By now you’ve heard the Cleveland Browns planned to hand out white flags before Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It has been mocked anywhere and everywhere, as it should. On Saturday, the Browns announced the promotion would be scrapped.
Regardless, the symbolism is apt. The Browns have lost 16 of the last 17 meetings and have only beaten the Steelers four times since returning in 1999. Meanwhile, the Browns are on pace for another double-digit losing season, their 11th since 1999. Uncle. Someone hand me one of those white flags.
But it is not all doom, gloom and embarrassing marketing promotions. The Browns could actually win Sunday. Yes, that’s right. They could actually beat the Steelers.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is out because of injury. So, too, is their backup Byron Leftwich. Enter 38-year-old Charlie Batch. He entered the league in 1998 with the Detroit Lions and started 12, 10 and 15 games. Since 2000, he’s started 16 total games including one last season.
“Charlie Batch is an NFL quarterback that has had a lot of playing experience in this league,” Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. “He has won a lot of games. I have a lot of respect for Charlie, I always have. He’ll certainly be able to control the football game, understand their offense and everything they do. He won’t have the arm strength, clearly, that Ben has. Again, there are very few that do anywhere. We’ll have our hands full with their speed and their skill, and just their overall ability on the offensive side.”
The Browns defense is fresh of a game in which the front seven shined while the secondary struggled. Joe Haden was out because of an oblique injury, but he is expected to return. Haden’s main responsibility Sunday will be Mike Wallace, who has 46 catches for 563 yards and six touchdowns. He is a big-play specialist and those big plays seem to occur quite often against the Browns.
But that’s when Ben Roethlisberger is slinging the ball. Batch? Not so much. Fortunately for the Steelers, their new offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, has infused a different style from former OC Bruce Arians.
“You’re seeing more quick time throws,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “Generally speaking, they have a quick passing game and they like to run the football.”
The Steelers running game revolves among three players in Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Rashard Mendenhall. Combined the trio has on 817 yards and two touchdowns on 204 carries. Meanwhile, the Browns run defense has performed the last few weeks especially now with their top two defensive tackles, Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor, back and healthy.
Despite the defensive miscues at times this season, the Browns defense has kept a lot of their games close. The only problem is “close,” more often than not, is not enough for a Browns’ victory.
“I said going (into the season) we’re better, we were deeper,” said Jauron about the Browns’ defense. “We’ve had a number of injuries. We were deeper going into this year and all-around we were more talented. I though we’d be a deeper and a better and faster defense.”
The pressure resides with the Browns defense Sunday. You simply cannot allow a Charlie Batch-led football team beat you. And that would be exponentially more embarrassing than handing out white flags to your fans.