2-win Browns could pose threat to Steelers
The Cleveland Browns are a very bad day just waiting to happen for some opponent.
They're 2-8 — aren't they always 2-8? — but they're a dangerous two-win team as evidenced by their overtime loss at Dallas last week, their one-point loss to Philadelphia, their four-point loss to Indianapolis and their upset win over Cincinnati.
Rookie running back Trent Richardson said they could make their season by beating the Steelers (6-4) Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium, where Pittsburgh has won 10 of its last 11.
“You could be a championship team if you beat the Steelers, from what I hear,” Richardson said.
He may have heard wrong — 3-8 teams generally miss the playoffs — but the Browns might prevent the Steelers from playing for any titles if they can beat them for only the third time in 25 meetings.
There are caution signs all around for the Steelers, whose four-game winning streak was ended by a 13-10 loss to the Ravens last Sunday that dropped them two games out of the AFC North lead and effectively pushed them into the wild-card chase.
Charlie Batch becomes their third starting quarterback in three weeks following injuries to Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich. Batch is 5-2 as a fill-in starter, including a win over St. Louis last season, but his 38th birthday is less than two weeks away.
His receiving corps is missing the injured Antonio Brown (ankle), and the newly re-signed Plaxico Burress had only a few days to learn the offense. So did new backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, who is one more injury away from lining up under center. And safety Troy Polamalu (calf) is out for a seventh consecutive game.
Opponents are running on the Browns, who are 24th in rushing defense, but the Steelers have yet to commit to a starting running back, as they work in Jonathan Dwyer, Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman.
The Browns have scored only two touchdowns while losing four in a row to the Steelers, but their offense is picking up behind Richardson, averaging 107 yards in his past three games, and rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who has thrown for 2,298 yards — 11 more than Roethlisberger.
The Browns are 0-5 without star cornerback Joe Haden (oblique).
“His instincts are almost second to none when it comes to cornerbacks, and he's tough,” Steelers receiver Mike Wallace said. “He has that swagger about himself. He knows he's a good player.”
Or a good player on a bad team who is convinced it will be good someday soon, especially now that it has a committed owner in former Steelers minority partner Jimmy Haslam III.
A Browns pass rush that ranks eighth in the league with 27 sacks is a worry for a Steelers offensive line that must protect an older quarterback who hasn't taken a snap since August.
“Every single game, they've been getting better,” Wallace said. “You can say they're 2-8, but it's really not how they're playing.”
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.