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Steelers hope to end skid in Cleveland

A history lesson, tape review, prediction, complete breakdown and much more in this Steelers-Browns game day preview.

MEMORABLE SERIES MOMENT

Browns 13, Steelers 6

Dec. 10, 2009 at Cleveland Browns Stadium

With the Steelers riding a four-game losing streak into winless Cleveland for a game on the blustery lakefront, it's time to take another look at one of the worst losses of the Mike Tomlin era. On this Thursday night, the 6-6 Steelers -- minus Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith -- hoped to break a four-game against the 1-11 Browns. Ben Roethlisberger didn't come out to warm up in the 48-mph gusts that caused a wind chill of -6 that night. Even then, OC Bruce Arians drew up a pass-first game plan that had Roethlisberger completing 18 of 32 passes and taking eight sacks, five of which came on third downs. The run-centric Browns kicked a couple of field goals, and after a fumbled punt return was negated by a holding call on Tyrone Carter they scored the game's only touchdown to take a 13-0 lead late in the half. All the Steelers could muster were two Jeff Reed field goals in losing their fifth straight and falling to 6-7.

TALE OF THE TAPE

"Two Browns interest me. Danny Shelton's a three-down nose tackle who is really fun to watch. He's like a pachyderm. He's armor-plated. He's strong, has great feet and excellent power to take on the double-team or beat a center one-on-one on a pass rush. He reminds me of some of the guys in Baltimore who the Steelers' inner three had problems with. Jamie Collins is also interesting. In between playing inside linbacker, outside linebacker and the stack, he's a good pass-rusher. He looks like he's feeling his way into this (since being traded by New England). But I saw that smirk on his face on SportsCenter when something not-so-good happened to Cleveland. He kind of laughed, and I had to think (Bill) Belichick got rid of him for a reason other than the contract. Be interesting to see what he comes up with." -- Steelers Radio analyst Craig Wolfley.

TOP QUESTION

Can the Steelers take the ball away?

The Browns are second in the NFL in interceptions thrown (11), fumbles (8) and sacks allowed (30). The Steelers, though, have taken the ball away only 10 times this season and are tied for last in the NFL with only 13 sacks. Pressure on the quarterback results in turnovers, so the Steelers need to get "home" with James Harrison and Anthony Chickillo as the defense's fourth different set of edge-rushing bookends this season. The two have a combined 4.5 sacks this season. Harrison is a half-sack away from tying Jason Gildon's all-time team record of 77 sacks and Chickillo is a half-sack away from tying the injured Cameron Heyward for the team lead with three.

THREE QUESTIONS: With OLB JAMES HARRISON

Q: Everyone's saying the problems revolve around details and accountability. What do you think needs to change here?

JH: "That's the thing. What they're saying. The same thing. You've got to pay attention to details. You've got to be accountable. You've got to do your job. You can't see something and think 'All right I can make that play' when it's not really your play to make. And you go and try to make it and they shoot your gap and now you missed the whole play and let the whole defense down. That's what they're talking about with accountability."

Q: I doubt Jason Gildon would begrudge you breaking his record. You're friends with him, aren't you?

JH: "Yeah. I feel like everyone would be upset when their record's broken because you want to hold on to that. But it's not like he's going to hate me or anything like that. Everything has its time and place. All records, I think, are made to be broken. Even if I set it at some point in time, someone's going to come along and break that too."

Q: Do you have any sacks that are more memorable?

JH: "I really don't, to be honest with you. All I know is I was just told my first sack came in Cleveland in 2004. It would be pretty cool if I could have my first and the one that breaks the record be in the same place. I guess that would be historic, wouldn't it?"

