CLEVELAND – Talking to myself about the Browns facing the Pittsburgh Steelers:
QUESTION: Don’t you hate the Steelers?
ANSWER: If you care about the Browns, you probably hate the Steelers.
Q: Because they are from Pittsburgh?
A: That’s part of it, or at least it used to be the main reason.
Q: But not now?
A: It’s more than a Pittsburgh-Cleveland rivalry. It’s more than the two teams being in the same AFC North.
Q: I know, it’s because the Steelers always beat the Browns.
A: That’s the result, but not the point.
Q: OK, what is the point?
A: Look at the Steelers this season. They lost their first three games. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is out for the season with elbow surgery. It should be a disaster.
Q: But they’ve won four in a row.
A: They come to town with a 5-4 record. They come to town with Mason Rudolph at QB, a guy who was a third-round pick out of Oklahoma State in 2018. Rudolph is not a game-changer, but he’s also hasn’t been a game loser. I wish Baker Mayfield had Rudolph’s stats this season: 11 TD passes, four interceptions while completing 65 percent of his passes.
Q: This is becoming painful.
A: Exactly. The Steelers even had a victory when Rudolph was out with a concussion and they started No. 3 QB Devlin Hodges. He’s from Samford in Alabama (not Stanford in California). His nickname is “Duck.” He wasn’t even drafted.
A: They put together a defense led by newcomer Minkah Fitzpatrick. The safety has scored three TDs this season. Browns receivers Odell Beckham Jr. (1) and Jarvis Landry (2) have fewer than Fitzpatrick. T.J. Watt is a big-time pass rusher.
Q: We know, they’re good...
A: But the Browns have better talent.
A: Really. Pittsburgh is averaging only 3.5 yards rushing. James Conner (3.9) is pretty good, but he’s no Kareem Hunt or Nick Chubb. Talent-wise, Mayfield is better than Rudolph. I like receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, but Beckham and Landry are superior talents.
Q: But the Steelers defense is better.
A: Exactly. That has been the season-changer for Pittsburgh. My point is the game should be different than many Pittsburgh-Cleveland matchups of the recent past. Most of the time, the Steelers had the lopsided advantage in talent. They don’t now.
Q: Are you going to address the coaching?
A: It’s an organizational approach. The Steelers are stable, patient and smart. I’m looking at Coach Mike Tomlin’s record. This is his 13th season. His worst years are 8-8 (2012, 2013). They were 9-6-1 last season and that was considered a “bad year.” His main problem is not being able to get past New England in the playoffs.
Q: I wish the Browns had that problem.
A: I’m dwelling on the obvious, the Browns fans would love to have an organization run like the Steelers. But I also think the Browns are at the stage where if they are going be more than “the same old Browns." It begins with beating Pittsburgh in a game like Thursday on national television (8 p.m., WJW Channel 8). A rookie head coach under-fire (Freddie Kitchens) facing the franchise that has tormented the Browns for decades.
Q: Do you think they have a chance?
A: The Browns are favored by 2.5 points in some places. Once this season, the Browns played like the Browns can play...the 40-25 dominating victory over Baltimore in Game 4. Their last victory vs. Pittsburgh was in 2014 when they won 31-10. Since the Browns returned in 1999, they are 6-34-1 vs. Pittsburgh.
Q: Why bring all that up?
A: Because the Browns have to stare that history in the face and not flinch. Kitchens has to prepare a big-time game plan in only three days. Mayfield needs to win a game in cold weather against Pittsburgh.
Q: You sound like you think they can do it.
A: I want them to do it. The fan base needs them to do it. This has been a strange, distracted and sometimes shaky team for much of the season. A victory in this game can help them build the identity they need.
Q: So who wins?
A: History and my head say go with Pittsburgh, but I’m sick of writing stories about the Browns losing to the Steelers. Final score: Browns 20, Pittsburgh 17. My record picking the Browns is 5-4 this season.
The interior lines and linebackers of Pittsburgh have for years now been superior to our Browns for various reasons. It wouldn't matter if the Steelers had their 4th backup QB playing these units would find a way. Hats off to John Sullivan who has coached their defensive lines for years. I don't know where the hide the mold for these Steel Curtain players but sure would like to find it. And, I hate all this started with former Browns Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher in turning their team around along with some great ownership and front office personnel. I think we'd have a better chance winning with 3-4 if we could find at least two dominating linebackers and a great blitzing safety but, I know that our DC is operated in different manner. If we can't put pressure on the Steelers new young QB and hold off their in consistent inside DL pressure along with T.J. Watts' outside rushes it's going to be a very long night of horror for the Browns. jmho