Another beatdown in store?
Yeah, yeah. We all know the litany.
Whenever the Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers get together on a football field, like this Sunday in Cleveland, it’s almost always a one-sided affair. It’s not even close to being a fair fight.
It’s certainly not fair what the Steelers do to the poor Browns, especially since professional football was reborn in Cleveland in 1999 after a three-year National Football League absence.
Even though the expansion Browns believe it or not won two of the first three meetings – they were back-to-back – since the return, it has been a Steelers gallery of victories ever since.
Since those two shocking early victories, the Browns have won only four more games, three of them at home. The Steelers, meanwhile, have feasted on the Seal Brown and Orange to the tune of 28-4 since October 2000.
That includes winning streaks of six, 12, four, four and the current two in a row. It has removed the true meaning of the word rivalry from what used to be one of the best rivalries in the NFL.
When one team beats the other so often and, in many cases, so decisively, the only rivalry that exists is purely geographical. The Browns over the years, it seems, just don’t get it whenever they face the Steelers.
They have no concept of the importance of winning these games. Yes, they are intra-division games, but they are so much more, especially to the fan bases of both franchises.
The Steelers, on the other hand, definitely get it, playing the game at a much higher level whether in Pittsburgh or Cleveland. These are two games on the schedule that call for that much more intensity, that much more aggressiveness, that much more meaning.
To the Browns, the two Steelers games on the schedule are, well, just another two games on the schedule. They do not get the meaning of the former rivalry. And it reflects in the outcomes.
These teams have meet at least twice a season – except for that three-year absence in the late 1990s – since 1950. Sunday’s game will be the 129th in the series. The Steelers, who have steadily pulled away in recent years after pulling even about 10 years ago, own a 70-58 lead.
It has been a series that features one-sided domination through the years. For example, the Browns at one time led, 32-9, in the series. Since 1990, the Steelers are 38-10 against Cleveland.
There is a long, storied history to the series, mainly because the two cities are so close geographically. They are roughly a two-hour drive from each other, depending on how fast you drive. Both are tough towns with a blue-collar bent and extremely passionate fan bases.
The biggest difference on the football field is the Steelers more accurately reflect their city than do the Browns, whose approach to football is not nearly as aggressive or pugnacious. And this Sunday, they will arrive in an extremely nasty mood. That’s because they have lost four straight games, two at home.
Nothing like looking at the schedule and seeing a soft spot, Cleveland, as the next opponent and thinking about getting healthy at the expense of a team seriously threatening to become only the second team in NFL history to go through an entire season without winning.
The Pittsburgh defense has surrendered a very un-Steelers like 113 points in those four games. But don’t worry. The Browns are next. That defense will improve in a hurry, at least for one week.
On the other side of the ball, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee in a loss to Miami and underwent surgery Oct. 17. Doctors said he would be out at least four weeks.
One game and a bye later, he was back, looking rusty in a loss in Baltimore, but he looked like the old Big Ben in a 35-30 loss to Dallas at home last Sunday, throwing four touchdown passes.
After the game, the veteran quarterback was frank in his assessment of the team. “We are undisciplined and not accountable,” he told the media. “That’s why (the Cowboys) are one of the best in the business and we’re not right now.”
The Steelers thought they had the Cowboys game wrapped up when Roethlisberger hooked up with Antonio Brown on a 15-yard scoring pass with 42 seconds left in regulation for a one-point lead. Less than a minute later, Ezekiel Elliott raced untouched with a short pass for his second touchdown of the game,
As for how it got this bad, Roethlisberger was flummoxed. “I don’t know,” he said. “Is it players? Is it coaches? I don’t know, but we need to get there quick.”
One glance at the upcoming opponent and the ability “to get there quick” became much more realistic than after the loss to the Cowboys.
Roethlisberger, an Ohio native, loves playing the Browns. And why shouldn’t he? He is 20-2 against them. It’s almost as though all he has to do to beat the Browns is throw his helmet onto the field and they shrink away. In case you are wondering, his only losses were 13-6 in Cleveland in 2009 and 31-10 in Cleveland in 2014.
The Browns arrived in Pittsburgh 53 weeks ago knowing Roethlisberger was sidelined with a foot injury. After starting quarterback Landry Jones was injured on the Steelers’ initial possession, Roethlisberger, sore foot and all, came off the bench to throw three touchdown passes in a 30-9 victory.
Several weeks later, the sore foot feeling much better, he threw three more scoring passes in a 28-12 victory in Cleveland. Roethlisberger, who has thrown at least one scoring pass in all but four games against the Browns, has strafed the Cleveland secondary for 5,323 yards and 35 scoring passes over the years.
OK, this Sunday’s game.
Even though they drag along a losing streak, the Steelers are by far the better team. The schedule has provided the right opponent at the right time this weekend. The timing, in fact, couldn’t be better.
With Roethlisberger back and throwing touchdown passes again, it really makes no difference what the Pittsburgh defense does, at least against the Browns, because the Steelers are capable of simply outscoring a weaker opponent.
Brown, an All-Pro wide receiver whose statistics suffer with Big Ben sidelined, is a different player with his quarterback healthy. And that means problems for the poor Cleveland secondary.
It also probably means more touches for running back Le’Veon Bell, another Ohioan, who has struggled this season. He has been more effective as a receiver than as a runner this season and has scored just twice.
The Browns will open with Cody Kessler back at quarterback after coach Hue Jackson unceremoniously yanked the rookie early in the second half of last week’s loss against Baltimore. How long his leash is probably depends on what his coach thinks he sees as the game unfolds.
Kessler enters the game with an impressive streak. He has thrown 119 straight passes without an interception. His lone pick of the season was made by Washington’s Josh Norman midway through the fourth quarter of a 31-20 loss in week four. Since then, he is 80-of-119.
Considering the Pittsburgh pass defense has swiped only four passes this season and linebackers own three of them, Kessler’s streak has a good chance of extending at least another game.
In the end, though, there is no question the Steelers have a much more talented roster. The sorry Cleveland offense, with a running game that looks as though it is running in mud and a passing game that cannot stretch the field, will make the very average Pittsburgh defense look like the old Steel Curtain for at least one week.
Jackson will yank Kessler’s leash once again and opt for Josh McCown to start the second half. But it will be far too late. The Steelers jump out to a three-touchdown lead at the half and the defense mauls both Cleveland quarterbacks for five sacks and two turnovers as another Steelers rout of the Browns unfolds.
The losing streaks reach 11 (this season) and 14 games (overall) as once again the Factory of Sadness lives up (down?) to its joyless nickname. Make it:
Steelers 38, Browns 6