Game 16 matchup: Steelers vs. Browns
December 28, 2013 9:59 PM
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When the Browns have the ball:
The Browns have averaged 24.5 points in their past four games after scoring fewer than 20 in five of their previous six. Jason Campbell -- their third starting QB this season -- is 1-6. Campbell is completing 56.9 percent of his attempts and does not have many playmakers, other than WR Josh Gordon (NFL-best 1,564 yards). TE Jordan Cameron has 75 catches and seven touchdowns, but he missed last week's game with a concussion and is questionable. While the early-season trade of RB Trent Richardson appeared to make sense, the reality is the Browns have no running game. Their new starter is Edwin Baker, who was signed off Houston's practice squad. Baker has two of the Browns' four rushing touchdowns, which measure 1, 1, 2 and 5 yards. The Steelers, meantime, have allowed 18 rushing touchdowns, their most since 1988. The Browns can't blame their offensive line: Pro Bowl LT Joe Thomas, C Alex Mack and RT Mitchell Schwartz have played every snap.
When the Steelers have the ball:
The Browns have not only been wilting late in the season, they are wilting in games. They blew fourth-quarter leads to the Jaguars, Patriots and Bears by allowing eight scores (six TDs, two FGs) on nine fourth-quarter possessions. What's more, they allow opponents to convert 44.8 percent of third downs, worst in the AFC. The Browns were planning on more pressure with new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, but they are just one sack ahead of last year's pace (39). Two of their biggest offseason additions -- free-agent OLB Paul Kruger and rookie No. 1 Barkevious Mingo -- have not been as productive as hoped. The Steelers are coming off their best rushing performance of the season in Green Bay (152 yards). CB Joe Haden (hip pointer) played against the Jets but is questionable for the game. If he can't play, rookie third-round choice Leon McFadden will start.
Keep an eye on: NT Phil Taylor ...
Their 2011 No. 1 draft choice is one of the reasons the Browns have been stout against the run. But Taylor, who played at Penn State before transferring to Baylor, comes out of the game in a lot of second- and third-down passing situations and teams have exploited his absence. In the past two games, the Browns have allowed 387 yards rushing -- 179 to the Bears and 208 to the Jets. Prior to that, the Browns didn't allow more than 155 yards in any game.
This is the 122nd meeting between the teams. ... The Browns have lost six in a row and nine of their past 10 after a 3-2 start. It is the sixth consecutive season in which they have lost at least 11 games. ... The Steelers have won two in a row and five of their past seven games. ... The Steelers are 25-5 against the Browns since they re-entered the league in 1999. The Browns have not won at Heinz Field since 2003. The Steelers won the first meeting of this season 27-11, in Cleveland Nov. 24. ... This is the fourth consecutive season the teams have played in the season finale. ... The Steelers have won five consecutive season finales.
To win, the Browns must ...
1. Pen Ben.
Roethlisberger is 16-1 lifetime against the Browns and has thrown 14 TDs in the past seven meetings.
2. Get Browns on Brown.
If Haden can't play, Leon McFadden or Buster Skrine will have to contain Steelers MVP Antonio Brown.
3. Not have gaffes at the half.
They have allowed a score at the end of the first half in eight of the past nine games leading to their meltdowns.
To win, the Steelers must ...
1. Flush Gordon.
Browns receiver Josh Gordon has six touchdown catches of 37 yards or longer and had 14 catches for 237 yards in the first meeting.
2. Go to town on the Browns.
The Steelers are averaging 30 points in their past six games and are coming off their highest scoring output in two seasons.
3. Don't dread the red.
The Browns allow opponents to score touchdowns inside the red zone 65.2 percent of the time, second highest conversion rate in the AFC.