Browns-Steelers: Who can get off the deck?

<b>PITTSBURGH - </b> The Steelers not only lost to the Tennessee Titans last Sunday, they blew a 10-0 lead because of their own mistakes. <br><br> It was a demoralizing loss in every sense of the word, but Sunday night's opponent, the Cleveland Browns, went through an even tougher loss that day.

The Browns lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, 21-14, even though the Bengals were without their star player, Corey Dillon. It dropped the Browns to 1-3 overall, 0-2 within the AFC North Division and 0-3 in conference play, so not only is the record weighing them down, they aren't looking to get much help from tiebreakers, either.

The Browns played so poorly, the Bengals were left to make excuses for their own play. "It was a sloppy ballgame," said Justin Smith of the Bengals. "That wouldn't be acceptable for a high-school team."

Yes, the Browns were that bad. After taking 11 penalties for 101 yards, they walked off the field to the jeers of their own fans. Quarterback Tim Couch and right tackle Ryan Tucker added to the problems by stopping to engage in the arguments.

"I should've just kept walking," Couch said the next day.

One Cleveland area newspaper reported that "the Browns are a team worn out from a rigorous off-season and tough training camp." In looking for a reaction to his theory, the reporter wasn't greeted with "no way" but "no comment."

And the 14 points the Browns scored against the Bengals? It was a season high.

The Browns averaged only 3.1 yards per carry against the 28th-ranked run defense in the league, and in the passing game, Couch - playing in place of injured Kelly Holcomb - was sacked twice, pressured 16 times and hurried 11 times.

Still think the Steelers have problems? Well, the Browns haven't felt this bad since they packed a record-setting passing performance into a 24-7 second-half lead before collapsing in the playoffs last January against the Steelers.

"Pittsburgh has been one of those teams that have been a thorn in our side the last couple years," wide receiver Kevin Johnson lamented earlier this week. "They beat us every single time. Hats off to those guys."

It doesn't seem possible that the Steelers own this particular series, considering the way they had to scramble in the final moments to beat the Browns, not once, but twice last season. In the third game, at Cleveland, the Steelers turned back a rally to win by a field goal.

The Steelers have won the last six in the series, and seven of the nine games the teams have played since the Browns returned to the league in 1999. While Holcomb passed for more yardage against the Steelers in one game than anyone ever has, it's Couch who quarterbacked the Browns' two wins against the Steelers, one in 1999 and the other in 2000.

Couch started the two regular-season games last year and had a cumulative passer rating of 57.5, and this year will be facing an improved Steelers pass defense that ranks second in the NFL. Holcomb, who expects to be active for the game, talked about the changes the Steelers have made.

"They're playing a little bit more cover 2 than in years past, but they're still the same old Steelers," he said. "They show you a lot of different looks and if you can pick it up, you can make some plays, which is what happened in the playoff game. If you have no answer to the blitz, it could be a long day."

But the Browns' offensive line has been porous this season. Barry Stokes was moved to from guard to left tackle to replace injured Ross Verba, and Stokes is playing on a badly sprained ankle. Right tackle Ryan Tucker is also considered to be better suited for guard. Guards Shaun O'Hara and Paul Zukauskas have been rotated, alternated and subjugated to life next to rookie center Jeff Faine, who replaced Dave Wohlabaugh this season.

In all, the Cleveland offense has three new starters. The Browns' defense has that many new linebackers, not to mention a new cornerback in place of Corey Fuller. It's a defense that allowed an NFL record 295 yards rushing to Jamal Lewis on Sept. 14.

Special teams have been a problem for the Browns as well. Their kickoff team in particular is struggling. Andre Davis, who averaged 21.4 yards per return last season, currently ranks 37th in the NFL with an average of 18.8 yards per return.

With all of those problems, the Browns can still tie the Steelers at 2-3 with a win Sunday night at Heinz Field. It will be determined by the team that's the least demoralized from its last game. "It is on prime time. The whole country will be watching," said the Browns' Johnson. "It's a great opportunity for us to go out there and get a win."

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