By Tony Grossi
Browns v. Steelers … in Four Downs
First Down: No Ben, no sweat.
Although they lost last week to Baltimore when QB Ben Roethlisberger missed his first game with rib and shoulder injuries, the Steelers have not exactly been pushovers when playing without their undisputed MVP. Roethlisberger’s career record since his rookie season of 2004 is 86-36 (.705). In that time, the Steelers have gone 9-7 without him. Replacement Charlie Batch, 37, has a 5-2 record in his 11 seasons in Pittsburgh, including a 34-21 win over the Browns in the Steelers’ 2005 Super Bowl season.
Second down: Plax in the red zone.
With two receivers downed by injuries, the Steelers surprised some by signing ex-Pittsburgh draft pick Plaxico Burress this week. Burress, who last played for the Steelers in 2004, was not with a team this year after turning in a decent season with the Jets last season (45 catches, 612 yards, 8 TDs). How much can Burress help in Sunday’s game after joining the team only on Wednesday? Well, imagine this scenario: Steelers in the red zone, game on the line. Burress, who is 6-5, lines up against Buster Skrine, who is 5-9. Last year, seven of Burress’ eight TDs came from inside the 20-yard line. How hard could it be for Batch to float an alley oop in the direction of Burress’ vast wingspan with Skrine nipping (or tugging) at his heels?
Third down: Brandon Weeden, meet Dick LeBeau.
Weeden, along with fellow offensive rookies Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon and Mitch Schwartz, meet the Steelers Sunday for the first time in their NFL careers. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, since Dick LeBeau returned to Pittsburgh as defensive coordinator in 2004, rookie quarterbacks have met the Steelers 15 times and have come away losers on 14 occasions. The only winner was ex-Ohio State Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith in the 16th game of the 2007 season. The Steelers already had clinched a playoff spot and rested Roethlisberger in favor of Batch, who happens to be Sunday’s starter for the Steelers.
Fourth down: Steelers wins are special.
More times than not, rare Browns victories over the Steelers are marked by big plays on special teams. In 1986, Gerald McNeil’s 100-yard kickoff return for a TD helped the Browns break the 16-year Three Rivers Stadium jinx. In 1993, two Eric Metcalf punt returns for TDs were the difference in a 28-23 Browns win. In 1999, a Phil Dawson field goal with the clock ticking to double zeroes avenged Pittsburgh’s 43-0 win in the first game of the expansion era. In 2009, a Josh Cribbs 55-yard punt return spurred a 13-6 Browns win that broke a 12-game losing streak to the Steelers. Cribbs, whose 33 kickoff returns of 40 or more yards leads all active players, has four returns over 40 this season, including one on a punt. His last return TD was 12 games ago in Baltimore.
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