Crennel Awaits Steelers, Doom

Romeo Crennel was heralded as a winner as he arrived in Cleveland, but may leave with a winless record against the Browns arch-rivals in Pittsburgh...

On Sunday, Romeo Crennel will try to avoid becoming the only full-time coach in the history of the Browns to go winless against the arch rival Pittsburgh Steelers.

Soon after that, Crennel will try to convince team owner Randy Lerner not to fire him. Any slim chance he has of winning that debate would likely vanish if the Browns lose in Pittsburgh in their final game of 2008.

Excluding three interim head coaches, Crennel is the Browns 11th head coach since they entered the NFL in 1950. The 10 others, starting with Paul Brown in 1950 through Butch Davis, each beat the Steelers at least once. Bud Carson lasted less than two seasons, and he beat the Steelers twice. Chris Palmer coached in 1999 and 2000 before being fired and he beat the Steelers twice.

Crennel is 0-7 against the Steelers. The deck is stacked against him ending that streak because the Browns have been decimated by injuries, particularly at quarterback and tight end. The injuries are one reason he believes the 4-11 season is not a true indication of how the Browns could perform.

"I think that if given the chance, I can turn it around," Crennel said. "We won 10 last year and I feel like we can win 10 again and we can win more.

"That's not in my hands. It's out of my control. All I can do is make a case for myself and say that given the chance, I will be able to get it turned around. If I'm given that chance I know that I will do everything I possibly can to get it turned."

Lerner was non-committal in an interview with reporters on Nov. 25, saying he would evaluate Crennel and general manager Phil Savage next month. The Browns have lost four straight since then.

Crennel said he has not spoken with Lerner "lately." Earlier in the season he said he would talk to Lerner often. There is speculation Lerner has distanced himself from Crennel and Savage during his evaluation process, but Crennel is hopeful Lerner will give him the opportunity to say why he should not be fired.

"Even thought I do know Randy well, he is the owner," Crennel said. "He's got a lot of different things he's got to consider and look at and he will make that determination in January when the season is over.

"At that time, when I get the chance to sit down and talk with him, then I can make my case. Then he's going to have to decide whether I've made a good enough case and whether he wants to stay with me in this job."

The Browns were 4-12 in 2004, the year before Savage and Crennel were hired. They were 6-10 in 2005, 4-12 in 2006 and 10-6 last season.

Crennel said this is the toughest season he has experienced in his four years as head coach, but he made no excuses for what has happened, even though there are plenty of them, starting with dropped passes by Braylon Edwards and injuries to his top two quarterbacks.

During the first four games, Edwards was the only legitimate receiver on the roster; Joe Jurevicius was and still is on the Physically Unable to Perform list and Donte Stallworth was sidelined with a quadriceps injury. Kellen Winslow has missed a total of five games.

SERIES HISTORY: 112th meeting. The Steelers lead the regular-season series, 56-55, and are 2-0 against the Browns in the playoffs. For more than 55 years the Browns led the series against the Steelers, but beginning in 1994 the scale tilted decidedly in favor of Pittsburgh. The Steelers have won 23 of the last 26 games with the Browns, including a game in the second week of 2008 when they beat the Browns, 10-6.

 

NOTES, QUOTES

--Browns special teams coach Ted Daisher says his own kicker, Phil Dawson (30 of 35 on field goals), and Steelers kicker Jeff Reed (26 of 30 on field goals) are two of the best in the NFL. He says Reed has to kick on the worst field in the league in Heinz Field.

--Here are the records and winning percentages of the Browns head coaches since 1999: Chris Palmer, 1999-2000, 5-27 - .156; Butch Davis, 2001-2004, 24-35 - .406; Romeo Crennel, 2005-present, 24-38 - .387. Davis quit with five games left in 2004. Terry Robiskie took over and went 1-4. If those games are added to Davis' record, the Browns winning percentage in those four years is .391.

--The Browns have not scored an offensive touchdown in 314 minutes and 47 seconds. Their last offensive touchdown was scored by Jerome Harrison on a 72-yard run 13 seconds into the fourth quarter in Buffalo on Nov. 17.

--Since Harrison's touchdown the Browns have gone through three quarterbacks. Brady Quinn started the game in Buffalo and the next one vs. Houston. He is on injured reserve recovering from finger surgery. Derek Anderson started against the Colts on Nov. 30 and suffered a torn left MCL, ending his season.

