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Steelers vs. Browns: Steelers' vastly improved run defense gets its toughest challenge

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The Browns are more the 191 rushing yards per game team that nearly pulled off a dramatic comeback win in Week 1 than the Steelers are the 53 yards per game defense they've been over the last three weeks. It'll take a lot from Pittsburgh's defense to win this game.

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Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns used the second half of rushing dominance over the Steelers in a loss to really set the tone for the kind of team they're going to be this season. All told, they finished with 191 yards on the ground, an outstanding total for a team that didn't get moving until the second half.

Pittsburgh's run defense was the storyline after a loss at Baltimore in which the team gave up 157 yards in a game that wasn't competitive for most of the second half. After two weeks, the team was allowing 174 rushing yards per game, and all hope of rebuilding the run defense largely shattered during the 2013 season was lost.

Then something interesting happened. They faced a string of teams that were either incapable of running the ball (Carolina had literally no running backs on their active roster when Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert went down during their game against Pittsburgh) or have been simply incompetent in that regard (Tampa Bay and Jacksonville are poor rushing football teams). The Steelers suddenly have allowed only 53.6 yards per game on the ground, winning two of three games, and it should have been a clean sweep.

They now have a real challenge, though. The triumvirate of Ben Tate, Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell is a tad more advanced than Toby Gerhart. Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer appears to be, through four Browns games, the perfect complementary quarterback to an excellent rushing team. He makes good decisions from the pocket and on the move, throws accurate passes and doesn't turn the ball over (one interception in 132 throws this season).

Steelers WR Markus Wheaton came up big against the Browns in Week 1.

On a Browns team that sports a roster consisting of 42 percent undrafted players (according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler), including Hoyer, that commitment to detail resonates in their game film. While the Steelers have become much more gap-responsible than they were to start the season, their last three games were against flyweights. The heavyweight contenders wait in Cleveland to see what this Steelers defense is truly made of, and if the Steelers' run defense is to continue on its current course, they'll need to physically beat one of the league's best rushing attacks.

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