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Steelers-Browns matchup of the day: Thursday

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Posted Oct. 14, 2010 @ 10:09 a.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Here's a closer look at a matchup to watch in Sunday's Browns-Steelers game:

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. Browns' pass rush and pass coverage

Roethlisberger had won 10 consecutive starts vs. Cleveland entering the Steelers' Dec. 10, 2009 matchup against the Browns. And then, with the 6-6 Steelers desperate for a win and the 1-11 Browns having seemingly little to play for relative to Pittsburgh, Cleveland scored one of the biggest upsets of the season, a 13-6 defeat of the defending Super Bowl champions.

In cold and blustery conditions — the game-time temperature was 15 degrees, and the winds were out of west-southwest at a robust 25-48 mph — the Browns' defense limited Roethlisberger to 18 completions in 32 attempts for 201 yards and no touchdowns. Cleveland sacked Roethlisberger eight times, with six players registering at least half a sack.

The Browns' eight sacks can be chalked up to a variety of factors. The Browns used the blitz with success, but they also were able to get pressure rushing just three or four players, and that's a credit to their pass coverage. The Steelers also had some pass-protection issues; OLB Marcus Benard came completely unblocked on one of his two sacks.

Roethlisberger, who's making his first start of the season, can pick apart secondaries, and he will give his receivers every chance to work open. The Browns will need to generate consistent pressure and be sound in coverage to succeed against Roethlisberger. (Their coverage was solid against Atlanta, save for the notable exception of a long TD pass to Roddy White, and they also sacked QB Matt Ryan twice.)

Some might say Cleveland catches a break playing Pittsburgh in Roethlisberger's first start after a four-game suspension, but even when he isn't sharp, he is capable of the spectacular, and he very well could be back to top form with two weeks of practice leading up to this game. Something else to note: while the Browns held Roethlisberger in check in the last meeting between the teams, he shredded the Cleveland pass defense for 417 yards and two TDs in a 27-14 win on Oct. 18, 2009.

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