The Browns have not beaten the Steelers since the first game of the series in 2003. The streak of 12 straight losses has a lot more to do with being dominated by Ben Roethlisberger than any mystical jinx.
Roethlisberger, from Findlay, Ohio, and the University of Miami (Ohio), is 10-0 against the Browns since the Steelers took him with the 11th pick in 2004. That was the year the Browns passed on Roethlisberger despite needing a quarterback to draft tight end Kellen Winslow Jr.
The Browns get the chance to stop the streak and cripple the Steelers' playoff hopes Thursday night in Cleveland Browns Stadium.
"A lot about him makes him unique," Browns coach Eric Mangini said. "He has great arm strength. He has the ability to avoid to his right and left and throw accurate passes on the move. He can scramble and hurt you that way.
"We had him last game when they were going to throw a screen. We had the screen covered. He was able to scramble to his right and pick up 13 yards. Not every quarterback can do that. He has a real good sense of where the rushers are and where he can escape to."
No one knows how well Roethlisberger escapes a pass rush better than the cornerbacks who have to cover the Steelers' receivers for what seems like an eternity. On Thursday, Eric Wright will have the unenviable task of covering Santonio Holmes, who leads the Steelers with 987 yards receiving.
When the Browns played the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Oct. 18 they sacked Roethlisberger three times and he still completed 23 of 35 passes for 417 yards and two touchdowns. He completed nine passes of 20 yards or more and threw two touchdown passes -- one 8 yards to Heath Miller and one 52 yards to Hines Ward.
Ward has a hamstring injury and might not play against the Browns. He caught eight passes for 159 yards in the game played two months ago. Holmes caught five passes for 104 yards. One covered 41 yards.
Roethlisberger missed a critical game against the Ravens on Nov. 29 because of a concussion. He has been sacked 30 times. Dennis Dixon, the quarterback who subbed for Roethlisberger, was not sacked in the Baltimore game. But despite the beating he takes year after year, game after game, Roethlisberger has completed 69.3 percent of his passes (255 of 368) this season for 3,145 yards because he is so good at buying time for his receivers to get open. The Steelers average 8.35 yards a pass play, fifth best in the NFL.
"It's difficult because the play is extended," Wright said. "The immediate route you could very well have it covered and covered well. A lot of times when you have great coverage on the initial route and it extends you're in a more vulnerable position.
"It's something you have to be mindful of and be ready to go. When a quarterback scrambles, anything goes. Guys just want to get open. You have to fight and claw and stay as tight as possible and not allow him to uncover."
SERIES HISTORY: 114th meeting. The Steelers lead the series, 58-55. During the 12 game losing streak the Browns have scored a touchdown or less six times. They have not beaten the Steelers in Cleveland Browns Stadium since winning 23-20 on Sept. 17, 2000.
--QB Tim Couch was playing when the Browns beat the Steelers 33-13 on Oct. 5, 2003. Since then Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson and Bruce Gradkowski have started for Cleveland against the Steelers and lost.
Gradkowski did beat the Steelers as the Raiders quarterback last week. He started for the Browns in the final game of 2008. He was their fourth quarterback last season and played because of injuries suffered by Anderson, Brady Quinn and Ken Dorsey. Gradkowski was 5 of 16 for 18 yards and two interceptions. His passer rating was 1.0. --QB Bernie Kosar played in an era when the Browns dominated the Steelers. He passed for 414 yards in a game against the Steelers on Nov. 23, 1986, in a game the Browns won 37-31. The victory was the second in line during a seven-game Browns winning streak.
--The Steelers' dominance of the Browns goes beyond the 12-game winning streak. Pittsburgh has beaten the Browns 18 times in 19 games. That includes a playoff game the Browns lost 36-33 on Jan. 5, 2003 in Heinz Field.
--The Browns' team photo was on the chair of each player in the locker room Monday. It was out of date. The picture was taken on the first weekend of the season. Sixteen players are new to the roster since then.
