Key Match-ups: Steelers-Browns

Neal Coolong examines the key match-ups in today's game between the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns.

SS Troy Polamalu vs. QB Derek Anderson

Polamalu returns after missing Weeks 2 through 5, and the second half of Week 1. Opponents have learned the Steelers aren't the same squad without Polamalu in there, and his pass coverage and sideline-to-sideline tackling ability has made the defense less effective. His return marks a serious issue for Anderson, who struggled mightily against a much weaker Bills defense in Week 4.

Anderson completed 2-of-17 passes last week in a bizarre 6-3 victory, Cleveland's first of the year. The passing game was mostly invisible, but Anderson's offense was able to ride RB Jamal Lewis just long enough for the win. Anderson won't have that same luxury against a tough Steelers run defense, and he'll have to make some completions on third down if the Browns are to compete. Identifying Polamalu is critical for that to happen. Detroit was 11-for-18 on third downs in Week 4 against the Polamalu-less Steelers.

ROLB James Harrison vs. LT Joe Thomas

It's a continuation of one of the best match-ups in the AFC North. They've been matched up three times since 2007, and Harrison has only managed a half a sack. In relation to the rest of the AFC North, he has six sacks against Baltimore and two against Cincinnati in that same time period.

Thomas is one of the several outstanding young left tackles in the AFC. He's been to the Pro Bowl twice in two years, and doesn't show any signs of falling from his elite pedestal. With solid all-around technique and great strength, Harrison's vast array of moves will be mostly negated, as is the case with most pass rushers against Thomas. However, Harrison's motor never stops, and his 18 career forced fumbles is a great concern for Thomas, regardless of past success.

LE Travis Kirschke, Nick Eason and Ziggy Hood vs. RT John St. Clair

The loss of DE Aaron Smith typically hurts the Steelers badly. In 2007, Pittsburgh struggled down the stretch when he was out, losing three of their final four games. They also allowed the only 100 yard rusher in the past 27 games. Kirschke, Eason and the rookie Hood will platoon, likely with Kirschke getting the bulk of the snaps.

Cleveland has run the ball somewhat effectively this season, and the off-season acquisition of St. Clair has been one reason for that. He'll get a variety of size and speed between the three Steelers ends he'll face, and Cleveland's ability to maintain possession on the ground will be a key component in their game plan.

P Dan Sepulveda and PR Stefan Logan vs. P Dave Zastudil and PR Josh Cribbs

It's one of the few areas in which Cleveland has a clear-cut advantage. Zastudil is almost solely responsible for the Browns 6-3 win over Buffalo in Week 4, putting seven punts inside the 20, and four inside the 5. Buffalo's average starting field position over the game was the 15 yard line. The other part of their punting tandem, Cribbs, is third in the NFL with a 16.3 yard average, and has one touchdown and two 40+ yard returns.

Sepulveda has had far less opportunities to punt (18) in comparison to Zastudil (30), but 8 of his 18 punts have gone inside the 20. Cribbs, on 16 returns, has fair-caught the ball once. Sepulveda has to be cognizant of Cribbs' ability, and keep the ball away from him as much as possible. He has no fear, and can break one for a game-changing return at any time. Logan has not returned punts well, averaging under 8 yards a return, and will play a huge role in nullifying Cleveland's special teams advantage.

The Coolong Scorecard
Steelers Unit Browns
x Quarterback  
x Running backs  
x Offensive line  
x Wide receivers  
x Tight ends  
x Defensive line  
x Linebackers  
x Defensive backs  
  Special teams x

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