New Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is on the verge of kicking off his pupil-versus-teacher competition with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In 2008, Haslam bought a stake in the Steelers, a reported 12.5 percent, which he’s in the process of divesting. He believes he learned valuable lessons as a minority owner of the Steelers, and he hopes applying them will in time help the Browns to succeed.
“We wish him all the best except for a couple Sundays a year,” Steelers President Art Rooney II quipped Oct. 16 during the NFL owners meeting at which Haslam’s purchase of the Browns from Randy Lerner was unanimously approved.
One of those Sundays will be this weekend when the Browns (2-8) host the Steelers (6-4) in the first matchup of the season between the AFC North rivals. Since 1999, the Browns are 4-23 against the Steelers, including one postseason showdown, and have lost 16 of the past 17 meetings.
But this time the Steelers will be resorting to their third-string quarterback, Charlie Batch, because starter Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder, ribs), who’s 14-1 against the Browns, and backup Byron Leftwich (ribs) are injured. The Steelers signed Brian Hoyer, a graduate of St. Ignatius High School, on Tuesday to serve as their No. 2 quarterback Sunday.
They also signed Plaxico Burress, their first-round draft pick in 2000, to boost their depleted receiving corps. Starter Antonio Brown is in danger of missing his third game in a row with a high ankle sprain, and Jerricho Cotchery is out with broken ribs.
With its offense decimated by injuries, Haslam’s old team is seemingly more susceptible than usual to suffering an upset against his new team.
Ed Bouchette covers the Steelers for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He discussed the Steelers in the following question-and-answer session:
Q: Burress hasn’t played since last season. How much can the Steelers expect from him Sunday?
A: “Well, they have not used many four-wide receiver formations this year. They may have used none actually, and they don’t go to three as often as they used to. So I would think we’re gonna see a lot of two wide receivers, one tight end, maybe a running back split out rather than three wide receivers. But ultimately I think they’ll probably try to work him into that Jerricho Cotchery role, which Cotchery was the No. 4 guy and moved up to No. 3 when Antonio Brown got hurt. Bottom line, how much are we gonna see him on Sunday? I don’t think a lot. I really don’t.”
Q: What approach do you think offensive coordinator Todd Haley will take with Batch at quarterback?
A: “Well, they’re gonna try to run the ball. They’ve been decent running the ball. The thing is they have not been able to settle on one back to do it. Charlie’s very good with his touch passes, and this has turned into a dink-and-dunk offense, so it kind of suits him a little more.”
Q: Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer have dealt with injuries this season. How do you see the running-back situation shaking out Sunday?
A: “Last week, all three were healthy, and they started out using one on one play and one on another and the third guy on the third play. And then Redman got hurt, so they split the carries between Mendenhall and Dwyer. It’s very complicated and convoluted. I would bet Dwyer’s gonna start against Cleveland ’cause he was the best back on the field this past Sunday. Now that’s just a feeling. They probably don’t know yet.”
Q: The Steelers’ defense finished last season ranked No. 1 against the pass, and it’s leading the league this season, too. To what do you attribute the success?
A: “First, what they’re not doing is they’re not getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback. They’re not coming up with turnovers. What they are doing is they’re getting better play from both corners. Keenan Lewis has just been playing lights out. He’s helped really improve that secondary and so has Cortez Allen, their nickel back. The time of possession has been so one-sided that the defense hasn’t been on the field a lot, so that also has helped. [Outside linebacker] LaMarr Woodley has stepped up a little bit. He just got his fourth sack the other night, which is not up to Woodley’s standards, but he started out with a hamstring injury. Troy Polamalu has been out [with an injured calf]. They were replacing him with Ryan Mundy as they have in the past. They put Will Allen in and he’s played much better, so they’ve stuck with him at strong safety.”
Q: What will be the main key for the Steelers against the Browns?
A: “They’re gonna try and stop [rookie running back] Trent Richardson. That’ll be their main goal. They try to make a team one-dimensional by stopping the run, forcing them to pass and then teeing off on them.”
Q: In which areas are the Steelers most vulnerable?
A: “With Batch at quarterback, he’s gonna be 38 next month, so I would think they might be vulnerable to a pass rush. They start Mike Adams, a rookie [from Ohio State], at right tackle. He’s very good at running blocking, but terrible at pass blocking.”
Read Ed Bouchette’s coverage of the Steelers: www.post-gazette.com/steelers. Follow him on Twitter: @EdBouchette. 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.