Cleveland (1-4) at Pittsburgh (3-2)

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  • Game info: 1:00 pm EDT Sun Oct 18, 2009
  • TV: CBS
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Although the Pittsburgh Steelers are suddenly facing some adversity on defense, the Cleveland Browns may need a little more help to finally beat their arch-rivals.

The reigning Super Bowl champions have won 11 straight and 16 of 17 against the Browns, and they’ll try to continue that dominance when the teams face off at Heinz Field on Sunday.

The Steelers (3-2) have won back-to-back games following a difficult start, with their offense solidified by the emergence of running back Rashard Mendenhall(notes).

Pittsburgh’s vaunted defense, however, took a major hit during last Sunday’s 28-20 win over Detroit when defensive end Aaron Smith(notes) - a starter for the Steelers in all but two games this decade - suffered a season-ending right shoulder injury.

“A guy like that, I truly believe, is irreplaceable,” All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu(notes) said. “There’s a lot of other big role positions that get a lot of prestige, but who can always be replaced - myself included - but it’s always tough when it has to do with our line. I truly believe our defensive line controls the outcome of the game. It’s big. It hurts us.”

Polamalu has also been out since the season’s opening week with a knee injury, although he returned to practice this week and could be back in action Sunday. The Steelers’ defense has been spotty at times without him, forcing a total of four turnovers - tied for the fewest in the league - and struggling at times late in games.

The unit allowed 14 fourth-quarter points to Cincinnati in a 23-20 loss in Week 3, and also couldn’t close out Chicago in Week 2.

Despite racking up seven sacks in last week’s game - three by James Harrison(notes) - Pittsburgh allowed the Lions back into the contest late. For the season, the Steelers have been outscored 55-13 in the fourth quarter, the league’s worst margin.

“We’ll get it right,” wide receiver Hines Ward(notes) said. “Would we like to close teams out? Yes, of course. But when teams are playing the Pittsburgh Steelers, we’re the defending champions, and they’re going to give us their best.”

The Browns’ best was finally good enough to them a 6-3 victory Sunday at Buffalo, snapping a 10-game losing streak dating to last season, but Cleveland’s 31st-ranked offense didn’t show much progress in racking up 193 total yards.

Although Jamal Lewis(notes) had 117 rushing yards on 31 carries, quarterback Derek Anderson(notes) was 2 for 17 for 23 yards and his fifth interception in 84 pass attempts this season. His woeful numbers weren’t helped by several dropped passes, and he’ll remain the starter after Brady Quinn(notes) lost the job earlier this year.

“There’s no style points for winning or for losing,” first-year Browns coach Eric Mangini said. “That’s always the end goal and we’re always going to try and do it in whatever way we can. And (Sunday) that was run the ball a lot, being able to play good defense and good special teams and winning field position. … There are definitely things we need to fix, but there are a lot of things I really liked.”

After scoring six or fewer points in three of its last four games, Cleveland (1-4) will almost certainly have to manage a bigger output offensively to beat the Steelers. That has been a problem against Pittsburgh, which has held the Browns to an average of 11.6 points during its 11-game winning streak in the series.

Cleveland totaled six points in two losses to Pittsburgh last year, including a 31-0 defeat Dec. 28 at Heinz Field, where the Steelers have won eight straight overall, including postseason.

“We’ll get rolling from here with Cleveland coming to town (Sunday),” Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley(notes) said.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger(notes) has never lost to Cleveland, but he hasn’t needed many big performances against the Browns over the years, in part because Pittsburgh has averaged 162.6 rushing yards in the last 17 matchups.

With Willie Parker(notes) nursing a toe injury, the Steelers’ ground game has gotten a big boost from Mendenhall, the 2008 first-round draft pick who missed most of last year due to injury. Mendenhall has 242 rushing yards on 44 carries - a 5.5-yard average - and three touchdowns in the last two games.

Roethlisberger hasn’t been pleased with himself despite going 49 for 63 (77.8 percent) for 610 yards, five touchdowns and one interception in that stretch.

“I don’t feel like I’m playing well,” Roethlisberger said.

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