Browns-Steelers: Five things to watch
By Marla Ridenour
Beacon Journal sports writer
POSTED: 04:36 p.m. EDT, Oct 17, 2009

1. James Harrison vs. Joe Thomas.
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Harrison, the NFL's defensive player of the year in 2008 and a two-time Pro Bowler from Kent State and a Coventry High graduate, has recorded five of his team-leading six sacks in the past two games and has forced two of his four fumbles. He led the league in the latter category with seven last season, along with a team-record 16 sacks.
''He's been playing at a high level all year,'' Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. ''Being a quality player doesn't always register in the form of sacks. He's been a disruptive force, the same guy. I don't get preoccupied with sacks, they don't necessarily measure impact. When he's on the field, offenses know it and that's what matters.''

Unless he's dropping into coverage, Harrison will line up exclusively over left tackle Joe Thomas. Counting Harrison, the Browns will have faced four of the league's top-five pass rushers in Denver's Elvis Dumervil, Cincinnati's Antwan Odom and Minnesota's Jared Allen. Dumervil had four sacks, most against right tackle John St. Clair. But Thomas shut out Allen, and Odom's one came when quarterback Derek Anderson turned right into him.
Thomas said Harrison is ''very strong, very quick, powerful, a good athlete. He's obviously figured out what works for him.''

Harrison is 6-foot and 242 pounds, built somewhat similarly to Dumervil, 5-11 and 248. Thomas said that makes Harrison harder to block.
''He uses his height to his advantage. He's a guy who plays with really good leverage because he is a little shorter,'' Thomas said. ''He's so compact, he really gets into your body and can do some damage.''
But Thomas couldn't compare Harrison and Dumervil.
''Dumervil's about the same size, but he's not as strong and he's just different. He plays different,'' Thomas said.

2. Polamalu's return.
Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu is expected to return after missing all but the first two quarters of the season with a sprained knee. Named to five Pro Bowls in his first six years, Polamalu is the Steelers' tone-setter and has 18 career interceptions. In 2008, Polamalu finished with a career-high seven interceptions (tied for second in the league), including one in strings of three and four consecutive games. The Steelers are 14-3 when he has an interception.

Asked what Polamalu means to his defense, Tomlin said: ''That's obvious. He's one of the best in the world at what he does. If he should play this weekend, it sure would be a big help to us. When he's in the game, he sets the standard.''

Quarterback Derek Anderson will be on the lookout for Polamalu, whom he has played against since high school. Both grew up in Oregon and also faced each other in the Pac-10, Anderson at Oregon State, Polamalu at USC.
''He trusts his instincts. He reads routes. He tries to read your eyes,'' Anderson said. ''He's a great football player. I know the magnitude and effect he can have on a game.''

3. Double trouble.
Steelers running back Willie Parker also might be back after missing the past two games with a toe injury. Starting in his absence, second-year man Rashard Mendenhall, who is expected to start Sunday, totaled 242 yards, averaged 5.5 yards per carry, and scored three touchdowns. Mendenhall's 165 yards rushing against the San Diego Chargers were the most by a Steelers back since Parker's club-record 223 yards against the Browns in 2006. This week the Browns rank last in the league against the run, giving up 170.4 yards per game.

''Mendenhall is a bigger back, he's going to pound you,'' Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. ''And they've got Fast Willie. If you give him a seam, he's going to take it.'' Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said: ''Pittsburgh's going to run the football, that's who they are. They make a lot of plays in the passing game, but they're going to try to grind it, they always do. We must be ready.''

4. Heath Miller.
The Browns haven't been able to cover a tight end in a decade, which spells trouble today. Heath Miller of the Steelers has 29 catches in five games and a team-high three receiving touchdowns. His career-high for catches came last year with 48; this year he's on pace for 93.

5. Derek Anderson.
Since he took over for Brady Quinn 21/2 games into the season, the Browns' quarterback has thrown five interceptions. But three of those came at Baltimore, when he entered trailing 20-0 and was took more chances.
In four career games against the Steelers (three starts), Anderson has completed 68 of 132 with five touchdowns and four interceptions. His best performance came on Nov. 11, 2007, in Heinz Field, when he threw for three touchdowns in a 31-28 loss. ''The games I've played in, we just haven't finished,'' Anderson said.

Prediction: Steelers 31-21. Ridenour's record: 5-0.