Different Browns team facing Steelers this time
BEREA, Ohio - The last time the Browns faced the Steelers way back in Week 1, Charlie Frye was the quarterback and Cleveland didn't have a chance.
A lot has changed in two months.
After winning three straight games for the first time in six years, the Browns are getting ready to challenge Pittsburgh on Sunday for first place in the AFC North.
The Browns say they feel like a different team than they were Sept. 9, when they opened the season with a 34-7 loss at home to the Steelers.
Two days later Frye was traded, Derek Anderson was named the starting QB and the Browns were on their way to becoming one of the most productive offenses in the NFL.
Now, just when Cleveland is starting to talk about January football again, the Browns are facing probably the toughest game on their schedule.
Despite all the changes in Cleveland, one thing that remains the same is the Browns' miserable record against the Steelers in recent years.
Pittsburgh linebacker James Farrior said he takes the Browns seriously every time they play each other and that Cleveland's 5-3 record hasn't changed anything. But he acknowledged that the rivalry has become one-sided.
"They're going to have to pick it up, or we're going to stop calling it a rivalry," Farrior said Wednesday in a conference call.
The Browns have lost eight straight to Pittsburgh dating to 2003, and 21 of 24 -- including two playoff losses -- going back to 1994.
The Steelers only have gotten better since their first meeting with Cleveland this season, in which they created five turnovers and recorded six sacks.
"We're going to have to play our best game of the year to have a chance," Browns coach Romeo Crennel said.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin believes the Browns are the same team schematically as they were in Week 1. They're just executing better.
The Browns rank in the top five in the league in points per game, yards per game, yards per play, yards on first down and are first in yards per reception.
Their days of third-and-long and three-and-out are long behind them.
"They look very explosive now," Farrior said. "They've got a lot of deep balls going down the field."
Anderson is the most obvious difference in the Browns' turnaround -- and the only personnel change in the offense since Week 1.
"We've done some good things. Obviously, we've moved on and continue to improve," Anderson said. "I don't think it's me by myself."
Anderson ranks fourth in the league with 17 touchdown passes. He's been able to connect with playmakers Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow and Joe Jurevicius downfield because of an offensive line that has allowed just seven sacks over the last seven games.
The line will be tested by the blitzing Steelers and could face its first starting lineup change in eight games. Guard Seth McKinney (shoulder) missed practice Wednesday and, if unable to play, will be replaced by Lennie Friedman or Ryan Tucker, who hasn't played guard in years.
Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (ankle) also didn't practice and guard Eric Steinbach and cornerback Leigh Bodden were limited because of back injuries. Linebacker Willie McGinest was excused from practice for personal reasons.
The difference in the Browns on the field has carried over to the locker room, where the atmosphere is more relaxed. The tense vibe that comes with playing for your coach's job has been replaced with a quiet confidence that comes from winning.
"It seems like everything is starting to come together," Tucker said. "We haven't arrived yet, obviously. We have a long way to go."
Anderson seems more at ease in the locker room as well, smiling during an interview and even joking that a Pittsburgh television reporter should be escorted out of the Browns training facility.
Despite Cleveland's recent futility against the black and gold, there's still some pent up hostility between the sides. Farrior apparently hasn't forgotten about a late block that Winslow threw at him last season, and had an early warning for the tight end.
"He better have his head on a swivel," Farrior said. "Every time we go up against those guys, I'll be looking for him."