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NFL Preview - Pittsburgh (4-6) at Cleveland (4-6)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Struggles on the road have contributed to the Pittsburgh Steelers having to chase a playoff spot.
The Steelers look to turn things around this Sunday in Cleveland, where they aim for a third straight victory in a matchup versus the Browns.
This meeting pits two of the three 4-6 teams in the AFC North. The Baltimore Ravens are the other and all three squads are chasing the idle 7-4 Cincinnati Bengals for the top spot in the division.
All three clubs are also in the hunt for the extra playoff spots, with the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins tied for the AFC's second wild card spot with 5-5 records.
Pittsburgh has won four of six since an 0-4 start and appeared to make a statement of remaining competitive with last weekend's 37-27 win over the Detroit Lions.
The Steelers were able to overcome a 27-point second quarter by the Lions as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 367 yards with four touchdowns. Two of those scoring throws came in the fourth quarter to Will Johnson and Jerricho Cotchery.
Roethlisberger's performance capped a week that saw reports surface of his possible unhappiness in the Steel City. It didn't show on Sunday as he rallied the Steelers from a 27-20 halftime deficit.
"He had a good week's preparation. We knew we were playing a good football team, a team that's capable of ringing up the scoreboard," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "We realized that would require us to do similar things. I just thought he did a nice job administering the offense."
Pittsburgh will play its next two on the road as it will visit Baltimore on Thanksgiving. The Steelers are just 1-4 as the road team this season, but have won 11 of 14 games at Cleveland's FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Steelers are 24-5 against the Browns in the regular season since 1999, winning five of the past six encounters.
Cleveland will play two straight and three of its next four at home looking to shake off last Sunday's 41-20 defeat at the hands of Cincinnati. The Browns were undone by a 31-point second quarter by the Bengals, who got two touchdown passes, a field goal, a blocked punt return for a touchdown and a fumble returned to the end zone in the frame.
"It was a disappointing game for us today. We were not able to overcome the second quarter, and the game got away from us at that point," said Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski.
Jason Campbell connected on 27-of-56 passes for 248 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions for the Browns (4-6), who have lost four of five. Wide receiver Josh Gordon made five catches for 125 yards, including a career-long 74 yard score.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
A seemingly-inspired Roethlisberger helped the Steelers post 358 net passing yards versus the Lions, marking the first time dating back to 1970 that Pittsburgh has had four games of at least 350 net passing yards in the same season.
Overall, the Steelers rank seventh in football with 266.7 passing yards per game, but are just 20th with 21.6 points per game.
That number could go up if Roethlisberger stays hot. He logged his seventh career game of at least four TD passes and his 2,901 passing yards on the season are the most by a Steeler through the club's first 10 games dating back to 1960. He surpassed his own previous mark of 2,877 set in 2011.
Big Ben also moved to within five touchdown passes of passing Terry Bradshaw (212) for the most in club history.
"We are out to play every game like it is the most important. I told you guys a while ago that I wasn't going to quit," Roethlisberger said following the Lions game. "There was no quit in me or from anyone on the team today. I'm just proud of the way everybody played."
Roethlisberger could see guard Ramon Foster return to action this weekend after he missed the most recent contest with an ankle injury and continues to look towards the direction of Antonio Brown.
The wideout caught TD passes of 34 and 47 yards from Roethlisberger in the first quarter against Detroit, ending with seven receptions for 147 yards. His 74 catches on the season are a career high and he is on the verge of joining Yancey Thigpen, John Stallworth and Hines Ward as the only Steelers to log 80 catches in a season.
Standing in Brown's way is Cleveland defensive back Joe Haden, who is coming off his first career two-interception game. He took one of those picks 29 yards for his first career touchdown and he has logged three interceptions in the past two games.
Not only did Haden come up with takeaways for Cleveland's fourth-ranked pass defense (207.5 YPG), but he held talented Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green to just two catches for seven yards.
"He's playing at a high level. He had a great game," said Chudzinski of Haden. "He's been impressive in how he responds to all of the challenges that he's had throughout the course of the season and has really stepped up as a leader as well. You can see our team plays and our defense plays well, particularly, when he's playing at that level."
Cleveland has its own big threat at the wide receiver position in Gordon, who has registered all nine of his career touchdown catches from 20-plus yards. He is also the first Cleveland receiver to have four 100-yard games in a season since Braylon Edwards in 2007.
Limited to just eight games this season due to a suspension, Gordon leads the Browns with 751 receiving yards and ranks fourth in the NFL with an average of 93.9 per game.
Pittsburgh's defense could have end Brett Keisel and linebacker LaMarr Woodley back for this game. In Woodley's place, Jason Worilds has posted three sacks in his last three games.
Steelers safety Will Allen had an interception and forced fumble last weekend, while Troy Polamalu has eight career interceptions versus the Browns.
The Steelers and Roethlisberger have dominated the Browns as of late, with the Pittsburgh quarterback owning a 15-1 record versus Cleveland as a starter with 24 touchdown passes to 10 interceptions.
Cleveland has been a streaky club this season and may be on the down trend, while Pittsburgh's offense is coming alive.
"They played very well the last few weeks and have come up with some big wins," Chudzinski noted of the Steelers. "It's a great rivalry, so at the end of the day, the records and everything else kind of go out the window. We're going to be excited. Like I said, it's Steeler week, so we're going to be excited to play them."
That excitement may be gone come Sunday.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Steelers 20, Browns 17
11/21 14:20:09 ET