Browns-Steelers: Mid-Week Notes

Pittsburgh has had to sit one of their key defenders, as another gets ready to return...

The Browns face their nemesis on Sunday. A win against the Steelers would demonstrate real progress, unlike the kind they've shown the past two weeks when they played poorly and went 1-1.

The Browns have not defeated Pittsburgh since 2003, when Tim Couch was Cleveland's quarterback. The Steelers have won 11 straight in the series.

Included in that streak were several humiliating defeats -- including 41-0 on Christmas Eve 2005 in Cleveland, 27-7 on a frigid December 2006 night in Pittsburgh, 34-7 on opening day in 2007 and 31-0 to end last season.

Why is the streak important? Because it sums up the state of the Cleveland franchise. The Browns wallow and struggle and never improve, while the Steelers keep on winning. Ben Roethlisberger has yet to lose to the Browns.

If a team measures itself within its division, the Browns have light years to go to catch the best in the AFC North. The Steelers have defeated the Browns 17 of the last 18 times the teams have played.

"I think everybody appreciates the rivalry with the Steelers," coach Eric Mangini said. "The history with the Steelers, the intensity of emotion, the feeling. It's exciting."

The problem is that for the past five years, it's been anything but exciting for Browns fans.


--QB Derek Anderson completed just two passes in a 6-3 win over Buffalo but deserved a much better fate. Eight of his passes went through or off the hands of Browns receivers. Add on half of those drops to Anderson's total, and he has a more respectable day, though not a good one. One problem with the switch to Anderson is his receivers have not yet totally adjusted to the speed and timing of his throws.

--RB Jamal Lewis returned from a two-game absence and ran extremely well for the Browns in Buffalo. The Browns depended on him, which was a surprise given Jerome Harrison's performance the week before against Cincinnati. It's hard to guess how the Browns will use their backs, but given that they turned to Lewis immediately upon his return from a hamstring injury, it appears he will be the team's lead back.

--WR Mohammed Massaquoi showed the effects of suddenly being without Braylon Edwards against Buffalo. Massaquoi caught one of six passes thrown his way, dropped two and looked very uncertain. He'll need to grow up in a hurry if the Browns are going to improve offensively.

--WR Brian Robiskie finally got some playing time but was not thrown a single pass in Buffalo. The Browns offense needs both of its second-round picks at receiver to develop -- in a hurry.

--TE Robert Royal had another critical drop against Buffalo. Royal, though, is playing with an injured ring finger that normally forces the finger near his palm. He's trying to fight through by taping the ring finger and middle finger together during games, but it makes it very difficult to catch a pass.

--CB Eric Wright makes one bonehead play per game. Against Buffalo, it was a cheap-shot pass interference penalty when he easily could have intercepted a pass. Wright has shown he can cover, though, which keeps him in games.

--ILB Eric Barton was in and out of the Bills game after taking a shot to the neck. His status is uncertain, but if there's any way he can play, he will. He is a team captain. Too, the Browns don't need backups in the middle of the defense when they're giving up 170 rushing yards per game with the starters.

--NT Shaun Rogers has been effectively neutralized in the running game, as teams run away from him. But in the passing game, he is a disruptive force. Rogers routinely pushes two or three blockers into the pocket. The man is a human pocket collapser.

--KR Josh Cribbs showed his value on offense when he took an inside handoff while in motion and raced 31 yards down the left sideline. Cribbs is an excellent player, but he's most effective when he's used in situations offensively rather than on every down.

--P Dave Zastudil is one of the Browns' most valuable players. His punting against Buffalo was nearly perfect. Seven of his nine punts were downed inside the 20, two inside the 5. The Browns defense needs punting like that to make the field longer for the opposing offenses -- especially Pittsburgh's, which seems to do whatever it wants against the Browns.

--QB Brady Quinn probably would like to be traded out of Cleveland, but it's not known if the Browns are looking to deal him. Even if they were, it's not a certainty they could trade him. Quinn's market value is not very high right now.


Just as they were getting good news on the return of Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu, the Steelers issued some bad news on defensive end Aaron Smith.

Smith, one of their best players, has a right shoulder injury that "potentially could be significant," coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday.

Asked if Smith might miss more than one game, Tomlin answered, "I don't know the answer to the length of time at this point, but I will acknowledge that it is potentially significant."

What also is significant is that even though the Steelers finally drafted a defensive end in the first round, Ziggy Hood, Tomlin deemed him not ready to replace Smith in the starting lineup.

"By no means is Ziggy Hood a potential replacement for Aaron Smith at this point," Tomlin said. "It'll probably be a committee of bodies who'll try to fill that void."

The group will include Hood and veterans Travis Kirschke and Nick Eason, Tomlin said.

The problem for the Steelers might not come this week against the offensively lame Browns, but it could the following week against Adrian Peterson and the Vikings.

Smith not only is a great run stopper, but from his left end spot in the 3-4 defense, he always seems to get pressure on the quarterback. He has 15 quarterback hurries/pressures and is tied with linebacker James Harrison for the team lead. Smith also has two sacks.

As for Polamalu, Tomlin said the safety would practice Wednesday. Polamalu has not played since the first half of the opener, when he sprained his medial collateral ligament.


--WR Hines Ward maintained his hot pace Sunday with seven catches and now has 33 receptions, matching his age, for 440 yards.

--QB Ben Roethlisberger's completion percentage rose slightly to 73.8, and his passer rating hit triple digits for the first time at 102.6.

--WR Santonio Holmes has not been a big-play man yet. He averages 14.5 yards on 23 catches and has scored just one TD.

--TE Heath Miller has remained hot. He has 29 catches, 19 fewer than his career high last season, and leads the Steelers with three scoring receptions.

--RB Willie Parker will practice Wednesday for the first time since he developed turf toe in the game at Cincinnati on Sept. 27. He has missed the past two games.

--LB James Harrison is in familiar territory. His three sacks in Detroit give him six in five games after he set the team record with 16 last season.

--DE Travis Kirschke likely would start if Aaron Smith cannot go, but he is having back issues after Sunday's game. He's had problems with his back before, but they haven't forced him to miss a game.

--CB Deshea Townsend, who has played some safety in Troy Polamalu's absence, is likely to return to nickel corner with Polamalu's return to the lineup.

--CB William Gay is tied for the team lead with 34 solo tackles. He has 1.5 sacks and is second on the team with six passes defensed. This is Gay's first season as a starter after he alternated with Bryant McFadden on the left side last season.

--RB Rashard Mendenhall should make his third straight start Sunday even if Willie Parker returns to play. Mendenhall averages 5.6 yards per carry and has 242 yards in the past two games.

The OBR Top Stories