The Browns have an experienced quarterback who has been to three Pro Bowls.
They'll be facing a rookie quarterback with two NFL starts under his belt for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On paper, the Browns should have the clear advantage when the AFC North rivals play at Heinz Field. But they might not. While Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has the benefit of a strong supporting cast, Cleveland's Jeff Garcia is still feeling his way with his Browns teammates and a new offensive system.
"I am getting better," Garcia said Wednesday. "It is something that I am continuing to work on every single week. It is coming. I'm getting more comfortable in situations where I can read and react instead of thinking about what I am doing on the field."
Garcia has made steady progress after hitting rock bottom against Dallas when he had a zero passer rating. His performance in Sunday's victory over Washington was his best of the season. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown. On Cleveland's decisive 80-yard touchdown drive, he completed a clutch third-down pass to Quincy Morgan and then withstood a heavy blitz to complete a 23-yarder to Andre Davis to set up the touchdown.
But it was not a glitch-free performance. He was sacked three times and twice was flagged for intentional grounding.
This week, Garcia will face more blitzing from Pittsburgh's 3-4 scheme. The Steelers are renowned for that, especially with Dick LeBeau back as defensive coordinator, though they have only nine sacks so far.
"They do a great job within their scheme of creating havoc," Garcia said. "Their scheme is different than most teams in the NFL. They have a very athletic defense. They have three or four linebackers who can go out there and make plays. They have a defensive line that never seems to quit, and they have active defensive backs that come up and hit. It is going to be important that we understand their blitz schemes."
The Steelers lead the AFC with 11 takeaways.
Garcia, who had to work his way to the NFL by going to the Canadian Football League, has an appreciation for what Roethlisberger is trying to deal with as a rookie thrust into action.
"It is a tremendous adjustment," Garcia said. "You can't just rely upon your natural athletic ability when you step on the field and try to make plays. It is such a mental game for quarterbacks. There is so much understanding in not only your own offensive system and schemes, but what defenses are trying to do against you as well."
After all, that's what Garcia is still trying to learn now as a 34-year-old.
SERIES HISTORY: 103rd meeting. The Browns lead the series 55-47. No
teams in the AFC have played each other as much as Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The
Steelers have won five of the last six meetings, including a 36-33 win in a
wild-card game in January 2003. The Browns' only victory in that span was a
33-13 rout in Pittsburgh last October.
GOOD MEMORY FROM A BAD SEASON: To Phil Dawson, the Browns-Steelers rivalry was an abstract notion until he kicked a 39-yard field goal to beat Pittsburgh 16-15 in 1999. That came after the Steelers embarrassed the Browns in their expansion debut.
"It was a big kick for the whole organization," he said. "We needed that one bad. Everybody was so ready to get this Browns-Steelers rivalry going, but we were all implants in '99. We knew nothing about the rivalry.
"To be able to go into Three Rivers Stadium and beat Pittsburgh was an awakening for a lot of people, myself included. (I realized), Wow, this game is really important to the people of Cleveland and the people of Pittsburgh."
NEW CODE WORDS: The Browns will face former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who is the Steelers wide receivers coach. Butch Davis fired Arians after last season's disappointing offensive performance.
Davis said the Browns will change some of their offensive terminology as a safeguard against Arians tipping off the Steelers about Cleveland's plays.
BROWNS RIGHT ABOUT GARDOCKI?: The Browns did not make a serious effort
to retain punter Chris Gardocki when he became a free agent after the 2003
season. Cleveland believed Gardocki's skills had started to erode. That decision
now looks like a wise one. Gardocki has the seventh-worst net average in the
league, averaging 35.0 yards. Gardocki's replacement, Derrick Frost, leads the
league with a 40.8-yard average.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We look forward to going to Pittsburgh. We know
they're going to call us every name in the bad-name book." S Earl Little said.