--The Browns have hired highly regarded attorney Fred Nance of Cleveland to be their general counsel. Nance played an instrumental role in returning the Browns to Cleveland as an expansion franchise after Art Modell moved the team to Baltimore in 1996. He was a candidate to become NFL commissioner before Roger Goodell was named to replace Paul Tagliabue.
--DE C.J. Mosley was placed on injured reserve Monday. His right ankle was broken in the first quarter of the game against the Chargers. Mosley played in all 12 games this season, but he was making his first start against San Diego because of the knee injury suffered by Kenyon Coleman a week earlier. He finished the season with 18 tackles.
--DE Derreck Robinson, a 6-4, 295-pounder who broke into the NFL as an undrafted rookie with the Chargers in 2005, was signed to replace injured C.J. Mosley. He played in 16 games with the Chargers in 2005-06 and seven with the Dolphins in 2007. He was out of football in 2008 and was in the Cowboys' training camp in 2009.
BY THE NUMBERS: 19 -- The Browns have lost 19 of their last 21 games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's not easy to build something that lasts and that can compete year in and year out. It's important to do it the right way." -- Browns coach Eric Mangini on rebuilding the Browns.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Derek Anderson, not Brady Quinn, was the starting quarterback when the Browns were beaten 27-14 in Pittsburgh on Oct. 18. Anderson was 9 of 24 passing for 122 yards, with one touchdown pass and one interception. Anderson was benched a month ago.
This will be Quinn's 11th NFL start in three seasons and his first against the Steelers.
Quinn has not thrown an interception since the third quarter of the game against the Ravens on Nov. 16. He has thrown 126 straight passes without being picked, and in that streak has thrown seven touchdown passes -- four in Detroit and three Sunday in the 30-23 loss to San Diego.
In the three games he started this season before being benched, he threw one touchdown pass and three interceptions.
"I think I've grown the whole season," Quinn said. "The whole team has. Since that point in Detroit, last week, this week, again we're progressing and maturing and making some strides."
Quinn has been inconsistent despite being protected. He completed 6 of 14 after throwing an interception in the Baltimore game Nov. 16 and was 15 of 34 for a mere 100 yards in the 16-7 loss in Cincinnati on Nov. 29. He was 21 of 33 for 304 yards against the Lions on Nov. 22, and 25 of 45 for 271 yards against the Chargers. The Browns lost all four games.
Whether Quinn has done enough in the current streak to show he should be the quarterback in 2010 and beyond is an open-ended question. Despite the long streak without an interception, Quinn has been up and down in his overall performance.
"Really, what I'm looking for right now is the next game," coach Eric Mangini said. "That to me is the most important thing because it can be up one week and down the next week. You need to see the consistency, not just from the quarterback position but from all of these positions."
--CB Eric Wright missed practice with a recurring hamstring injury.
--DE Kenyon Coleman missed practice with a knee injury.
--FB Lawrence Vickers missed practice with a hamstring injury.
--RB Jerome Harrison was limited in practice because of an illness.
--WR Brian Robiskie was limited with a toe injury.
GAME PLAN: Teams have taken advantage of the Steelers being without Troy Polamalu by running a spread offense. The Browns could do the same Thursday night.
The emergence of rookie Brian Robiskie (four catches vs. the Chargers) and tight end Evan Moore (six catches for 80 yards vs. the Chargers) gives Quinn more weapons than Derek Anderson had when the Browns played the Steelers in October. Quinn completed passes to nine players in the San Diego game.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Browns C Alex Mack vs. Steelers NT Casey Hampton. Mack has improved over the last six games. He said the game has slowed down for him. Hampton can be overpowering, but Mack is a strong center who can get a push on running plays and keep Hampton from collapsing the pocket.
Browns LB David Bowens vs. Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall is difficult to take down once he gets going, and it does not take long for him to get up to full speed. Mendenhall rushed for 62 yards on 17 carries the last time the Browns and Steelers played.
INJURY IMPACT: Cornerback Eric Wright did not practice Tuesday because of a hamstring injury. He did not practice the Friday before the Browns played the Chargers, but he started that game. The news is not as encouraging on end Kenyon Coleman. Coleman has not practiced or played since spraining his knee in Cincinnati on Nov. 29.