The Pittsburgh Steelers hope two familiar faces can help them bounce back from their first defeat in more than a month.
With veteran Charlie Batch under center and Plaxico Burress back where his career began, the visiting Steelers look to continue their dominance over the snake-bit Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Pittsburgh (6-4) has a firm grasp on a wild-card spot, but there is certainly reason for concern as injuries continue to mount. Already without safety Troy Polamalu, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will miss a second straight game with a sprained right shoulder and dislocated first rib.
Backup QB Byron Leftwich is also out after suffering a broken rib Sunday night when the Steelers' four-game winning streak ended with a 13-10 loss to Baltimore.
Enter the 37-year-old Batch, who is 5-2 while starting in place of Roethlisberger over the last decade. He was an economical 15 of 22 for 208 yards in a 27-0 win over St. Louis in his last start Dec. 24.
Batch was 13 of 19 for 150 yards and ran for a score in his only previous start versus Cleveland, a 34-21 Pittsburgh home win Nov. 13, 2005.
"Charlie's a great quarterback, and he's also been in the league for some time now,' Pittsburgh cornerback Keenan Lewis said. "He knows the offense upside down (inside out), so if we have to rely on Charlie, we know he could get in there and win games.'
If receiver Antonio Brown misses a third straight game with a bad ankle, Batch could find himself throwing often to Burress. The 35-year-old receiver signed with the Steelers on Tuesday to help a receiving corps that is down to three healthy bodies.
Burress, who had two 1,000-yard seasons while with Pittsburgh from 2000-2004, caught 45 passes for 612 yards and tied for the team lead with eight touchdowns for the New York Jets in 2011.
"He's in really good physical condition based on the workout I saw (Tuesday),' coach Mike 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.'
While Tomlin does not expect offensive coordinator Todd Haley to change the playbook much with Batch and Burress in the mix, the Steelers must execute better on third down after going 5 for 17 against the Ravens. Pittsburgh has converted on 49 percent of its third-down chances with Roethlisberger on the field.
The Steelers also could rely more on running the ball against a Cleveland defense that ranks 24th with 125.3 rushing allowed yards per game.
After missing four straight contests with an Achilles' injury, Rashard Mendenhall ran 11 times for 33 yards last weekend. He hasn't gained more than 84 in his last six games versus Cleveland.
Teammate Jonathan Dwyer, who has a team-leading 410 rushing yards, is also expected to see time.
Tomlin hopes his team's stout defense will take some of the pressure of the offense, which has scored one TD since Roethlisberger was injured in third quarter of a 16-13 win over Kansas City on Nov. 12. The Steelers are first in the NFL with 259.1 yards allowed and fifth at 19.0 points given up per contest.
Pittsburgh has won 22 of 24 against the Browns and outscored them 96-31 during a four-game winning streak in the series, with Cleveland managing two touchdowns in those contests. The Steelers have taken two straight and 13 of 15 in Cleveland.
The Browns (2-8) found the end zone twice last Sunday but blew a 13-point halftime lead en route to a 23-20 overtime loss at Dallas. Since 2010, Cleveland has lost an NFL-leading 18 games by seven or fewer points, including five this season.
"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.'
Brandon Weeden threw a pair of TD passes to Ben Watson and was not intercepted while Trent Richardson just missed his third straight 100-yard rushing game with 95. However, the Browns committed two penalties for 50 yards on Dallas' tying drive in the fourth quarter.
Cleveland is 0-5 this season without star cornerback Joe Haden, who missed last week's game with an oblique injury. Haden, however, returned to practice Wednesday and could play Sunday.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved