It’s not just you if it seems as if it was long ago when the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers were true rivals. While the Steelers have dominated the so-called new Browns since 1999 — winning the Super Bowl on two occasions in the process — the Browns have been National Football League laughingstocks. It appeared that trend was set to continue in Week 1 of the 2014 NFL regular season when Pittsburgh jumped out to a 27-3 lead over Cleveland.
While a rally from the visitors came up short, the Browns set the tone for their campaign during the second half of the season debut. “Play like a Brown,” the mantra reiterated by Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine again and again since he accepted the gig last winter, meant not giving up until the clock reads 00:00.
Unfortunately for Pettine and his side, heart won’t be enough to carry the Browns to a win this time around.
Steelers at Browns preview: The walking wounded
A Browns defense that has fallen short of expectations in each of the team’s four games will be missing some key players this time around. Linebacker Paul Kruger is dealing with a back injury, and he missed practice on Thursday. Cornerback Joe Haden, who has been disappointing this season, is expected to be sidelined because of a hip problem.
Cleveland’s pass rush hasn’t made a plethora of plays with Kruger on the field, and the secondary of the Browns has been a liability in games. Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown has a history of lighting it up when matched-up against Haden, and there is nothing on paper to suggest that Cleveland will be able to scheme against him.
All of that is just the beginning of the bad news for Browns fans.
Steelers at Browns preview: Ownership
While you may have to look up the exact record, odds are that you are aware that Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has owned the Browns throughout his career. It’s gotten to the point where
Cleveland Browns Stadium FirstEnergy Stadium has become a second home for Big Ben.
Roethlisberger to Brown. Roethlisberger to tight end Heath Miller. Roethlisberger to pretty much anybody he wants. To say that the 32-year old is comfortable playing in northeast Ohio would be an understatement.
The Browns have to shake that comfort off of Roethlisberger by applying pressure early and often. Getting routine pressure on quarterbacks hasn’t been easy for the 2014 Browns, and that task will be more difficult if Kruger is either sidelined or not at 100 percent.
Steelers at Browns preview: Reason for hope?
It’s not all doom and gloom for Cleveland. The Browns have been responsible for one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Running back Ben Tate, back from a knee injury, went for 124 yards last week in the team’s rally from behind at the Tennessee Titans.
Cleveland also happens to have a quarterback who is outplaying Roethlisberger.
Gone are any and all questions about when rookie Johnny Manziel will take over as Cleveland offensive general. Brian Hoyer has been a leader off and on the field, and he has played as well as any Browns quarterback the team has had since Derek Anderson helped guide the franchise’s 2007 roster to a 10-6 record. Hoyer, the hometown hero, has fans and Cleveland players believing that a team turnaround has already begun.
Hoyer may not be the long-term answer for the Browns. He is the quarterback for the now, and Hoyer isn’t just playing to win. He is playing to potentially secure a contract extension with what was the NFL club of his childhood.
Steelers at Browns preview: Prediction
Cleveland fans have seen this movie before. They know how it ends.
2014 is becoming a “show me” season for the Browns. Only when Cleveland shows that these aren’t your same old Browns that lose to the Steelers twice a season should the football public begin to believe in this team.
Prove me wrong, Browns.
Steelers win 28-27