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Preview: Steelers at Browns
December 10, 2009 · By Jesse Lamovsky

Time: 8:20 pm, Thursday, December 10, 2009 

Location: Cleveland Browns Stadium 

Network, Announcers: NFL Network- Bob Papa and Matt Millen. WKYC will carry the game on local television. 

Line: Pittsburgh by ten.  

Team W/L Records: Cleveland is 1-11; Pittsburgh is 6-6. 

Coaches: Eric Mangini is 24-36 overall, 1-11 with the Browns; Mike Tomlin is 28-16 in his third season with the Steelers. 

Last Week for the Browns: Dropped their seventh straight, 30-23 to the Chargers. After taking a 7-0 lead on its opening possession, Cleveland gave up 27 unanswered points and fell behind 27-7 before launching an abortive fourth-quarter rally to make the score look good. 

Last Week for the Steelers: Lost their fourth consecutive game- their longest losing streak since 2003- in ignominious fashion at home to the dismal Raiders, 27-24. Pittsburgh's vaunted defense coughed up three fourth-quarter leads and lost the game on Bruce Gradkowski's touchdown pass to Louis Murphy with nine seconds to go. 

All-Time Series: Steelers lead, 60-55. 

Last Meeting- October 18: Pittsburgh racked up 543 total yards, including 417 passing yards by Ben Roethlisberger, to defeat the Browns 27-14 in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicated. Cleveland kept the score relatively cosmetic thanks to Josh Cribbs's 98-yard kickoff return touchdown (the third against Pittsburgh in his career) and four Steelers turnovers, three of them on consecutive possessions in Cleveland territory. 

Out or Questionable for Pittsburgh: S Troy Polamalu (knee) is out; CB William Gay (head) and WR Hines Ward (hamstring) are questionable. 

Out or Questionable for Cleveland: DE Kenyon Coleman (knee) is out; G Rex Hadnot (knee), RB Lawrence Vickers (hamstring), LB Kamerion Wimbley (knee) and CB Eric Wright (hamstring) are questionable. 

What to watch for the Steelers: Pittsburgh's once-great defense has been anything but this season, particularly in the last four weeks. The Steelers' stop troops were humiliated last Sunday, giving up 227 yards and 21 points in the fourth quarter alone to an Oakland offense that ranks 31st in the NFL in total yardage. Five of Pittsburgh's six losses have come courtesy of blown fourth-quarter leads by a defense that couldn't get a stop when it had to. Two of those come-from-ahead losses have come to the Chiefs and Raiders, two-thirds of the AFC's unholy trinity of awful teams. (You know who the third is.) 

Injuries- particularly to Troy Polamalu, who has missed seven games this season, have been a real problem for the Steelers on defense. Without their catalyst in the secondary, Pittsburgh has been ineffectual against the pass, ranking 17th in the NFL and intercepting just eight passes. "Blitzburgh" is still alive and well- the Steelers have 38 sacks, second in the league to Minnesota- but they haven't been getting to the quarterback in crunch time and are getting gashed through the air as a result. 

This isn't the same airtight unit we've grown so unfortunately used to seeing. Pittsburgh is vulnerable on defense, especially in the back end. If the Browns can find a way to protect Brady Quinn, he'll have his opportunities to exploit the black-and-yellow on that side of the ball. 

What to watch for the Browns: While Pittsburgh's defense has been shaky in the fourth quarter, Cleveland's has been atrocious from the opening whistle to the final gun. The Browns are dead last in the NFL in total defense and gave up more than 200 yards in the third quarter in last week's loss to San Diego. If it isn't the run defense getting torched, it's the pass defense. Three weeks ago Cleveland held the Lions to 57 rushing yards but was toasted through the air to the tune of 416 yards. Two weeks ago the Browns limited Cincinnati to 96 passing yards but were run over for 210 rushing yards. Last week Cleveland held the Chargers to 91 rushing yards but gave up 386 through the air. It's always something. 

Still, for whatever reason Browns fans that are justifiably quick to hammer the ineffective offense are reluctant to show the same scrutiny toward the equally ineffective defense. There's always an excuse: 

  • We have a lot of injuries on defense! (Never mind this was the worst defense in the league before guys started going down.)
  • The defense gets tired because the offense isn't on the field long enough! (Must have been that exhausting halftime at fault for the Browns getting torched in the third quarter by San Diego.)
  • Statistics don't really show how good the defense has been. (Huh?)
And so on and so forth. One thing seems clear- if you're a defensive coordinator and you yell and wave your arms a lot, Browns fans will think you're doing a good job even if your unit can't stop anyone. (See Grantham, Todd and Ryan, Rob.) 

Anyway, Cleveland's feeble defense will have to figure out a way to do something it has very rarely done- slow down Ben Roethlisberger. The tank from Findlay has had his way with the Browns throughout his career, dominating them as few quarterbacks have ever dominated the Seal Brown and Orange. Cleveland will have an opportunity to score points against the Steelers, who made Bruce Gradkowski and Louis Murphy look like Stabler and Branch last Sunday. And of course, Josh Cribbs is always a threat to take one to the house against the Steelers, a team he torments. But the Browns have got to find a way to keep the Pittsburgh offense somewhat in check. 

Good Past Win over the Steelers- November 19, 1972: In a showdown for first place in the AFC Central the Browns frittered away a 17-point first-half lead but came back to win 26-24 on Don Cockroft's last-second 26-yard field goal. The Steelers had stunned the capacity crowd at Municipal Stadium by roaring back from 20-3 down, taking a 24-23 lead late in the fourth quarter when rookie Franco Harris ripped off a career-long 75-yard touchdown run through the slop that was the Muni's playing surface. Leroy Kelly enjoyed the last 100-yard game of his brilliant career, picking up 107 on 21 carries in the victory. 

Bad Past Loss to the Steelers- November 22, 1981: The Browns suffered the first of five consecutive losses to end the '81 season, falling 32-10 to the Steelers at the Stadium. Cleveland out-gained Pittsburgh 365-362 but was doomed by seven turnovers, six of them interceptions thrown by Brian Sipe. The Steelers broke the game open with two fourth-quarter touchdown passes by Terry Bradshaw, the first to Ray Pinney on a tackle-eligible play. 

Next Week for Both Teams: Cleveland visits Kansas City; Pittsburgh hosts Green Bay. 

Trivia: In his six-year NFL career Ben Roethlisberger has never lost to the Browns. He's 10-0 lifetime with a 97.1 rating against the men in the orange helmets.

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