Browns-Steelers Preview

After four weeks of uncertainty filling out their depth chart at

quarterback, the Pittsburgh Steelers have no qualms about

discussing who they’ll have under center this week.

The Cleveland Browns wish they could say the same.

Ben Roethlisberger returns from his four-game suspension Sunday

at Heinz Field, rejoining a Steelers team held together in his

absence by its defense – which could get plenty of chances to make

plays as the Browns are likely to give rookie Colt McCoy his first


Pittsburgh (3-1) got used to Roethlisberger’s off-the-field

activities dominating offseason headlines after his 2006 motorcycle

accident and a 2009 civil suit that alleged he sexually assaulted a

Las Vegas casino employee.

Less than 10 months after that allegation, a college student in

Milledgeville, Ga., accused Roethlisberger of sexually assaulting

her at a nightclub in March. Though charges were never filed, NFL

commissioner Roger Goodell slapped the two-time Super Bowl winner

with a four-game suspension for violating the league’s personal

conduct policy.

Roethlisberger officially rejoined the team Oct. 4, the day

after the team’s bye week began.

“What had to be said was said a long time ago,” receiver Mike

Wallace said. “He was sorry when it first happened, so we didn’t

need to go over it again or have him apologize. He doesn’t have to

do that. We know that he’s sorry, and we know he’s ready to play


The Steelers certainly showed up ready to play during

Roethlisberger’s suspension, overcoming a passing game that’s last

in the league at 136.0 yards per game behind Dennis Dixon and

Charlie Batch. Pittsburgh, though, leads the league in scoring

defense at 12.5 points per game even after a 17-14 loss to

Baltimore on Oct. 3.

The Steelers are also forcing three turnovers a game, a far cry

from a defense that totaled three takeaways during a five-game

losing streak last season.

The final contest in that skid came against the Browns (1-4).

Roethlisberger had won all 10 meetings versus the Steelers’ AFC

North rivals, but a 13-6 loss in Cleveland on Dec. 10 all but

erased any chance Pittsburgh would have of defending its Super Bowl


“They really got after us. We never want to make excuses, but we

really just didn’t play good football,” Roethlisberger said. “…

Point blank, we just couldn’t do anything on offense.”

The Steelers defense is expecting Cleveland to be uttering

similar frustrations Sunday. With Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace

nursing high ankle sprains suffered against Atlanta on Sunday, the

Browns left the 20-10 loss with McCoy as their only healthy


Cleveland signed veteran Brett Ratliff, who has spent time in

coach Eric Mangini’s system before, but all indications are that

McCoy will start with Delhomme and Wallace unlikely to practice

this week.

“Everybody’s got to get their feet wet at some point. … It’s

only the Steelers, right? Coming off a bye week? They don’t blitz

much,” Mangini joked.

The last game McCoy started was Texas’ 2010 BCS championship

game loss to Alabama, when he left in the first quarter with a

shoulder injury.

He’s plenty familiar with the Steelers’ schemes, though.

“I’ve watched them play for a long time,” McCoy said. “They’ve

won Super Bowls. They’ve got tremendous players – (James) Harrison,

Polamalu, (LaMarr) Woodley. They’re all good. Casey Hampton went to

UT so I know him. I have all the respect in the world for those

guys. We know what challenge we have ahead of us.”

For their part, the Steelers don’t want to take McCoy


He’s got a tremendous opportunity to start off with a great

story,” Polamalu said. ”We have all been in this situation where

we’ve been underdogs or been favored and it doesn’t turn out the

way everyone thinks it will. With all the lessons we learned in the

past, we could have our hands full.”

The Browns’ upset of Pittsburgh in December included a heavy

dose of a wildcat offense with Joshua Cribbs under center, a

strategy Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wouldn’t be surprised to see

used again.

“That’s usually the nature of the league and that’s what makes

it so awesome,” Tomlin said. “When you show areas of deficiency,

usually you are going to continue to see those challenges until you

fix it. We didn’t fix it in that football game.”

Gaining any yards on the ground against Pittsburgh won’t be

easy. The Steelers boast the NFL’s No. 1 rush defense (62.3 ypg),

and they’ve held Michael Turner, Chris Johnson and Ray Rice to a

combined 2.2 yards per carry.

Peyton Hillis doesn’t have a career resume that measures up to

those players, but he ran for 246 yards in games against Baltimore

and Cincinnati in Week 3 and 4. Hillis, however, managed 28 yards

versus the Falcons after injuring a quad in practice leading up to

the game.

Cleveland doesn’t have much experience behind him, either. The

Browns dealt backup Jerome Harrison to Philadelphia for fellow

running back Mike Bell on Wednesday.

Pittsburgh has won its last six home games in the series by an

average of 15.2 points.