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Batch takes over Steelers in Cleveland

9:09 AM, Nov 23, 2012   |    comments
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(Sports Network) - The Pittsburgh Steelers wore their throwback uniforms last week, but you'll have to forgive their fans if they're feeling a sense of deja vu this week as well.

Coach Mike Tomlin and Co. head to Cleveland to face the Browns this weekend with some familiar old faces expected to play a role -- namely substitute starting quarterback Charlie Batch and recently re-signed wide receiver Plaxico Burress.

Batch fills in for both Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder) and Byron Leftwich (rib) while making his first start since last December and his eighth since arriving in Pittsburgh in 2003, after he'd started 46 games with the Detroit Lions between 1998 and 2001.

The 35-year-old Burress, meanwhile, will make his initial appearance of 2012 and first with the Steelers since 2004. He spent 2005 through 2008 with the New York Giants and was jailed on a gun charge before returning to the NFL with the New York Jets last season.

He caught 45 passes and scored eight touchdowns in 2011, but was not re-signed by the Jets.

Burress was brought in as insurance for banged-up receiver Antonio Brown, who's missed two straight games with an ankle injury. The veteran had a pair of 1,000-yard seasons in his initial stint with Pittsburgh.

"He's in really good physical condition based on the workout I saw," Tomlin said. "He's got very good body control for a big man. He can drop his weight at break points and obviously he's no stranger to football."

At 6-4, the Steelers enter the week in the lead for the AFC's two wild card playoff berths and will try to maintain that position with the 37-year-old Batch, who's 5-2 as a Pittsburgh starter and defeated the Browns, 34-21, while completing 13 of 19 passes for 150 yards in November 2005.

The Steelers have one offensive touchdown since Roethlisberger was injured two weeks ago.

"Charlie's a great quarterback, and he's also been in the league for some time now," cornerback Keenan Lewis said. "He knows the offense upside down, so if we have to rely on Charlie, we know he could get in there and win games."

Pittsburgh converted just five third-down opportunities with Leftwich under center last week against the Baltimore Ravens after establishing a 49-percent success rate with Roethlisberger at the helm. Working in the Steelers' favor is a Cleveland run defense that's 24th in the league with a weekly clip of 125.4 yards allowed.

Rashard Mendenhall returned from a four-week absence with 33 yards against Baltimore and has maxed out at 84 yards in six games against the Browns. He's supplemented by Jonathan Dwyer, who actually leads the team with 410 rush yards.

On defense, Pittsburgh is the league's best in total yardage (259.1 allowed per game) and stands fifth in scoring with 19 points surrendered per week.

Cleveland has scored only two touchdowns in its last four games against the Steelers.

The Browns scored twice against Dallas last week, but lost a 13-point lead while dropping a 23-20 overtime verdict. It was a familiar scenario for Cleveland, which has lost five games this season by seven points or less and a league-high 18 since the start of 2010.

Two penalties accounted for 50 yards on the Cowboys' tying drive in the fourth quarter.

Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden threw two scoring passes to Ben Watson against Dallas and running back Trent Richardson went for 95 yards while falling short of a third straight game with 100.

On the plus side, cornerback Joe Haden should return this week after not playing last week with an injured oblique muscle. The Browns are 0-5 without him.

"We just have to find a way to finish," coach Pat Shurmur said. "We have a whole locker room full of winners. This whole organization is full of winners. We just have to put it all together and do it."

The Steelers lead the historic all-time series, 62-56, and have dominated in recent years while taking 21 of the last 23 games. Tomlin is 9-1 in his career against the Browns, while Cleveland's Shurmur is winless in two games against the Steelers.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Though the old-school personnel they've brought in this week may be familiar with the Steelers' scheme, it's still more likely that offensive coordinator Todd Haley will simplify the scheme with high-percentage passes and up-the-gut runs.

The Browns only allowed 63 ground yards against Dallas, but the 125.4-yard weekly average includes 4.2 yards per carry and eight touchdowns. In fact, only four teams in the league -- Baltimore (328), Tennessee (303), Jacksonville (331) and the New York Jets (359) -- have been run on more than the Browns' 299 attempts.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Browns have certainly shown an ability to stay in games this season with a dynamic set of youngsters -- Weeden and Richardson, in particular -- on offense. And, in a bitter rivalry that's usually seen them on the short end, they ought to have motivation on their side as well. Cap it off with home- field advantage and a visiting foe that's racked with injuries and you have all the necessary ingredients for an upset.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Browns 17, Steelers 16

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