The Browns are counting on an improved offense Sunday when they have their 2007 rematch with the Steelers. Pittsburgh won the season opener in Cleveland Browns Stadium, 34-7.
The biggest difference is Derek Anderson, not Charlie Frye, is the starting quarterback. Anderson has been so successful in Rob Chudzinski's offense it is easy to forget he started only three games before this season. He is ranked ninth among NFL quarterbacks with a 91.7 rating. The highest rating for a Browns quarterback since 1999 with a minimum of 150 passes thrown was 77.6 by Tim Couch in 2003.
Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow Jr. are healthier and more mature than they were a year ago. Edwards is in his second season following knee surgery in early January of 2006. Winslow is playing with a dislocated left shoulder and his right knee is acting up again, but he feels better than he did last year. Each has 42 catches halfway through the season and both are on their way to 1,000 yards receiving. Edwards caught a total of five touchdown passes in victories over the Dolphins and Rams. Winslow had his big day against the Seahawks with 11 catches for 125 yards.
"The biggest thing we've tried to do is make guys understand that it's about the team and that it's about everybody collectively doing their job," Chudzinski said. "That's one thing we try to do after the game is over.
"Everybody sees the great play that somebody makes, but not everybody sees that block, or that guy working hard and doing something extra on the back side to make that big play happen for that other guy. I think when you have a lot of guys that are playing for each other and not worrying about who gets the credit, you have something special."
Running back Jamal Lewis thought the Browns would be more of a running team than they have turned out to be. He might not reach 1,000 yards, but he is nonetheless content. Last week he rushed for only 37 yards, but he also scored a career-best four rushing touchdowns.
When coach Romeo Crennel earlier this week said the Browns will be a different team in Pittsburgh than the one the Steelers pounded in the opener, he could have been thinking about the offensive line. It was the first regular season game for rookie left tackle Joe Thomas, it was the first game for left guard Eric Steinbach after missing all preseason with a knee injury and it was the first game at right tackle for Kevin Shaffer. Shaffer and Tucker have been rotating in recent weeks.
Frye (five times) and Anderson (once) were sacked six times by the Steelers in the opener. Anderson has been sacked only seven times since.
"It goes back to being together for a time and consistency," Chudzinski said. "We're getting that with our offensive line getting healthy. We didn't have that in the preseason. Guys were coming in and out during some games and practices. We've had a chance to have some guys together for a few weeks. It helps and makes a difference. The more they are together the more they get what you're talking about."
Now, though, injury situations make it iffy for both starting guards. Right guard Seth McKinney has a shoulder injury and might not be ready to face the Steelers; he missed practice Wednesday and Thursday. Steinbach missed practice Thursday with a stiff back, but he hopes to play.
HOLMES HAMSTRING HURTING: Wide receiver Santonio Holmes did not practice on Thursday because of a new injury to his hamstring.
Holmes said he should be OK, but the hamstring injury raises concerns because he has become their best receiver and only true deep threat.
Holmes was not on the injury report until Thursday. He was on it last week for a bruised thigh, but started and caught two touchdown passes in a 38-7 route of Baltimore. His 536 yards receiving in his second season ranks just 14th in the AFC but his 17.9-yard average is tops among the top 20 in the conference.
He's the only receiver on the Steelers with a 100-yard game - he has two - and he leads them with six touchdown catches, halfway to the Steelers record of 12.
Tomlin said he was looking for Holmes to progress from last season, when he led all AFC rookies with 49 receptions.
"We've challenged him since the first day I walked in this building to do that," Tomlin said. "I think it's important, and not only him, but all second-year players, that they step their game up.
"He's wearing that and wearing that well. He's got desire to be great. The stage is not too big for him. He wants to be a reason that we're successful. And aside from the things you see him doing with the ball in his hands, he has desire to play a complete game. He's doing a nice job perimeter blocking and trying to be a complete receiver."
BROWNS PLAYER NOTES
-- LB D'Qwell missed his second practice this week because of an ankle injury.
-- LB Willie McGinest returned to practice after missing Wednesday for personal reasons.
-- With the injuries to both starting guards a concern, Ryan Tucker worked at right guard and Lennie Friedman practiced at left guard Thursday.
-- On Wednesday, Steelers LB James Farrior said Browns TE Kellen Winslow Jr. better "have his head on a swivel" because Winslow blind-sided Farrior with a late block last year in Pittsburgh. Winslow had no retort Thursday when asked about Farrior's remark.
-- LB Antwan Peek has swelling on his knee and did not practice.
-- CB Leigh Bodden was limited in practice because of a back injury.
STEELERS PLAYER NOTES
-- QB Ben Roethlisberger returned to practice Thursday and will start on Sunday against Cleveland. Roethlisberger left Monday night's game with a bruised hip and did not practice Wednesday.
-- RB Willie Parker, the AFC's leading rusher, returned to practice Thursday and will start on Sunday. Parker did not practice Wednesday because of slight swelling in a knee.
-- DE Aaron Smith went through another full practice Thursday and will return to start. Smith missed the first two games since his rookie season in 1999 because of a MCL knee sprain.
-- FS Ryan Clark will miss his third straight game with an inflamed spleen. Clark continues to be in pain and has done little, although he said it's improving.
-- FB Dan Kreider has practiced all week and likely will make his fourth straight start. Kreider, who had a concussion in Monday's game, has earned his starting job back from young Carey Davis.
Browns-Steelers: A Different Game
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