Here is some information to get you prepared for Sunday's Week 17 Steelers-Browns game in Cleveland.
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6) vs. Cleveland Browns (3-12)
Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016
SERIES HISTORY: Steelers lead, 67-58 (Steelers lead, 2-0, postseason)
LAST MEETING: Steelers 30, Browns 9, Nov. 15, 2015, Heinz Field: QB
WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL: Austin Davis is in line to make his second start at QB with the Browns and first since Dec. 6 against Cincinnati (a 37-3 loss) in place of Johnny Manziel (concussion). Davis, a 6-foot-2, 221-pound, fourth-year pro from Southern Mississippi, went 3-5 as a starter for St. Louis in 2014 and has completed 63.9 percent of his career passes, with 13 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a passer rating of 84.8. He has good arm strength but sometimes lacks touch and accuracy and isn’t above taking chances on throws down the field. Davis is more apt to read through progressions and play from the pocket than Manziel.
One of Davis’ problems against Cincinnati this season was dropped passes, a season-long issue in Cleveland. TE Gary Barnidge had six catches and a TD in the first meeting with the Steelers and has 71 catches, 977 yards and nine TDs on the season. Rookie Duke Johnson ranks second among AFC RBs with 57 catches and 500 receiving yards. WR Travis Benjamin usually scores from distance when he scores. He’s crossed the goal line 13 times (10 receptions, three punt returns) and averages 44.8 yards per TD.
The offensive line is without starting OGs Joel Bitonio and John Greco. Rookie No. 1b pick Cameron Erving started at RG against Kansas City and started at LG against the Steelers on Nov. 15 and the Ravens on Nov. 30. Erving has struggled, especially after replacing Bitonio against Cincinnati. The Browns ran 14 times for 15 yards in their first meeting with the Steelers. Manziel had three rushes for 17 yards. The rest of the ball-carriers had 11 attempts that combined for minus 2 yards. Cleveland is No. 23 in total offense (19th rushing, 17th passing) and No. 31 in red-zone offense (the Browns score touchdowns 42.9 percent of the time).
Gaines had a rough afternoon against Brown in the first meeting between the teams. Pierre Desir was one of the starting CBs against the Steelers but hasn’t started since. CB K’Waun Williams plays passing-downs nickel and S Jordan Poyer plays the run-pass downs “big nickel.” Veteran CB Tramon Williams has been flagged for eight penalties, six since Week 10. CB Joe Haden (concussions) is on IR.
Run defense has been an even bigger problem all season long. The Browns are No. 32 in that department (there isn’t a No. 33) and are allowing an average of 135.0 yards per game on the ground. MLB Karlos Dansby is the NFL’s only player with 40 sacks (41) and 15 interceptions (19) since 2004. Dansby doesn’t have a sack this season but two of his three INTs have been returned for touchdowns. OLB Armonty Bryant, second on the team with 5.5 sacks and perhaps Cleveland’s best pass-rusher, was inactive against Kansas City.
SPECIAL-TEAMS HEADLINERS: The Browns have had a field-goal attempt blocked in four of their last five games and have also had a punt blocked this season. Benjamin has a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown. Cleveland has also surrendered a punt return for a touchdown.
THE X-FACTOR: The Steelers know their playoff fate is tied to the result of the Jets-at-Bills game that will be playing out while the Steelers battle the Browns. Will the Steelers be able to focus on the task at hand _ they know they won’t be going to the postseason if they don’t win in Cleveland _ or, will they succumb to distraction based on what’s taking place in Orchard Park, N.Y.?
THEY SAID IT: “That’s the way we feel. And that’s not meaning that you’re going to score 30, 40 points every game. There are going to be different circumstances, different coverages, teams are going to play you differently. But I really believe this group believes, and they’ve seen it firsthand, when our side of the football is a factor in losing games, it’s usually things we’ve done to ourselves.” - offensive coordinator Todd Haley on whether anybody but the Steelers is capable of stopping the Steelers.