By BOB LABRIOLA
The following are some of the interesting matchups to watch when the Steelers host the Cleveland Browns at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Heinz Field:
STEELERS C JUSTIN HARTWIG VS. BROWNS NT SHAUN ROGERS: Being that he was born and raised in Texas, was drafted by the Detroit Lions and only is in his second season with the Browns, it's doubtful Rogers has a deep understanding of what this game means to the people in the respective cities. But regardless of his limited experience with this Turnpike series, Rogers' play vs. the Steelers is up to the standards of this bitter rivalry. In the first of the home-and-home series in 2008, Rogers had six tackles, one sack and three pressures, including one hit on Ben Roethlisberger that many observers believed was deserving of a penalty; but in the rematch at Heinz Field, Hartwig did a nice job on the 350-pound nose tackle and kept him off the quarterback. Because Rogers lines up over the center on just about every play, his proximity to Roethlisberger alone makes him a dangerous person. Whether the Browns can come to Heinz Field and win is arguable, but there is no doubt that Rogers can do some damage.
STEELERS P DANIEL SEPULVEDA VS. BROWNS P DAVE ZASTUDIL: In the Browns' 6-3 win over Buffalo last weekend, it's hard to argue with the assertion that their best player was their punter. The game was played in Buffalo, which is known for treacherous winds, and partly because QB Derek Anderson completed just 2-of-17 for 23 yards, Zastudil was brought on to punt nine times. On nine punts, the Bills had 7 return yards, even though Roscoe Parrish is a dangerous return man. Also on those nine punts, seven were inside the 20-yard line and two of those were downed at the 1-yard line. And his last punt traveled 56 yards to the Bills' 16-yard line and an ensuing fumble that was recovered by Cleveland led to the game-winning field goal. Sepulveda has been having a fine season, in fact a better statistical one than Zastudil, in both gross average (45.8-44.6) and net average (42.2-38.8). With the weather forecast calling for rain and temperatures in the 40s, field position could become an issue in this game, and if that happens the two punters will have a hand in that.
STEELERS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR DICK LeBEAU VS. BROWNS QB DEREK ANDERSON: This would seem to be a mismatch to the highest degree, what with the Browns having scored only three offensive touchdowns in their previous 128 series, but sometimes things have a way of evening out in bizarre fashion. Anderson took over in the middle of the season's third game when Brady Quinn was benched during a game against the Ravens, and Sunday will mark his third straight start of 2009. Anderson's statistics to this point are almost difficult to believe for someone at the professional level – 46.4 completion percentage, a 39.0 passer rating – but it's also fair to point out that playmaking receiver Braylon Edwards was recently traded to the Jets and the players who came to the Browns in the deal have had to try to learn a new offense while adjusting to new teammates. There is nothing to suggest that the Browns will be able to mount anything close to a consistent offense on Sunday, but the NFL proves time and again that it's wise to expect the unexpected.
STEELERS KICK COVERAGE VS. BROWNS KR JOSHUA CRIBBS: Besides Rogers, the most dangerous man in an orange helmet come Sunday afternoon might be Cribbs, who can make a very good case for being the top return man in the NFL. Cribbs comes into the game leading the AFC in punt returns with a 16.3 average, including a 67-yard touchdown, and he is fourth in the conference in kickoff returns with a 26.1-yard average. Including this season, Cribbs has returned seven kicks for touchdowns in his four-plus seasons – five kickoffs and two punts – and two of those five kickoff returns for touchdowns have come against the Steelers. Keyaron Fox is a special teams captain, and his consistent play there since coming to the team in 2008 more than justifies his selection. With eight special teams tackles, Fox currently is second on the team to Andre Frazier, who has 10 and is also one of the core performers on those units. Others who will be important parts of any effort to contain Cribbs include Patrick Bailey, Arnold Harrison, Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Mundy and Joe Burnett.