It wasn't long ago the Steelers' defensive unit was struggling through injuries. Outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley have both missed time this season, and two of their primary back-ups, Chris Carter and Stevenson Sylvester, have as well. Carter is lost for the year, Sylvester may return from his second injury this weekend.
The offense helped carry them through a rough start. When both sides of the ball clicked, it resulted in a four-game winning streak that came to an end when Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went down with a shoulder injury in Week 10.
Now, instead of Roethlisberger carrying the defense, the defense will have to carry QB Charlie Batch against Cleveland.
And they should be right for the task. This defense hasn't allowed a touchdown in its last seven quarters, and only five in their last five games. The secondary seems to be edging out the linebackers as the dominant position unit on the field, but they can expect Cleveland to run early and often against them.
This puts the linebackers in the crosshairs. Cleveland's offense certainly is stoppable, but the linebackers are going to need to force a turnover or two, and try to set up the injury-ridden offense with some short field in which to outlast the pesky Browns.
Regardless of their record, Cleveland has an opportunistic defense and the Steelers' D must match that.
The play of Harrison, Woodley, Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote will be the key. (Pittsburgh Steelers Tickets)