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Game Preview: Browns-Steelers

Posted Dec 29, 2012

The Cleveland Browns end the 2012 season with Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

The opportunity for which quarterback Thaddeus Lewis has waited his entire football life will come when the Cleveland Browns face the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have the NFL’s top-ranked defense, at Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon.

Lewis will make his first career start in the NFL in place of Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy, who suffered right-shoulder injuries in last Sunday’s loss to the Denver Broncos.

“It’s exciting to get the official word that you’re starting,” Lewis said. “It’s a blessing for a childhood dream to come true. It’s one opportunity you’ve got to go make the best of. This week’s been great. It’s an opportunity to display what you can do. Being here the whole 17 weeks, it’s the same playbook that we used in camp.

“It’s a challenge and if you don’t like challenges, you’re in the wrong sport. It’s a great challenge for this football team, as an offense to play against the No.1 defense and try to be successful.”

Making his debut as a starting quarterback in the NFL is something Lewis is looking forward to, especially in front of 65,500 fans, the majority of who will be sporting black and gold and waving the “Terrible Towel.”

“It was one of the loudest stadiums I’ve ever been in,” Lewis said. “The music was great; the fans were loud and it’ll be a great atmosphere. That’s what you want when you’re a football player, (to) go into an atmosphere like that.

“I prepare well; I watch film; I talk to my coaches. I’m going to lean on the things that I’ve been taught and the things I’ve been seeing all week.”

Lewis will not be the only new starter in the Browns’ backfield.

Running back Montario Hardesty will start for rookie Trent Richardson, who was ruled out by coach Pat Shurmur on Friday after missing a week of practice due to an ankle injury in last Sunday’s loss at the Denver Broncos.

“He’s a guy that’s been here, battled injuries, and is finally healthy,” Lewis said of Hardesty. “He’s going to get an opportunity to go out there and show what he can do. I’m pretty sure he’s going to take full advantage of it. You’ve seen glimpses of him this season. When he got the ball, he made great runs. That’s all I expect out of him on Sunday.”

Hardesty has rushed for 234 yards and one touchdown on 51 carries this season. After not plyaing in three of the first four games of the season, Hardesty rushed for 56 yards and one touchdown in a 34-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in relief of Richardson. Richardson suffered a rib injury early in the win over Cincinnati.

“I think Montario is going to play well Sunday,” said running backs coach Gary Brown. “He’s been preparing all season. Now that he has an opportunity to go out and play, I think he’s going to play well. We all saw the flashes. Now, he’s going to have an opportunity to hopefully get 20-25 carries to see what the real Montario can do.”

Having played against the Steelers twice in his career, Hardesty is expecting a physical game in Pittsburgh.

“For us, it’s another divisional game against another AFC North opponent,” Hardesty said. “Those are our rivalry games and those are always fights. You’ve got to come ready to play, go pad-to-pad every single play. That’s what you’ve got to do. It’s going to be an AFC North battle, so we’ve got to come ready to play.”

The Steelers are ranked first in the NFL in total defense, having allowed only 272.9 yards a game, and against the pass, 185.4 yards per game.

“They’ve been doing the same thing with the same players for so long,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “They could probably walk off the bus doing what they’ve got to do. They’re outstanding and they’re talented. They’re a top-ranked defense again this year.

“Everybody talks about what they are and aren’t, but, as a coach, when you sit down and watch the tape, we’re well aware of what they are. Everybody deals with guys in and out of the lineup, but the consistency they’ve had in scheme and for the most part, in the players, especially in the front seven, has really allowed them to have success year-in and year-out.”

When the Browns’ defense is on the field, it will be working against a veteran quarterback and two-time Super Bowl winner in Ben Roethlisberger. The nine-year veteran has completed 269 of 426 attempts for 3,131 yards and 23 touchdowns against eight interceptions this season.

In his career, the 6-foot-6, 241-pound Roethlisberger has become the Steelers’ all-time leading passer by being able to throw on the run and extend plays with his feet.

“You just know what Ben is as a player and you know that he can extend plays and ruin the game for you by making a big play when you feel like, for the first five or six seconds of that snap, you’ve got him defended,” Shurmur said. “That’s what’s always in the back of your head. I think that’s what he brings to the game. Thinking about the other side of the ball, I would guess that they feel good about their defensive effort last week. They’ve got (Troy) Polamalu back. He’s as disruptive as he’s always been. Their front seven is outstanding. They’re like a lot of teams. They’re dealing with guys in and out in the secondary. We know they’ll be ready to go.”