Pittsburgh Steelers: Keys to Sweeping the Cleveland Browns
Though the Steelers have already clinched a playoff spot, the game is still of utmost importance as the Steelers could still earn a first-round bye if they get some help in the form of the Cincinnati Bengals defeating the Baltimore Ravens.
As it stands now, there are three clear favorites in the AFC with the Steelers, Ravens and New England Patriots. The winner of the AFC North will gain a huge edge with a bye week and at least one home game.
Pittsburgh wants that and they have to take care of their own business first and foremost. Cleveland will not be easy as the Steelers had a close 14-3 win at Heinz Field earlier this season. However, if history repeats itself, the Steelers do quite well in late season games against the Browns.
In 2005, Pittsburgh closed out their road schedule with a dominating 41-0 victory over the Browns. Pittsburgh shut out the Browns 31-0 at home in their final game of 2008 and had an impressive 41-9 victory at Cleveland in last year's regular season finale. Ironically, each year the Steelers made the Super Bowl.
Here are the keys to the Steelers earning a season sweep of the Browns.
Take Care of Own Business
We may look back on the Steelers 2011 season and point out the first game against the Browns as the key game of the season.
While the Steelers would win the game, without three of their best players, Pittsburgh lost the following week to San Francisco meaning that they no longer could control their own destiny in earning the top seed in the AFC.
Now in the final week of the season, Pittsburgh still has a chance to win the AFC North and part of the equation is defeating the Browns.
Roethlisberger, who has a career record of 13-1 against the Browns, practiced on Wednesday and looks as though he could start this weekend according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
If he is healthy enough to play, Roethlisberger will give the Steelers their best chance of winning.
A win on Sunday could mean a first-round bye and extra time to get some of their ailing veterans healthier for the playoffs.
No other results will matter if the Steelers do not take care of their own business first.
Ground and Pound
Whether it is Roethlisberger or Charlie Batch, the Steelers need to establish the ground attack again this week.
Last week, the Steelers had an outstanding effort on the ground behind Rashard Mendenhall. Even behind a banged up offensive line, Mendenhall ran for over 100 yards for only the second time this season.
The last thing that the Steelers need is for their quarterback to be under constant pressure and be forced into mistakes. That will be Cleveland's one shot at winning this game.
The Browns allow 146.5 yards per game on the ground this season and Pittsburgh met that mark in the first meeting, rushing for 147 yards on 28 carries as a team.
Mendenhall had 76 yards in the first meeting, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. A similar effort with some help from Isaac Redman will hopefully provide better results.
As we saw last week, a strong running game can still result in a lot of points as Pittsburgh put up 27 on the St. Louis Rams, including three rushing scores.
Pittsburgh does not have the dominant defense that they have had in the past. Sacks are down and turnovers are down, but points are also down.
The Steelers are second in the league in scoring defense, allowing only 14.5 points per game, the same as last season.
Pittsburgh has allowed 13 points or less eight times this season and have kept their opponent out of the end zone five times, including two shut outs.
Cleveland has lost eight of their last nine games, including the past five, and will be looking for any excuse to mail in the final game of the year.
A physical defensive effort from the Steelers will have the Browns looking forward to their tee times.
The Browns are also expected to be without Colt McCoy for a third straight game. This gives the Steelers defense yet another advantage.
If you can't score, you can't win. Pittsburgh will be looking for another poor offensive output from their opponent this year.
Spotlight Player: Offense
Ben Roethlisberger could start Sunday and while another week of rest would help, so would some reps before the playoffs start.
"He looked all right," Hines Ward told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I don't know if he really ran around or stuff like that. He looked good so, with a week [off], he's feeling a little better, it definitely helped him.
"I'm sure he wants to get a little playing time before we head to the playoffs, considering we don't know the circumstances of what's going to happen."
In one sense, if Roethlisberger still cannot move around well enough to play his usual game, it is not worth playing him. His lack of mobility could mean that he takes a hit that he otherwise could avoid and he does not need to be even more banged up for the playoffs.
However, all of the time off could mean rust. A bye week would give Roethlisberger more time to get rest, but also more time to practice, but if the Steelers do not get a bye, some snaps Sunday will help him keep the timing with his receivers.
Maurkice Pouncey is likely to start, according to the Post-Gazette.
Unlike Roethlisberger, Pouncey could probably get away with taking one more week off, not having to worry so much about the reps to get back into game shape.
While he will help the Steelers win, the top priority will be to get him through the game without further injury to his ankle.
Spotlight Player: Defense
James Harrison has tormented the Browns over the years and it has gone beyond sacking the quarterback.
Joshua Cribbs, Mohamed Massaquoi and Colt McCoy have all suffered concussions as a result of taking hits by Harrison. Meanwhile, Harrison has been fined heavily for those hits.
Will the Browns want to get back at Harrison? Probably not.
"It's football," safety Mike Adams told FOXSportsOhio.com. "What are you going to be mad for?"
Adams gets it and so do the Browns, but they also get that Harrison is going to bring his physical brand of football to Cleveland this Sunday and they will be ready for it. It is what is expected from one of the top defenders in the league.
- Pittsburgh is 62-56 all-time against Cleveland and has won 22 of the last 26 meetings.
- Mike Tomlin will look to go 12-4 for the third time in his career.
- Ben Roethlisberger is 144 yards away from 4,000 for the season.
- Rashard Mendenhall needs 110 yards to reach 1,000 for the season.
- Hines Ward is five receptions away from 1,000 for his career.
- Marcus Gilbert was named the Steelers Rookie of the Year.
- James Farrior won the Chief Award for cooperation with the media.
- Antonio Brown was voted by teammates as team MVP.
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