Earlier this season, it was Tim Couch who shredded the Steelers in a 33-13 win at Heinz Field. Couch completed 20 of 25 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns.
Combined, Couch and Holcomb have completed 46 of 78 passes for 637 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in two games against the Steelers. Yet, the cumulative passer rating of 91.7 in those games dwarfs the Browns' cumulative passer rating of 80.8 for the season. Take out the Steelers stats and the Browns have a passer rating of 78.2 against the rest of the league this season.
How can this be?
Well, a little addition by subtraction helped the Browns last Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. On Wednesday, the Browns cut leading receiver Kevin Johnson and, surprisingly, the team seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.
"For the first time maybe this year, we had one heartbeat," said Browns Coach Butch Davis. "The week was incredible," wide receiver Quincy Morgan told Cleveland reporters. "I can't lie - if we were playing anybody we might have done the same thing. The week of practice was incredible, from Wednesday to Friday."
And on Sunday, Morgan and the Browns' new starting receiver, Andre Davis, became the first Browns pair in 21 years to each gain over 100 receiving yards in the same game. Holcomb, who has once again replaced Couch at quarterback, passed for 392 yards, the most by a Browns quarterback since Brian Sipe passed for 391 yards in 1980.
Did the release of Johnson have a galvanizing effect on the Browns?
"I don't know whether it helped or hurt," Holcomb told Pittsburgh reporters Wednesday. "But from the numbers that we had last week I think (the offense) is pretty good."
It also helped that the Cardinals put eight men in the box in order to stop a pedestrian Browns running game.
The Browns rank 28th in rushing offense and 23rd in passing offense, but the Cardinals felt a running game without suspended William Green would be more dangerous than a passing game without Johnson. The Browns, though, proved to have a deep group of receivers, with whom the Steelers have become quite acquainted of late.
Johnson, with 41 catches, is still ranked first among Browns receivers. Slot receiver Dennis Northcutt has 40 catches for a team-high 417 yards. Davis has 28 catches and a team-high four touchdown receptions. Morgan has 26 catches with a team-high 14.5 yards per reception. The Browns' changes in their receiving corps can be matched by the Steelers' changes in their secondary. Two weeks ago, they benched cornerback Dewayne Washington for Deshea Townsend and made rookie Ike Taylor the dime back. Holcomb doesn't think it will make much of a difference.
"They made some changes," Holcomb said. "But they have the same guys that have been in there for awhile. I would think they would have some new things for us, but most teams revert back to what they have always done."
And the Steelers have allowed the Browns to spread the field and throw the ball, although the Browns aren't the only team. While the Steelers have allowed the Browns a passer rating of 91.7 in the last two meetings, the Steelers have allowed the rest of the league a passer rating of 93.7. That mark would rank fourth among AFC passers behind Jake Plummer (95.4) and just ahead of Trent Green (93.4), so it's no secret that the Browns will attack the Steelers through the air.
"I don't know if that's the case," Holcomb said. "When you look at the bigger picture, stats and stuff are nice for some people, but the most important stat is winning. If we have to run it 50 times and win or if we have to throw it 50 times and win, that's fine."