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Browns-Steelers: Five keys

Posted Dec 27, 2013

Browns Senior Editor Vic Carucci breaks down the five keys for Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

>>Find a reason to give optimum effort. If a paycheck isn’t enough motivation, then the Browns’ players need to focus on other factors, beginning with their ability to snuff the Steelers’ playoff hopes. Then there is the desire to put an end to a six-game losing streak and not enter the offseason with the stigma of a seven-game skid. Then there is the need to leave a favorable impression on the Browns’ decision-makers or decision-makers from other potential NFL employers. And last, by definitely not least, there is the opportunity to reinforce their connection with their first-year coach, Rob Chudzinski, who carries the brunt of another losing season on his shoulders.

>>Don’t allow Ben Roethlisberger to again operate with a clean pocket. One of the first glaring examples of the insufficient pressure from the Browns’ front seven showed up in the 27-11 loss to the Steelers on Nov. 24 at FirstEnergy Stadium. Roethlisberger wasn’t sacked and hardly felt any heat on the way to completing 22 of 34 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns. With repeated fourth-quarter collapses, third-down failures and the inability to prevent the likes of Chad Henne and Geno Smith to lead marathon touchdown drives, the Browns’ defense has fallen well short of high expectations generated by major offseason investment in coaching and talent. This would be a good time for it to show up and leave at least a little bit of an encouraging sign for next year.

>>Don’t let Le’Veon Bell dominate as a rusher and a receiver. It could easily happen. Since returning from a foot injury that sidelined him for the first three games of the season, Bell has emerged as a dynamic force and a leading candidate for AFC (if not NFL) offensive-rookie-of-the-year honors. He is an explosive runner and shows outstanding pass-catching skills out of the backfield. The Browns have struggled badly against the run the past two weeks, and are extremely vulnerable when opponents are able to isolate running backs and tight ends in coverage against linebackers.

>>Jason Campbell needs to make the most of his final statement of the season. Campbell has had some ups but more downs during his six quarterback starts for the Browns this season. He should have plenty of incentive to be at his best in this game. For one, he’d like to convince the team’s decision-makers that he should be in the mix for the wide-open quarterbacking competition that will commence in the offseason. It’s probably a long-shot, but Campbell certainly could help his cause by taking care of the ball and taking advantage of the big-play opportunities the Steelers’ blitzing defense can offer. Another motivating factor is the flagrant (but not penalized) blow to the facemask he received in the previous game against Pittsburgh from cornerback William Gay (who was subsequently fined $15,750). Campbell suffered a concussion that sidelined him the following week, and he hasn’t been quite the same since. His best means to get some payback is to burn Gay and the rest of the Steeler secondary by connecting with Josh Gordon, who had the first of his back-to-back 200-yard receiving games in the earlier Pittsburgh game, and others for long gains and scores.

>>Edwin Baker needs to make the most of his final statement of the season. It would seem that Baker has already earned a long look from the Browns based on his solid showings of the past two weeks. But a third strong game would figure to seal the deal for him to be in the thick of the competition for a significant role in the running game. Baker has quickly established himself as the most fun offensive player besides Gordon.

>>Carucci’s Call is presented by Revol Wireless. Save With Us.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET, for Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at daily@clevelandbrowns.com or by calling 855-363-2459.