GAME BREAKDOWN

What to look for from the Steelers at 1 p.m. today at FirstEnergy Stadium:

ON OFFENSE:

The weather forecast in Cleveland calls for a high of 39 with 26-mph winds gusting to 38 mph. And it's usually worse there on the lake. Ben Roethlisberger said the key to throwing the ball in the wind is "Spinning it. You’ve got to spin the ball. And I’m not a guy who, when I throw it, spins it a lot. So I’ll wear a glove this week in practice because if there’s going to be 30-mph wind, I’m going to have to wear a glove on Sunday." Roethlisberger has a history of playing well in poor weather, but do Cobi Hamilton, Eli Rogers and the tight ends? The Browns allow a wretched 12.7 yards per completion, and Steelers fans thought their defense couldn't tackle the catch (11.6 ypc).

ON DEFENSE:

In the 3.5 games the Steelers either played without Cameron Heyward or played with him using only one good arm, the Steelers allowed 27 points per game, 5.2 yards per carry and averaged 1.1 sacks per game. With Heyward, they allowed 20 points per game, 3.6 yards per carry and averaged 1.6 sacks per game. He will, of course, be a big loss for a defense that -- at 4.32 yards allowed per carry -- is on pace to surpass the 2013-14 seasons (4.31 combined), and the 1999 season (4.34) as the worst rushing defenses since the merger.

PREDICTION

The good news concerning the loss of Heyward is that the Browns have one of the worst left guards -- Spencer Drango -- in the NFL. He teams with one of the worst centers -- Cameron Erving -- while Browns left tackle Joe Thomas has been struggling with a bad knee. Browns WR Terrell Pryor will no doubt fulfill his promise of making a great play against the Steelers, but Ben Roethlisberger should outplay the popgun-armed rookie QB of the Browns, Cody Kessler, in the gusting winds. Steelers, 27-17.

BY THE NUMBERS

3.0: Steelers average yards per carry in the last three games.

4.4: Le'Veon Bell's average yards per carry in four games against the Browns.

6: Number of completions Ben Roethlisberger needs to tie Fran Tarkenton for 12th-most (3,686) in NFL history.

9: Number of touchdowns by tight ends the Browns have allowed in their last seven games.

119: Consecutive passes without an interception by Browns rookie QB Cody Kessler.

DOWNLOADS

* In his seven starts against the Browns, Antonio Brown has averaged 7 receptions for 114 yards. He needs five receptions for 600 in his career and 76 reeiving yards for 8,000. So if Browns turns in his typical performance, he'll join Hines Ward as the only members of the Steelers' 600-8,000 club.

* With Markus Wheaton on Injured Reserve, the juggling for offensive coordinator Todd Haley continues. Haley said he's never seen "this many receivers in and out of the lineup" in his coaching career. Yet, through nine games, the group opposite Brown has 58 receptions for 935 yards and 8 touchdowns. Last year's group of WRs opposite Brown had 49 receptions for 753 yards and 7 touchdowns at the same point, and that was with Ben Roethlisberger missing four of the nine games.

* Fullback Roosevelt Nix has played only eight offensive snaps all season, but Roethlisberger raved about one of Nix's two snaps last Sunday against the Cowboys: "He, in my opinion, helped get Le’Veon (Bell) in the end zone more than anybody. He cleared out that hole, Le’Veon split it. So we’ll continue to use him as we see fit and I think we’ll even use him more in the pass game because he’s a really good receiver as well." 

* DC Keith Butler on what he expects from the activated OLB Bud Dupree today: "There’s a double-whammy here now. This is his second year in the league. This is not his fifth year or sixth year in league where he can come back and automatically know everything that’s going on. So he’s still in a learning situation and he’s still trying to get back healthy. So we’ll have to see if we go with him."

* Sean Davis worked this week as the first-team strong safety and expects to replace Rob Golden in the starting lineup today. Said Butler: "He’s got a lot of talent and he’s still learning. We’re trying to keep him in situations where we don’t ask too much of him in terms of the game, mentally. We’re not dumbing down things or anything like that, but we do want to give him a chance to be successful at what we ask him to."

PARTING SHOT

"I'm not really focused on reps or opportunities. I'm just focused on getting this win." -- Ricardo Mathews, one of the DL replacing Heyward.


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