Rattling rookie quarterbacks: No defense has a better record against rookie quarterbacks the past eight years than the Steelers. Under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, Pittsburgh is 13-1 against starting first-year quarterbacks, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. That record includes a 24-17 victory against Bengals rookie Andy Dalton three weeks ago when Pittsburgh intercepted him twice in the fourth quarter. Since 2003, the Steelers have limited starting rookie quarterbacks to 167.9 yards passing, allowing 10 touchdowns while notching 15 interceptions. The only rookie to beat Pittsburgh during this stretch was the Ravens' Troy Smith in the 2007 regular-season finale, when the Steelers rested many of their starters.
Running game heats up: During the John Harbaugh era (since 2008), Baltimore has rushed for 152.6 yards per game in December and January, third-best in the NFL. Only the Panthers and Jets have averaged more in that time. Run defense has been a major weakness for the Browns, who have allowed a league-worst seven running backs to gain more than 100 yards against them. Cleveland ranks 29th in the NFL in run defense and has given up 11 runs of 20 yards or more, which is tied for sixth-most in the league. This could be a game where Ravens running backs Ray Rice and Ricky Williams combine for more than 30 carries.
No NFL quarterback has thrown a higher percentage of his passes 10 yards downfield or less than Cleveland's Colt McCoy, at 76.1.
Fourth-quarter finishes: Cincinnati has recorded five fourth-quarter comebacks this season, which has been uncharacteristic for this franchise. Before this season, in their first 130 games under coach Marvin Lewis, the Bengals rallied back in the fourth quarter only 14 times. The Bengals, though, can't wait until the fourth quarter against the Steelers. While Pittsburgh has struggled in the past to close out games defensively, the Steelers have been shutting down teams in the end since allowing that 92-yard winning drive to the Ravens. Pittsburgh has won its past two games by making three interceptions in the fourth quarter.
Stopping short passes: Whether this is an indication of Colt McCoy's arm strength or the lack of deep threats on the Browns, McCoy has thrown a league-high 76.1 percent of his passes 10 yards or fewer downfield this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He averaged a career-low 4.4 yards gained on his 34 pass attempts at the Bengals last Sunday. McCoy’s average yards per attempt is 5.9, the lowest of any qualifying quarterback. The Browns' short passing attack plays right into the strength of the Ravens. Only the Texans have allowed a lower percentage of those short passes to be completed in 2011 and no team has allowed fewer touchdown passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Needing to win more than respect: The Bengals proved they could compete against the AFC North first-place teams, but they need more than moral victories against teams like Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the final five weeks of the season. Cincinnati is 6-0 against teams that currently have losing records and is 1-4 against those with winning records, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The only team the Bengals have beaten that has an above-.500 record now is the Titans (6-5). One reason why Cincinnati has failed to defeat the better teams is its ability to take care of the ball. The Bengals' turnover ratio against losing teams is plus-6 but it's minus-2 against winning teams.