The Browns have been looking forward to their next game since the day the schedule came out. On Sunday afternoon they will host the Pittsburgh Steelers in Cleveland Browns Stadium with the chance to avenge one of the worst losses in franchise history.
Less than 30 minutes after the Browns beat the Falcons last week, Braylon Edwards let loose with a zinger he knew would make the bulletin board in Pittsburgh. What's more, he did not care.
"You don't beat somebody 41-0 at their own house," Edwards said after the Browns held on to beat the Falcons 17-13. "We're coming for the Steelers. That's point-blank, period. We're coming after their asses."
The Steelers humiliated the Browns 41-0 on Christmas Eve in Cleveland Browns Stadium last year. The score was embarrassing enough. Just as bad was that by the third quarter more Steelers fans than Browns fans were in the stands.
"I noticed that," coach Romeo Crennel said before practice Wednesday.
Edwards did not play in the 41-0 drubbing. Three weeks earlier his rookie season crashed and burned when his right ACL was torn while trying to make a leaping catch in the Jacksonville game.
Since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, there has been a noticeable lack of extra enthusiasm by the Browns to play the Steelers. The Arizona Cardinals might as well have been the opponent. It's not that the Browns weren't motivated to play football, but it was like, "Game 10 on the schedule -- who do we have? Oh, Pittsburgh. We have to be ready. That's a pretty good team."
The Browns and Steelers are both 3-6, four games behind Baltimore in the AFC North with seven games to play.
Linebacker Andra Davis talked about the Steelers, but he is more diplomatic than Edwards.
"Everybody knows Christmas Eve 41-0; that never left us," Davis said. "That's personal right there. We're definitely looking forward to that one."
Crennel had no problem with his players talking about the Steelers early in the week. In fact, he dredged up the game in his post-game speech in Atlanta. Crennel, however, did not say anything inflammatory.
"We were embarrassed the last time we played them and we want to make a better showing," Crennel said. "We all want to play better and that's what we're going to try to do."
The Browns play the reeling Bengals and the Chiefs after the Steelers in a three-game home stand. They could be 6-6 when they play in Pittsburgh Dec. 8.
When Crennel named Jeff Davidson to take over play-calling duties from Maurice Carthon last month he predicted "things could get worse before they get better." He was wrong. The Browns have won two of three games with Davidson as offensive coordinator.
The offense has not been explosive, but more opportunities have been created. The Browns were in the red zone 16 times in the first six games. They were in the red zone 11 times in the three games Davidson called plays. They beat the Jets 20-13, lost the San Diego despite scoring 25 points and beat the Falcons 17-13.
SERIES HISTORY: 109th meeting. The Browns lead the regular series 55-51. The rivals have met twice in the playoffs. The Steelers won both times. The Steelers have won 11 of the last 12 games in the so-called Turnpike Rivalry.
--A Cleveland television station is reporting it has been told Browns owner Randy Lerner is "enamored" with Steelers coach Bill Cowher. Cowher played for the Browns from 1980-82 and was an assistant coach under Marty Schottenheimer from 1985-88.
In 1998, former Browns president Carmen Policy mentioned Mike Holmgren as someone he would like to coach the Browns. Holmgren was coaching the Packers at the time and the remark cost Policy $10,000 for tampering. Lerner would likely be spared since the Cowher remark was not made directly by him.
--The Browns special teams were awful in 1999, so after one season Ken Whisenhunt was replaced as special teams coach. Now Whisenhunt is the Steelers offensive coordinator and a candidate to replace Cowher if Cowher retires after this season.
--The 41-0 loss to the Steelers on Christmas Eve goads the Browns for more than the final score. Charlie Frye, then a rookie quarterback making his fourth start, was sacked eight times.
--The Steelers won't learn much about the Browns pass offense by watching tape of the 41-0 massacre. Three of the Browns top four receivers in that game -- Aaron Shea, Antonio Bryant and Frisman Jackson are no longer with the club.
--Of all the losses to the Steelers in the first seven years of the expansion era, none hurt as much as the 36-33 playoff loss in the 2002 season. The Steelers scored 29 points in the final 19 minutes, yet despite that the Browns would have preserved the victory had Kelly Holcomb completed a late third down pass to Dennis Northcutt. Northcutt dropped the pass and the Browns punted. The Steelers' Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala scored the winning touchdown on a three-yard run with 54 seconds left.
