempt average (6.4 to 6.3), and a better passer rating (83.5 to 74.5).

The two quarterbacks are similar on the ground as well. Wallace has rushed for 249 yards in his career at a 3.8 clip. McCoy has rushed for 348 yards at 3.9 per carry.

But it might be the runner behind Wallace who's providing the bigger difference in today's Browns.

While the 250-pound Peyton Hillis has rushed for only 79 yards (2.8 avg.) in three games against the Steelers, he's healthy now. And he's hoping this year's problems – contract squabble, strep throat, hamstring injury, curses – are behind him.

Two weeks ago against the Arizona Cardinals, Hillis rushed for 99 yards. Against the Baltimore Ravens last week, he rushed for 112 yards.

"He's running like he's upset," Clark said. "And if I had muscles like that I'd run like I was upset, too. That's what you have to do when you're a big back. You can't tip-toe. You can't bounce around and try to figure out where to go. You need to get the ball and go. You need to make defenders fear tackling you, and I think he's realized that again and started running that way. So it's going to be a big challenge for us, especially after the way Steven Jackson was able to run the ball."

The Steelers allowed Jackson to rush for 103 yards last week in their 27-0 win over the St. Louis Rams.

However, there's little cause for concern from the Steelers, who allowed only two of the previous eight opponents more yards rushing. The Bengals did it both times, but by only one and six yards more than Jackson's 103.

Rushing yardage will mean plenty today on the lakefront, where the wind is predicted to be gusting at 44 miles per hour for the 4:15 p.m. kickoff. Rain is expected to turn to snow throughout the game.

"It's a good challenge for us," said Clark, "going into the playoffs."

And even if the Steelers aren't up for the challenge, they're in the playoffs.

On the other hand, a win gives the Browns another 5-11 record.

Nothing seems to change on New Year's Day.


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