PITTSBURGH - With only a couple of days to prepare for a game Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field, the Steelers didn't worry about coming up with a new offensive game plan.
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is keeping the one from the 35-7 win Sunday over Cincinnati - with only a few adjustments.
"The game plan is very similar to last week," said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. "But having an experienced group and a quarterback, we can do the no-huddle. And I think Bruce is comfortable that we're going to use the no-huddle in this game. That can help because you don't have to put in too much."
The Steelers (9-3) didn't use much of the no-huddle offense against the Bengals. A 28-7 halftime lead allowed Steelers to run the ball on 33 of 59 offensive plays.
Increased reliance on the running game has been a trend over the past three games. While the Steelers are passing the ball on 57 percent of their offensive plays, the attack has had more of an even split over the last three games, with Pittsburgh running the ball 51 percent of the time.
"That's the way we'd like to be," said Arians. "Each game kind of brings a different set of circumstances. This past one, we had a good lead. There was no need to throw the ball, other than to try to get Hines (Ward) some catches - and they double-covered him. Hopefully, we have some more like that."
The Steelers should be able to run against the Browns (4-, who rank first in the league against the pass (173.3 yards per game) but 31st against the run, giving up 151.3 yards.
"Every time we play a team that's ranked low in the rushing and high in the passing, we end up throwing the ball more," Arians said. "It's kind of crazy."
But with two rookie starters on the defensive line - end Jabaal Sheard of Pitt and defensive tackle Phil Taylor - the Browns have been susceptible to big rushing days. Despite being eighth in the NFL in total defense, in the past five games the Browns have given up 1,098 yards rushing, including 290 to Baltimore Sunday.
"It's probably because they're young," Arians said. "They're big and they're active. Because they're learning a new scheme, going from a two-gap 3-4 to one-gap 4-3, it's hard on some young offensive linemen. I think they're going to be really good. They're ranked very highly as a defense, but they have given up some rushing yards."
Arians also would like to work at getting Ward the 10 pass receptions he needs to reach 1,000 for his career - as long as he can do it in the context of winning games.
"I want to see him get it. But it's not something we can force," Arians said. "It's not like you can hand it to him and they count. We all want to see that happen, but it's not going to be something we force to happen.
"We've been together for so long, it's hugely important to me personally."
Odds and end zones
Reserve nose tackle Chris Hoke will have season-ending surgery next week to repair a nerve problem in his neck. ... Arians said wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (foot) is unlikely to play Thursday. ... In a statistical anomaly, the Steelers can clinch a playoff spot this weekend, while the Ravens, who own the same record and a sweep of Pittsburgh, cannot. The Steelers need a win coupled with a loss by Cincinnati and various combinations of losses by the New York Jets, Tennessee, Denver and Oakland to clinch. The Ravens cannot clinch a playoff berth because they still have a game remaining with Cincinnati Jan. 1.
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I'll believe it when I see it. Bruce loses all the fun he's having when Ben takes the reins.