Countdown: Steelers vs. Browns

PITTSBURGH STEELERS VS. CLEVELAND BROWNS
Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014
Heinz Field
1 p.m.; CBS

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The Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the game against the Cleveland Browns.

SERIES HISTORY**: Steelers lead, 67-57 (2-0 postseason). Pittsburgh has won three in a row, 24 of the last 27 and 25 of the 30 meetings since Cleveland's franchise resurrection in 1999.

LAST MEETING: Steelers 20, Browns 7; Dec. 29, 2013; Heinz Field. The Steelers completed season sweep of the Browns after having won, 27-11, on Nov. 24 in Cleveland. RB Le'Veon Bell finished with 96 yards from scrimmage and ended the season with 1,259, a figure that eclipsed Franco Harris' franchise record for rookies (1,235).

LAST WEEK: The Steelers finished the preseason at 1-3 with a 10-0 loss to Carolina at home. The Browns beat Chicago, 33-13, and also ended the preseason at 1-3.

WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL: Anything's possible given that this will be the first game for Coach Mike Pettine and his new staff. The Steelers are operating under the assumption the Browns' offense will resemble what was put on tape previously by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan during his tenure with the Redskins (2009-13) and Texans (2006-09). Pittsburgh played Washington in 2012 and Houston in 2008.

Shanahan's transition to Cleveland might well include plenty of outside-zone, one-cut running featuring RB Ben Tate, a free-agent acquisition who led Houston in rushing last season, and fellow big back Glenn Winston, who led San Francisco in rushing this preseason. Assuming that can be established to some degree, play-action bootlegs from QB Brian Hoyer might also figure prominently. Big plays down the field might prove problematic given the absence of WR Josh Gordon (suspended), but the presence of TE Jordan Cameron will have to be accounted for at all times.

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WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL**: How often and how effectively the no-huddle offense is employed might dictate the pace of the game. QB Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley are seemingly on the same page regarding the no-huddle's potential.

The Steelers also will be of a mind-set to run the ball more effectively and more consistently than they did a season ago. Bell, a second-year pro, and free-agent pickup LeGarrette Blount will operate behind an offensive line bolstered by the return of C Maurkice Pouncey (who missed all but the first offensive series in 2013) and under the direction of first-year offensive line coach Mike Munchak (a big proponent of the outside-zone scheme during his tenure as an offensive line coach/head coach in Tennessee).

Pettine's history as a defensive coordinator in Buffalo (2013) and with the New York Jets (2009-12) suggests he'll bring pressure from anywhere and everywhere. The Steelers saw both teams recently (Buffalo last season, the Jets in 2012) and anticipate seeing a myriad of blitzes. Their ability to protect will be tested, particularly by OLBs Paul Kruger, Barkevious Mingo and Jabaal Sheard.   

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Highlight photos from the last game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns during the 2013 season. The Steelers defeated the Browns 20-7.

SPECIAL-TEAMS HEADLINERS**: Cleveland WR Travis Benjamin averaged 48.7 yards on three kickoff returns and 11.7 yards on 22 punt returns, including a 79-yard touchdown, before being injured last season. Steelers P Brad Wing, a first-year pro, will be making his NFL debut.

THE X-FACTOR: The Browns drafted QB Johnny Manziel 22nd overall in May. A significant percentage of the football world seems preoccupied with how much the dual threat former Heisman Trophy winner might play, and with what might happen should Manziel enter the game.

THEY SAID IT:
"We know who we are and what we are." – Roethlisberger on the state of the Steelers' offense after a 31-21 preseason loss in Philadelphia.

"When they released me and I was walking out he said, 'It was great to have you here. If I can ever help you with anything, you let me know.' I don't know if that offer is still on the table now that I'm the Browns' quarterback, but what a great guy and a great coach." – Hoyer on a conversation with Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau upon being let go by the Steelers in 2012.

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