Second-year cornerback Brandon McDonald expects Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to fire passes deep against the Browns Sunday night, particularly after the success Dallas quarterback Tony Romo had in the season opener. One of the 24 passes Romo completed was a 35-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Owens over McDonald.
"Being that we're a young group, they're definitely going to come after us again," McDonald said. "That's going to be week in and week out.
"This is a copycat league. Since Dallas threw a couple balls over our head, Pittsburgh is going to throw some deep balls and try to run the ball down our throats. A lot of things the Cowboys did against us, they'll probably try to do again this week."
McDonald should have had help from a safety on the touchdown pass to Owens, but it never arrived. Starting free safety Brodney Pool missed the Dallas game with a concussion. He is expected to start against the Steelers because he practiced Wednesday and Thursday -- he was injured in a preseason game Aug. 18 -- but starting strong safety Sean Jones won't be playing against the Steelers because he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Thursday. Mike Adams will start in place of Jones.
The Browns started correcting errors in the film room Monday and then took that to the practice field Wednesday and Thursday. Players on the scout team this week are mimicking Steelers receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes.
"We have to start from the beginning," McDonald said. "Our scheme is good. We just have to execute better. We made a lot of mental mistakes and had miscommunications in the back end against Dallas. In this league, those are things you can't afford to do.
"Things aren't always going to go your way. It's part of being a football player. It's just more critical when it happens in the back end because we're the last line of defense. We're going to try -- no, I'm not going to say try -- we're going to get those things fixed this week and we'll be a lot better on Sunday."
The Browns will try to slow a Pittsburgh offense that scored 38 points and rolled up 182 yards rushing against Houston in the opener. Last week, the Browns were scorched for 28 points and 487 yards by Dallas.
"They have Hines Ward, fast Willie Parker and Ben Roethlisberger," Adams said of the Steelers. "Those guys are dangerous.
"You can't compare them too much to Dallas because they're totally different teams, but athletically they're just as good. We have to step our game up and embrace the situation."
The more things change, the more at least one problem remains the same for the Browns. In this case, they are still trying to find ways to get to the opposing quarterback.
One of the main reasons the Browns traded for Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams in the offseason was to add punch to a pass rush that finished near the bottom of the league last season. The pass rush was shut out last Sunday when Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo completed 24 of 32 passes against it.
Coach Romeo Crennel says the Browns will mix their pass rush in the future, starting Sunday night against the Steelers in Cleveland Browns Stadium, with the hope the opposing quarterback won't have all day to throw as Romo did.
Early in the Dallas game, the Browns almost conceded they would not get to Romo and rushed only three players. But even with eight defenders in coverage, Romo completed 13 of 16 passes for 175 yards in the first half.
When the Browns did get minimal pressure on Romo, they rushed four or five, but Romo still completed 11 of 16 passes for 145 yards in the second half. Some of those were against a three-man rush.
Changes in scheme are coming -- not so much changes in personnel, because the Browns are already using what they consider to be their best pass rushers. The pass rush took a hit on the Wednesday before the opener when linebacker Antwan Peek tore a patellar tendon in practice, ending his season before it started.
"We could rush more guys," Crennel said. "But when you rush more guys -- everybody has been talking about our secondary and how we're not good enough on the back end. When we put more guys on the rush, if they don't get there, you expose those guys on the back end a little bit more.
"Now it becomes a chess match. You have to try to pick and choose when you want to rush more. We're going to have to mix it up. Sometimes we'll have to rush three. Sometimes we'll rush four or five or six.
"We'll have to mix it up and try our best to pick the most opportune time to put more people in the rush."
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 13 of 14 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns last Sunday when Pittsburgh hammered Houston 38-17. He was sacked twice.
Crennel conceded rushing five or six against the Steelers can be risky because Pittsburgh uses four receivers at times, so mixing up the pass rush might have to wait a week.
Outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley is determined to make the rush better, not just against the Steelers but in the 14 games to follow as well. Wimbley had 11 sacks as a rookie and five last season. Since he is the best pass rusher the Browns have, he sees constant double teams. He expects more of them from the Steelers.
"Nobody knew of me my first year," Wimbley said. "Last year offensive coordinators came with schemes to slow me down and wear me out. We've gotten players from other teams who told us 'our offensive coordinator specifically said you were a key person we had to stop in order to be successful.'
"Hopefully, people will still pay attention to me, but this time I have some more people to come along with me."
SERIES HISTORY: 111th meeting. The series is tied, 55-55, but the Steelers have a 2-1 edge in playoff games. The series has tilted decidedly in Pittsburgh's favor since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999. The Steelers have won nine straight and 15 of 16. Romeo Crennel is still looking for his first victory over the Steelers as a head coach.
--Getting whipped by the Steelers in the season opener last year changed the path the Browns would take for the rest of 2007. With the score 17-0 after the first quarter, coach Romeo Crennel yanked Charlie Frye and inserted Derek Anderson. Anderson started the next 15 games, got a three-year contract extension in the offseason and was made the starter this season.
