BEREA: As the Browns began to prepare for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday, three of their top four cornerbacks were dealing with injuries, and the secondary as a whole was licking its wounds after being penalized seven times in a 23-20 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
Fortunately for the Browns (2-8), the Steelers (6-4) won’t be anywhere close to full strength, either, when they visit Cleveland on Sunday. The first meeting of the season between the AFC North archrivals will feature a matchup of the Browns’ ailing defensive backs and the Steelers’ makeshift passing attack led by third-string quarterback Charlie Batch.
With starter Ben Roethlisberger out with rib and shoulder injuries, Byron Leftwich filled in at quarterback for the Steelers on Sunday. Leftwich, though, suffered broken ribs when he fell in the end zone as he finished his 31-yard touchdown run during the Steelers’ 13-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette reported Monday. As a result, the 37-year-old Batch will start against the Browns, NFL.com reported.
Batch has a career record of 24-29 as a starter, including 5-2 with the Steelers. One of those five wins came against the Browns, a 34-21 triumph for the Steelers at Heinz Field on Nov. 13, 2005. Roethlisberger is 14-1 against the Browns, so they’ll catch a break by avoiding him.
“Big Ben is probably one of the better veteran quarterbacks in the NFL, so you lose a guy like that, that’s gonna be a huge blow to the team,” said undrafted rookie free safety Tashaun Gipson, who played 62-of-90 defensive snaps Sunday after missing the previous five games with a sprained MCL in his knee. “When you’ve got a quarterback in there like Big Ben, even the Pittsburgh Steelers know the severity of losing a player like him, of his magnitude. But they’re very capable of coming down here and doing whatever they have to do to get a win, and it’s our job to get on a roll here in these last six weeks.”
The Browns know they can’t afford to underestimate Batch.
“He’s a very capable quarterback,” Gipson said. “He’s been in the league for a while, so he’s doing something right. They’ve got a great group of receivers, so whatever quarterback’s in there, then it could be a tough day for us.”
Speaking of those receivers, the Steelers are thin there, too. They’ll work out former Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress on Tuesday and could sign him, the Post-Gazette reported.
Starter Antonio Brown has missed the past two games with a high ankle sprain, and Jerricho Cotchery injured his ribs Sunday.
As for the Browns, their best cornerback, Joe Haden, sat out Sunday with an injured oblique muscle he suffered last week during practice. Buster Skrine, who replaced Haden in the starting lineup, suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter.
And Dimitri Patterson, the team’s top nickel corner, has missed the past five games with a left high ankle sprain and torn ligament. Patterson said he’ll test his ankle today in drills and will practice Wednesday if it responds well. However, he’ll be careful not to rush back.
“This would be pushing it,” Patterson said of returning to action this week. “Considering all the damage I’ve done to it, I feel like I am ahead. I’ve come so far, but I don’t want to ruin it or set myself back by coming back a week or two early. It’s a tough deal but I have to be smart.”
With Skrine playing on the outside in Haden’s absence, rookie Trevin Wade covered the slot in the nickel package. Undrafted rookie cornerback Johnson Bademosi played his first defensive snaps in the NFL after Skrine was knocked out of the game with 57 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
“You can’t hide your whole career,” Patterson said. “... Someone’s going to go down, and you’re going to have to play. Do you want it? Are you going to step up and play or is it going to be the other result? That’s how it is. This is the NFL.”
Bademosi rose to the occasion. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo threw toward him on five consecutive plays in overtime, and he broke up a pass to wide receiver Dez Bryant on a key third-and-2.
“I am completely confident in my ability as a cornerback, as a defensive back, as a football player,” Bademosi said. “Every day I’m going to go out and show it.”
The entire defense needs to show it can rebound after being called for 10 penalties, all of which resulted in first downs for the Cowboys. The defensive backs received all but three of the flags.
“I was really surprised,” said Wade, a seventh-round pick in this year’s draft. “It seemed like every third down or so there was a flag that gave Dallas a first down. It was real shocking and just crazy.”
And it should remind the Browns that they must resolve their own issues to succeed. Nothing can be taken for granted, including their upcoming showdown with the Batch-led Steelers.
“If Charlie Batch is playing, I still see them as a good team because of how they play,” Patterson said.
“They’re a team that’s going to run the ball well, they’re going to play good defense and they’re going to pass, be efficient and they can still be that with Charlie Batch. That’s why I say it’s still a tough game.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com.browns.abj