Week ten of the 2015 NFL season has the Cleveland Browns traveling down the turnpike to face their division and hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field Sunday afternoon. The Browns at 2-7 will look to snap their five game losing streak in a place where wins are very hard to come by for the orange helmets. The Browns have lost eleven straight games at Heinz Field. The only time the Browns left Heinz Field victorious was October 5, 2003. Tim Couch lead the Browns to a 33-13 win on a Sunday night game in the steel city.
The orange and brown will look for back to back wins over the black and gold for just the second time since returning to the NFL in 1999. Cleveland split the season series last year. After losing on opening day in Pittsburgh, the Browns beat the Steelers in Cleveland 31-10 on October 12, 2014. The last time the Browns beat the Steelers in back to back meetings was in 1999 and 2000. Cleveland won at old Three Rivers Stadium 16-15 on November 17, 1999, and 23-20 on September 17, 2000 at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The wins in 1999 and 2003 are the only two wins the Browns have in Pittsburgh since returning to the league. The Browns lost 16 straight meeting in Pittsburgh from 1970 through 1985. The Browns finally ended the ‘jinx in 1986 after 16 consecutive losses. This currently Browns franchise would like to put an end to this Pittsburgh jinx at eleven on Sunday.
“It’s a tough place to play, just like Baltimore is a tough place to play,” head coach Mike Pettine said. “I don’t think we can allow that – it is a coaching cliché – the games going to start 0-0. We understand it, but we also know that closing ground on the division is a big part of our future success here. We won at Cincinnati a year ago. We won at Baltimore this year. It would be huge for us to go down there and post a victory. Our guys are going to go down there with that mindset. Every game is different, and we’ll see how it plays out.”
The Browns do have a lot of question marks entering Sunday’s game. Number one deals with the starting quarterback. Early this week, Pettine pretty much made it clear that Josh McCown would be back under center if he was healthy. McCown had practiced but on a very limited basis. Johnny Manziel took most of the first team snaps. Friday, reports started to surface that the Browns will go with Manziel although, those words weren’t coming out of the coaches mouth, Clearly, the plan is to keep the Steelers guessing as to who they will see at quarterback on Sunday.
“I won’t say I don’t know, but it’s just from an information standpoint, we have our plan built to be either way,” Pettine said. “Josh was limited today. Johnny was taking the majority of the reps. That’s how I’ll leave it.”
Both McCown and Manziel want the opportunity to face Pittsburgh and give Browns fans something to celebrate if they can beat the Steelers despite another disappointing season. It would be the first ever start for Manziel against Pittsburgh. As for McCown he understands what the Browns and Steelers rivalry is all about.
I’ve said it from Day 1, just the passion of our fans. I can certainly appreciate the rivalry and appreciate how they feel about Pittsburgh, and that picture was made very clear,” McCown said. “A win for us for our football team is what we need so bad when you’re in a situation like this. It’s great for us, but the added value is the city and how excited people get when you beat the Steelers. We know how important that is.”
A key to a Browns victory will be the running game both offensively and defensively. The Browns are 31st in rushing offense and last in rushing defense. Isaiah Crowell had a breakout performance last year against the Steelers and Duke Johnson needs to me more involved in the second half. No matter who is the quarterback is, a balance between run and pass is something that needs to happen against Pittsburgh for Cleveland to be successful.
“To run the ball effectively, you can’t just say it’s the line or the backs,” Pettine said. “It has to be all coordinated and coordinated well. It starts with the scheme part of it, but then, there’s the technical aspects of it. Then there is the want-to. The backs got to be hitting it, have good vision, breaking tackles. We want to always get more than what it’s blocked for. It’s going to be important for us as it always is. There are times from a gameplan standpoint if they’re taking runs away that we’re going to have to go elsewhere. We feel we have a good plan, and hopefully, we can execute it.”
The defense could be in for a long afternoon even without having to go up against Ben Roethlisberger who is only 18-2 lifetime against the Browns. Landry Jones is expected to make the start for Roethlisberger who suffered a foot injury last Sunday against Oakland. ‘Big Ben’ is expected to backup Jones. Jones will hand the ball off to DeAngelo Williams who is replacing LeVeon Bell for the rest of the season. Williams has rushed for over 100 yards in all three starts he has made this season.
“It starts up front. They have good run blockers,” linebacker Barkevious Mingo said. “It is going to be a challenge. I think we are ready to face that challenge and stop the run.”
“I think they have got a really good scheme up front,” defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said. “I’m sure some teams are a little worried about some of their explosive playmakers on the outside. They have good running backs, and the offensive line, they have a group of tough guys that are really good for the scheme that they run. They’re able to knock guys off the ball and create some lanes, and the running backs have done a good job exploiting defenses when the lanes are there.”
The secondary will have a tough challenge facing the Steelers receiving threats of Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Heath Miller when they are at full strength and healthy. That won’t be the case as the secondaries team leaders, Joe Haden and Donte Whitner are both out for the game because they have not been cleared of the leagues protocol for concussions. Browns is coming off a 17 reception performance for 284 yards. Tramon Williams, Tashaun Gipson and the healthy defensive backs face a daunting task but feel they can control Brown on Sunday.
“He is a big part of their offense, and we definitely recognize that as a defense. It is going to be a key for us to make sure we shut him down,” defensive back Ibraheim Campbell said. “I believe that we can. We have a lot of talent and guys that are prepared to step in when guys like Joe Haden go down. I think guys are prepared and ready to fill his shoes.”
“Those guys are big assets for the Cleveland defense,” Browns said. “Obviously, Joe Haden is top tier corner in the NFL, always matches up against the teams opposing best wide receiver, and Donte Whitner – the kind of physicality he brings when he’s out there – those guys are key pieces of that defense. Those guys will make a big a difference if they’re out there.”
Sunday’s game will be broadcast on CBS. Ian Eagle will have the play by play. Dan Fouts will provide color commentary and Evan Washburn will report from the sidelines. Browns fans who can’t watch the game can listen to the broadcast via the Browns radio network on radio stations throughout the state of Ohio. The game is also available on SiriusXM satellite radio. For Sirius subscribers, the game is on channel 136 and internet channel 807. XM subscribers get the game on channel 228 with the Steelers radio broadcast. The Browns radio broadcast is availabe for XM subscribers on internet channel 807.
Following Sunday;s meeting, both teams will have their bye week. Cleveland is currently a six and a half point underdog to Pittsburgh. The over/under according to Las Vegas sportsbooks is 41.5. The Browns will wear their white jerseys with browns pants.