Steelers concerned they'll be taking on desperate Browns

Updated: October 2, 2003, 8:22 PM ET

PITTSBURGH -- The Cleveland Browns are coming off a loss to Cincinnati that dropped their record to 1-3. They're not scoring very much. Starting quarterback Kelly Holcomb is injured, so Tim Couch will start Sunday night in Pittsburgh.

Maybe that's what has the Steelers so concerned. Whenever very little is going right for the Browns, it can mean things are about to start going wrong for the Steelers.

"The Browns-Steelers game is one of those things where it really doesn't matter who has the better record," wide receiver Plaxico Burress said. "Cleveland has always played us hard. It's always a physical game and their coach always has their guys fired up to play us."

That kind of rhetoric may sound more suited for high school than the NFL, but Browns-Steelers games regularly deviate from the supposed norm. Remember 1999? The Steelers beat up on the Browns 43-0 in Cleveland's return to the NFL, only to lose the rematch 16-15 in Three Rivers Stadium.

Their wild card playoff game in January is another example. The Steelers beat the Browns by three points for the third time in just over three months, but the game barely resembled the previous two.

Holcomb threw for 429 yards, the third-most in an NFL playoff game, as the Browns opened a 24-7 lead, but the Steelers rallied with two touchdowns in the final 3:06 to win 36-33.

Pittsburgh's comeback was such a letdown to the Browns, Burress expects to see a desperate opponent Sunday, especially given Cleveland's poor start. The Browns have talked about playing with a sense of urgency, given how tough it would be to make the playoffs should they lose and fall to 1-4.

"You would think those guys will be a little teed off about what happened last year," Burress said.

Steelers guard Alan Faneca is equally angry about the Steelers' 30-13 loss Sunday to Tennessee. The Steelers have followed a win-lose-win-lose pattern so far this season, one reason that Faneca said they must begin to play with more consistency.

"It still makes me mad," Faneca said. "It was the little things. You say that and it doesn't really tell you much, but it was a thing here or there."

Of less concern to the Steelers than the Browns' state of mind is the status of their quarterbacks. They've played against both Couch and Holcomb, and they don't expect the Browns to overhaul their game plan just because Holcomb (sprained left ankle) isn't expected to play.

With the Browns struggling to run the ball, the Steelers expect to see many of the spread formation, four-receiver looks they saw in that January playoff game.

"I really don't see too much difference, they're kind of the same type of player," nose tackle Casey Hampton said of Couch and Holcomb.

Strong safety Mike Logan said the Browns have too much offensive talent to keep being held to 14 points or fewer, as they were in each of their first four games.

"At some point in the year they're going to start clicking, but we just don't want that to happen against us," he said.

The Steelers' efforts to get their own running game going could be helped by the expected return of left tackle Marvin Smith, who sat out Sunday with a sore shoulder. He returned to practice Thursday.

This story is from's automated news wire. Wire index