KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
SERIES: 111th meeting. The Steelers and Browns series is tied at 55 apiece, although the Browns lead the regular-season series, 55-53. Pittsburgh has won both playoff games. Since their return to Cleveland in 1999, the Steelers have dominated them. They are 14-3 against the New Browns, including one playoff win, and have won 13 of the last 14. Pittsburgh has won seven of the eight games it has played in Cleveland Stadium.
PREDICTION: Steelers 24-13
KEYS TO THE GAME: New Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is going to give QB Ben Roethlisberger a chance to prove he can lead a strong passing game, utilizing three- and even four-receiver sets on early downs to attack the Browns' suspect secondary. The problem for Cleveland is it can't overplay the pass because Steelers RB Willie Parker exploded for 232 rushing yards in the last meeting. ... That's why QB Charlie Frye is starting Week 1 for the Browns -- he has experience against the Steelers' complex defense. But Frye needs plenty of help from new RB Jamal Lewis and the revamped offensive line. The Browns need to attack and be successful against the new left side of rookie LT Joe Thomas and LG Eric Steinbach. If Lewis is successful, then Frye can try to pop the big play downfield.
KEY INJURIES: Steelers: None. Browns: RT Kevin Shaffer's (concussion) status is uncertain; P Dave Zastudil (back) has been limited in practice, causing the Browns to try out five punters.
FAST FACTS: Roethlisberger's 23 interceptions last season were the most by a Steelers quarterback since Terry Bradshaw's 25 in 1979. ... The Browns have 15 new players on the roster.
--QB Brian St. Pierre has a right big toe injury that will prevent him from playing Sunday against the Browns.
--LB LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers' second-round pick this year, will replace Clark Haggans as the pass-rusher on the left side of the Steelers defense Sunday.
--CB William Gay, a rookie and fifth-round pick, has been involved in the team's passing defense and likely will do so against the Browns.
--LB Lawrence Timmons has been practicing all week at inside linebacker, but likely will play only on special teams Sunday.
--WR Nate Washington held off competition for his job and will serve as the slot man and the team's No. 3 receiver.
--RCB Leigh Bodden will be allowed to play in the opener despite being arrested Wednesday night on charges of aggravated disorderly conduct and resisting arrest outside Hopkins International Airport in Cleveland. Bodden was arrested for parking his car in a no-parking zone and leaving it as he was walking into the terminal to pick up his girlfriend and their two young children. Bodden faces possible disciplinary action from the league down the road for violating the personal conduct policy. Bodden, 25, never ran afoul of the law before. Bodden spent part of Wednesday night in jail before posting bond. He practiced Thursday.
--P Dave Zastudil's back is sore, but he says he will be ready for the Steelers. He popped the ball about 15 feet in the air Thursday.
--MLB Andra Davis practiced with the first team Thursday. He missed all preseason with an ankle injury but now says he is 100 percent.
--LDE Orpheus Roye was limited in practice again. He is working his way back from a knee injury. He plans to play Sunday but he is being cautious.
--Rookie QB Brady Quinn is working with the scout team. Sunday will mark the first time he doesn't start since early in his freshman year at Notre Dame.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The Steelers plan to start young Carey Davis at fullback Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, which represents a different philosophy from the approach they've taken in the past.
Davis, an undrafted player with his fifth NFL team, replaces longtime starter Dan Kreider, one of the better blocking fullbacks in the NFL.
Kreider, 30, was the lead blocker for Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker. He rarely caught passes or carried the ball. Davis, who is 5-10, 225, can do both. Davis gives the Steelers more options in their new offense under coordinator Bruce Arians. He can block, run and catch passes.
Arians revealed on Thursday that Davis will start. The Steelers offense has changed under Arians. He wants to use more multiple receivers on first and second downs, more one-back formations with Parker in the backfield and tight ends as h-backs.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been given more control of the offense, and also will call all the pass blocking protections, something that previously was handled by his linemen.
"You can't help notice the more control he's in, not just developing as a quarterback or whatnot but also the control they've given him over the offense," said six-time Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca. "He's more in charge of things out there."
Just as it was last year, run defense is going to be the biggest question surrounding the Browns. As luck would have it, they will get an answer to that question quickly when they kick off the season against the Steelers.
The defensive line facing Pittsburgh Sunday in Cleveland Browns Stadium has two different starters compared to the line that faced the Steelers in Pittsburgh last December. Orpheus Roye is expected to return from a knee injury after missing the entire preseason following surgery Aug. 2 (he missed the end of 2006 with a knee injury). Robaire Smith has replaced Alvin McKinley at right end and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson is healthy again after missing the end of 2006 with a toe injury. Antwan Peek has replaced Willie McGinest at left outside linebacker.
"I think our defensive line has enough depth and experience to hold up pretty well," general manager Phil Savage said. "With the emergence of (linebackers) Kamerion Wimbley, Antwan Peek, Leon Williams, D'Qwell, and Andra Davis, we have a chance to be better against the run. First down is going to be a key down for us because if we can get to our nickel package, we'll be pretty good."
Savage's optimism notwithstanding, the Browns run defense in the preseason looked a lot like it did when games counted last year.
The third preseason game is the one that most resembles a regular season game because the starters usually play a half or more. The Broncos ripped through the Browns for 157 yards on 31 carries, and their longest run all night was 16 yards, so it wasn't like they had one 90-yard run and 30 two-yard runs.
On a fourth-and-one in the first quarter with the Browns' starting defense on the field and everyone bunched tightly together, Cecil Sapp blasted through the line untouched until he was dragged to the ground 11 yards later.
The Browns were without Roye and Davis, but the Broncos were missing starting running back Travis Henry. The week before the Lions did not have starter Kevin Jones and the Lions rushed for 101 yards on 29 carries. Kansas City running back Larry Johnson was holding out during the preseason opener when the Chiefs rushed for 90 yards on 22 carries.
"Any time a team can run for 150 yards on you, that's not good," Coach Romeo Crennel said. "I don't care what the circumstances are. We have some things to shore up. We have to tackle better. Our run force has to be better. Once we do some of those things I anticipate the run defense will improve."
The run defense was better in the final preseason game. The Bears needed 28 carries for 74 yards, a 2.4 average, but there was no champagne celebration in the Browns locker room because starter Cedric Benson carried only once, gaining two yards.
The Browns expect Willie Parker to get more than one carry Sunday. Last December the Steelers' starter ripped through the Browns for 223 yards on 32 carries.