--The Browns have beaten the Steelers only three times in the expansion era. Only one of those victories was at home. Courtney Brown had three sacks in 2000 in a 23-20 victory.
--After watching former Brown Chris Gardocki punt successfully for the Steelers for two years, the Browns are content with their own punter, Dave Zastudil. Gardocki is still punting well for the Steelers, but Zastudil is sixth in the league in net average (38.9), 10 slots ahead of Gardocki.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- Romeo Crennel is 1-7 in games against AFC North opponents.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's going to be a great experience to go out and play against the Super Bowl champs. One of the first things I was made aware of when I got to the city of Cleveland was how important this game is to our fans." -- Rookie linebacker Kamerion Wimbley on playing the Steelers
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Browns might be without starting running back Reuben Droughns when they play the Steelers unless he makes rapid improvement from a foot injury sustained playing the Falcons last week. Droughns finished the game but awakened Monday with a swollen foot.
"I'm always on alert because you never know," Wright said. "Anything can happen in the middle of the game, so it isn't really a factor. I'm going to know all my assignments."
Wright started against the Ravens because Droughns was out with a sore shoulder. Wright rushed for 31 yards on 15 carries. He has 39 yards rushing on 18 carries.
Coach Romeo Crennel reported Droughns is wearing a walking boot. Droughns shucked the boot and watched practice from the sideline wearing sweats and shoes. Crennel will know more about Droughns' playing status Thursday and Friday.
--LB Willie McGinest did not practice Wednesday. He has a nagging ankle injury. He was bothered by the ankle injury last week but played against Atlanta.
--CB Leigh Bodden will likely miss his second straight game with a sprained left ankle. He was unable to practice Wednesday.
--The Browns are continuing to assess CB DeMario Minter. Minter started the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list with a knee injury. The Browns must decide by next week whether to activate him or put him on injured reserve.
--LB Leon Washington missed practice Wednesday with a twisted ankle. He has been getting more playing time in nickel situations and will be evaluated on Thursday.
GAME PLAN: Pass blocking schemes have been altered to give quarterback Charlie Frye more protection. Frye was sacked eight times when the Steelers pounded the Browns 41-0 on Christmas Eve.
Frye made his fourth NFL start in that Pittsburgh game. In addition to getting what he hopes is better blocking, Frye also wants to throw the ball sooner than he did in the Dec. 24 game. His indecisiveness as a rookie showed.
"I'm a lot different than I was then," Frye said. "I've been improving every week. I'm looking guys off. I'm putting the ball where I want it -- the little things it takes to play quarterback."
The Browns want to exploit an injury-riddled Pittsburgh secondary, particularly if a foot injury prevents starting running back Reuben Droughns from playing.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Browns C Hank Fraley vs. Steelers NT Casey Hampton: The knock on Fraley when the Browns acquired him from the Eagles was he does not play well against nose tackles in a 3-4 defense. That proved to be the case when the Browns played the San Diego Chargers and their nose tackle, Jamal Williams. Fraley cannot outmuscle Hampton. One of the main reasons the Browns signed LeCharles Bentley in free agency was they envisioned him controlling the middle of the line when the Browns play the Steelers. Fraley's most important job will be to keep the middle of the pocket from collapsing on Charlie Frye.
--Browns S Brodney Pool vs. Steelers TE Heath Miller: Pool does not start, but he is used in passing downs against the opposing tight end. He played in Atlanta last week and held Alge Crumpler to 37 yards on four catches. Safety was a question mark at the beginning of the season but Pool plus starters Brian Russell and Sean Jones have played well. Jones has five interceptions. His teammates believe he belongs in the Pro Bowl.
INJURY UPDATE: CB Leigh Bodden (ankle), CB Jereme Perry (ankle), LB Leon Williams (ankle), LB Willie McGinest (ankle), S Justin Hamilton (back), RB Reuben Droughns (foot) and TE Kellen Winslow (knee) are questionable. All missed at least a portion of practice Wednesday. QB Charlie Frye is questionable with a left wrist (non-throwing hand) injury. He did not miss any practice.