Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Steelers vs. Browns

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Steelers vs. Browns

Article excerpt

WHEN BROWNS HAVE THE BALL

Key performers: QB Johnny Manziel, QB Josh McCown, RB Isaiah Crowell, RB Duke Johnson, TE Gary Barnidge, WR Travis Benjamin, LT Joe Thomas, C Alex Mack.

Who's hot or not: After losing Jordan Cameron in free agency, Barnidge has put up the type of numbers associated with Rob Gronkowski and Tyler Eifert. Barnidge has 42 receptions for 602 yards and six touchdowns and was the No. 1 target when McCown was healthy. Plus, at 6-6, 250 pounds, he has something none of the Browns receivers possess -- size. Barnidge has nine catches of 20- plus yards, tied for third among NFL tight ends.

What's been working: It hasn't been the Browns running game, something they wanted to lean on this season. They rank 31st in the league in rush offense, averaging 82.3 ypg, after ranking 17th in 2014 (108 ypg) and rushing for 349 yards in two games against the Steelers. What's more, they haven't had a 100-yard rusher since Week 4 last season, a streak of 21 games. Part of the problem: new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo has abandoned the wide-zone schemes that worked in 2014.

Game plan: Because the Browns haven't been able to run the ball - - they average 3.8 yards per attempt -- Manziel or McCown has been forced to throw more than the team would want. McCown has a 95.2 passer rating and has thrown 11 TDs against four interceptions, but he's 2-15 in 17 starts the past two years. Manziel is 1-1 as a starter, but the Browns can't keep him in the pocket, despite their pleas.

Keep an eye on: Johnson, a rookie, has given the Browns something they haven't had in a while -- a running back who catches passes. He is third on the team with 35 receptions, 369 yards, and caught the only touchdown in last week's loss to the Bengals on a Manziel scramble. Johnson had 68 yards on two catches in the first half against the Arizona Cardinals. However, like the rest of the Browns offense, he has been a non-factor in the second half of the past couple games.

WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL

Key performers: NT Danny Shelton, DE Randy Starks, DE Desmond Bryant, OLB Paul Kruger, ILB Karlos Dansby, CB Tramon Williams, FS Tashaun Gipson.

Who's hot or not: The Browns' top cornerback, Joe Haden, has had two concussions in the past three games and will not play. He will be replaced by Pierre Desir, a second-round draft choice in 2014. Haden has typically been matched against Antonio Brown, but that hasn't always worked. Brown had 12 catches for 234 yards and a touchdown in two games against the Browns last season. And he is coming off the greatest single-game receiving performance in team history.

What's been working: The Browns put a lot of offseason focus on improving their run defense, signing Starks in free agency and using the 12th overall pick in the draft to take the 339-pound Shelton. …

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