By BOB LABRIOLA
The following are some of the interesting matchups to watch when the Steelers travel to Cleveland for an early AFC North showdown with the Browns at 8:15 p.m. on Sunday:
STEELERS CBs IKE TAYLOR AND DESHEA TOWNSEND VS. BROWNS WR BRAYLON EDWARDS: The credentials Edwards brings are inarguable, but he becomes even more valuable to the Browns and a more critical target for the Steelers defense because of what injuries have done to the position. Joe Jurevicius is hoping to be able to return to the field in early October, and Donte Stallworth not only missed the opener with a thigh injury but that has prevented him from practicing this week as well. In terms of veteran receivers, the Browns then would turn to Joshua Cribbs, but he has been working his way back from a high ankle sprain he sustained on Aug. 18. Edwards himself is coming off a foot laceration he sustained during training camp, and the sum total of it all is the Browns may find themselves lacking weapons to complement quarterback Derek Anderson. But if healthy, Edwards is sufficient to make life miserable for the Steelers if they fail to do the things necessary to keep him under control.
STEELERS KICK COVERAGE VS. BROWNS RETURN SPECIALIST JOSHUA CRIBBS: Regardless of whether the Browns turn to Cribbs to help out at wide receiver, they hope he'll be at his kick-returning best against a Steelers team that showed improvement in its coverage during the season-opening win over the Texans. Cribbs has returned a kickoff for a touchdown against the Steelers in each of the last two seasons. In 2006, Cribbs returned a kickoff at Cleveland Browns Stadium 92 yards for a touchdown, and then last season – Mike Tomlin's first as the Steelers' coach – he returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown at Heinz Field. "He has great vision; he has very nice quickness; he can stick his foot in the ground and change direction. More than anything, he is fearless," said Tomlin. "He is fearless as a kick returner; he is fearless as a punt returner. This guy is used to having the ball in his hands, and he is a competitor. He is used to the outcome of games being decided with how he performs. We are talking about a quarterback who dominated the MAC conference for the four years he played in that league, running and throwing. He loves having that on his shoulders, and it shows in how he plays." No matter what worked well for the Steelers last week, they're going to have to be better at it on Sunday night, because Cribbs is better than Houston's Andre Davis.
STEELERS C JUSTIN HARTWIG VS. BROWNS NT SHAUN ROGERS: At the time it was considered to be a trade that was going to help the Browns immensely, but it also was the beginning of their problems in the secondary. As part of the package that went to Detroit for Rogers, the Browns sent cornerback Leigh Bodden to the Lions. As it stood then, that was fine, but when Daven Holly subsequently blew out a knee, Cleveland developed a weakness in the secondary it still is trying to fix. Rogers is a first-round talent who can be a dominating force in the middle of the line of scrimmage, and the Steelers know they must get him blocked to get their running game untracked. "Shaun Rogers is a very big, powerful and athletic man," said Tomlin. "We will get to know a little bit more about Justin Hartwig pretty quickly here this weekend." Hartwig was signed as an unrestricted free agent because he was determined to be better at dealing with the strong, stout nose tackles that populate so many AFC defenses. After doing OK with Houston's Travis Johnson, Hartwig will step up in class this Sunday with Rogers, a former college teammate of Casey Hampton's at Texas.
STEELERS LT MARVEL SMITH VS. BROWNS ROLB KAMERION WIMBLEY: After setting a franchise rookie record with 11 sacks in 2006, Wimbley's production fell off last season when he dropped the quarterback only five times, with two of those coming in the season's third game. With injuries having ravaged the Browns secondary, being able to mount a pass rush without blitzing becomes even more critical. And when it comes to having the talent to win the one-on-one matchups to make that happen Wimbley is at the top of the Browns' list. Smith is coming off a fine performance against Houston's Mario Williams, and he looks to be in top form following the surgery he needed last season on his back. If Smith handles Wimbley, the Browns might not have enough in their pass-rush arsenal to prevent Ben Roethlisberger from having a big day against that secondary.