--There have been many crushing defeats among the 57 games the Browns lost to the Steelers -- none more so than the 36-33 playoff loss in Pittsburgh on Jan. 5, 2003. The Browns led 24-7 at one point and saw the lead shrink to 33-28. They had a chance to ice the game in the final minutes, but Dennis Northcutt dropped a pass from Kelly Holcomb for what would have been a first down.
--The Browns ended a 16-year jinx in Three Rivers Stadium on Oct. 5, 1986, when they beat the Steelers 27-24. Webster Slaughter caught a touchdown pass from Bernie Kosar, Earnest Byner scored on a four-yard run and Gerald McNeil returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown. Matt Bahr kicked two field goals.
--Five games against the Steelers have gone into overtime. The only one the Browns won was at home when they beat the Steelers 37-31 on Nov. 23, 1986. Kosar threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Slaughter for the winning touchdown. Kosar completed 28 of 46 passes for 414 yards.
--The last time the Browns beat the Steelers was on Oct. 5, 2003. They won 33-13 in Pittsburgh. It was the best game of Tim Couch's failed career with the Browns. He completed 20 of 25 passes for 208 yards. He threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Andre Davis and a nine-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Johnson. William Green ran for 115 yards on a career-high 33 carries.
--The Browns' return to the NFL in 1999 was choreographed by the NFL to renew their rivalry with the Steelers in a nationally televised Sunday night game from brand-new Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Browns were pounded, 43-0. Tim Couch replaced Ty Detmer at quarterback the next week. The Browns totaled 28 offensive plays and netted minus-7 yards in the second half against the Steelers.
BY THE NUMBERS: 9 -- The Browns have lost to the Steelers nine straight times.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're not good enough, offensively or defensively, right now. I feel like we have talent on this team. If this talent will play to their ability, then this could be a good team. That's what I told them -- they have enough ability to be a good team. But everyone has to play together and play to that ability." -- Romeo Crennel, on the Browns after an 0-1 start.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Strong safety Sean Jones will miss at least a month after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Thursday morning. Jones was injured Aug. 7 in the preseason opener against the Jets. His knee swelled, but he kept practicing and playing.
Jones played in two more preseason games before finally sitting out the last one. On Wednesday, he said he should have had surgery earlier, but he "tried to play through it."
Mike Adams will replace Jones against the Steelers Sunday night in Cleveland Browns Stadium. Adams started against the Cowboys last week while free safety Brodney Pool sat out recovering from a concussion.
"Even in the Dallas game, I was playing both safeties," Adams said. "I don't think it will change much. I can play free or strong or be in the box. It doesn't matter. Don't put a tag on me. Brodney can play both and I can play both."
Coach Romeo Crennel said the Browns are on the lookout for safeties, but at this point have no plans to sign another one.
--WR Donte Stallworth was held from practice again Thursday because of a strained quadriceps. Coach Romeo Crennel said Stallworth is doubtful for Pittsburgh, but he did not rule out Stallworth playing.
--LB Willie McGinest will play in his 200th NFL game Sunday night. He is in his 15th NFL season and third with the Browns after playing 12 years in New England.
--LB Kamerion Wimbley was limited in practice Thursday because of a groin injury. He was not on the injury report Wednesday.
--S Brodney Pool was limited, but he practiced for a second straight day Thursday. Pool has not played since suffering a concussion Aug. 18.
--KR Josh Cribbs continues to improve from a sprained ankle. Coach Romeo Crennel said if cleared by trainers to play, Cribbs' assignments against the Steelers will not be limited.
--G Ryan Tucker is practicing, but he is not ready to play in a game. He is recovering from fracturing his hip May 14.
GAME PLAN: It is more important than ever the Browns figure a way to slow RB Willie Parker. The Browns were gashed by Cowboys RBs Marion Barber and Felix Jones last week, and now they have to face the Steelers without hard-hitting SS Sean Jones.
Parker rushed for 138 yards and three touchdowns against the Texans last week. He had success rushing outside. OLBs Kamerion Wimbley and Willie McGinest are going to have to fight off blockers and at least turn the play inside if they cannot make the tackle.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Browns C Hank Fraley, who weighs 310 pounds, vs. Steelers NT Casey Hampton, who weighs 325 pounds. Hampton is one of the best nose tackles the Browns face every year. He plays right over Fraley. He is strong and is difficult to push backward.
Browns LT Joe Thomas, who faced DeMarcus Ware last week, vs. Steelers OLB James Harrison. Ware sacked Derek Anderson once for zero yards last week. Harrison is as quick as Ware. He had three sacks for 20 yards last week. Anderson could use a three-step drop to stay on his feet.
INJURY IMPACT: KR Josh Cribbs was limited in practice Wednesday, but the Browns are encouraged his ankle will have healed sufficiently to play against the Steelers as a kick and punt returner and as a receiver. ... G Rex Hadnot was limited in practice with a knee injury. He might back up Seth McKinney on Sunday. ... S Brodney Pool was limited. He is being cautious about returning from a concussion suffered on Aug. 18.