Records tell where you've been more accurately than they tell where you are going. The Browns haven't looked terrible for a little while now, and with the amount of injuries the Steelers have taken on the offensive side of the ball, this game will be closer than their records might suggest.
An obvious column begets an obvious motif.
The Browns have an improving defense capable of stopping NFL caliber offenses - especially if their opponents are playing without their best player. But it's not as if Johnny Football is under center for them, either.
Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is 15-1 against rookie quarterbacks for a reason. It's not an accident. It's because he dials up bizarre coverages and disguises to mentally cripple an inexperienced player. His defense is designed to lean on one-dimensional teams, forcing them to become reliant on one particular aspect of the game. The Browns do much of that for them anyway. Rookie RB Trent Richardson carries a huge chunk of this team's offensive success - and they don't have much of it. Rookie QB Brandon Weeden is going to have to play the game of his career against a defensive genius.
Given The Dog(s) a Bone
The Steelers defense is, at worst, among the best statistically in the game. It's the aforementioned scheme and it's the technical superiority of its secondary. They've gelled together and are playing outstanding football. It's no longer silly to suggest Pittsburgh's cornerbacks, Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis, are among the best combinations in the NFL. They're physical and aggressive, and if the Browns receivers - rookie Josh Gordon in particular - hope to have any success, they're going to have to dictate the physicality of this game. And the Steelers love that kind of match-up.
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
Browns safety/enforcer T.J. Ward picked up a penalty and a $25,000 fine for a hit last week on Cowboys WR Kevin Ogletree. The hit didn't appear to be as illegal as some Ward has put on opposing players in the past. Add that in with the fact the Browns are one of the more penalized teams in the NFL, the refs will be watching all of them closely. Repeat offenders, like Ward, don't get the benefit of the doubt. They just get suspensions lifted. Ahem.
Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be
If the Steelers had to pick an away venue in which to play, it would likely be Cleveland Browns Stadium. Despite the Browns having given the Steelers some stiff competition three of the last four times they've played there, it's close enough where the travel isn't exhausting and the fact they've won 12 of the 14 games they've played there since the stadium opened in 1999 bodes well for the Steelers.
If there ever was a game for the Steelers wide receivers to step up, this is it. Mike Wallace and Charlie Batch have hooked up on 20-plus yard completions in each of Batch's last three starts, and while this game doesn't appear to be one in which the Steelers will air it out, they're going to need more production from the Young (and old and undrafted) Money group. Browns CB Joe Haden is still nursing an oblique injury that kept him out of Week 11, and this is simply a game Wallace has to have if he wishes to score on the free agency market next year. His value has dropped over the last two games (seven catches on 15 targets, 38 yards), but he still has all the game-breaking potential in the world. This is his game to show it.
And to top it off, it's trite and cliche now, but it still never gets old.