The latest to fall is Ken Dorsey. Dorsey suffered a mild concussion and rib injuries in a 14-0 to the Bengals and did not finish that game. He was placed on injured reserve Wednesday.

--Win or lose against the Steelers, the Browns will have a top-10 draft pick for the seventh time in 11 years. If the Steelers beat them, and the Bengals, Seahawks and Raiders all win, the Browns would pick fourth. That would be their sixth top-five pick in 11 years.

--There have not been many areas of improvement for the Browns this season -- understandable when they go from 10-6 in 2007 to 4-11. But one area that has improved dramatically is touchdown passes allowed. They allowed 29 last year. They have allowed 19 this season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Probably, there are some things that might have been done differently. Right now is not the time to talk about what I might have done differently." -- Romeo Crennel, on three seasons and 15 games as Browns head coach.

BY THE NUMBERS: 17 -- Sacks by the Browns, third fewest in the NFL after the Chiefs (9) and Bengals (16).

 

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Bruce Gradkowski is the likely starter against the Steelers because Ken Dorsey is plagued by a mild concussion plus a rib injury and was placed on injured reserve. The top two quarterbacks, Brady Quinn (finger) and Derek Anderson (knee) are on injured reserve.

Rich Bartel was activated from the practice squad. The problem with Gradkowski and Bartel is they do not know the offense completely. Josh Cribbs does and might take an active role at quarterback Sunday in Pittsburgh.

Cribbs was a quarterback at Kent State. He has lined up at quarterback on occasion with the Browns, but he has thrown only two passes from scrimmage, both this season, in four years. Both were incomplete.

"We might have to depend on Josh a little bit more," coach Romeo Crennel said. "We're going to have to do is do a better job of managing him during the course of the game because all of those special teams plays are 40 yards or he's taking a hit. Then when you put him out there and play him on offense as well, you can wear him down."

Crennel said Cribbs would continue to return kicks, but some of his other special teams duties, such as punt and kick coverage, would be handled by other players.

 

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Jason Wright was put on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain. Tight end Brad Cieslak was signed to fill the roster spot.

--TE Darnell Dinkins did not practice Wednesday because of a rib injury.

--TE Kellen Winslow said he will try to play against the Steelers, but an ankle injury that sidelined him the last three games prevented him from practicing Wednesday.

--LG Eric Steinbach missed practice with a back injury.

--NT Shaun Rogers sat out practice with an ankle injury.

--LB Leon Williams missed practice with an ankle injury. It prevented him from playing against Cincinnati.

--P Dave Zastudil rested because of lingering tendonitis in his right knee.

GAME PLAN: The Steelers might rest some of their starters for at least part of the game Sunday. If they do, the Browns won't complain. They have lost five straight and would take any break they can to close the season victoriously.

"(Winning) gives you a better attitude going into the offseason because you did leave on a winning note," Coach Romeo Crennel said. "You can always grab a hold to that. That's important because the attitude going into the offseason kind of impacts what's going to happen in the offseason - maybe how a guy prepares and the choices that he makes and things like that. Every win is a good win."

The way the offense has played, or hasn't played, in the five-game losing streak, the defense has to be nearly flawless. The best chance the Browns have of pulling an upset is by creating takeaways and playing on a short field. They are capable of doing that. They have intercepted 22 passes and recovered eight opponent's fumbles.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Browns LT Joe Thomas vs. Steelers LB James Harrison. Harrison is one of the players coach Mike Tomlin might rest. Harrison is bothered by a sore hip. Thomas has regressed from his Pro Bowl year as a rookie, although he made the Pro Bowl again. Harrison has 16 sacks -- only one fewer than the entire Browns team. He did not register a sack when the Steelers beat the Browns, 10-6, in September.

Browns CB Eric Wright vs. Steelers WR Santonio Holmes. Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb beat Wright for a touchdown on a fade to Kevin Curtis and Bengals quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick beat Wright for a touchdown on a fade to Chris Henry. Whether the Steelers use Ben Roethlisberger or Byron Leftwich, Wright can expect the same treatment Sunday.

INJURY IMPACT: The Browns won't be losing much if Bruce Gradkowski has to play if Ken Dorsey (concussion) cannot. Tight end could be a problem. Kellen Winslow's ankle is still bothering him, Steve Heiden is on injured reserve with a knee injury and now Darnell Dinkins has a rib injury.


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