Browns hope to stop Cowher's success

Updated: October 3, 2003, 3:18 PM ET

BEREA, Ohio -- Sentimental softy that he is, Steelers coach Bill Cowher has a wooden chair in his Pittsburgh office from the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

It's a mustard-colored reminder of Cowher's days in Cleveland, where he played, began raising a family and started his NFL coaching career.

"Cleveland," he said, "is special to me."

Except on Sundays. That souvenir seat isn't the only thing from Cleveland that Cowher owns.

Now in his 12th season as Steelers coach, Cowher is 14-4 against the Browns, including a 2-0 mark in playoff games and a 5-0 record against Cleveland coach Butch Davis.

Cowher's success -- the Steelers have won six straight over the Browns -- has made the NFL's fiercest rivalry one-sided in recent years, tilting it to the other side of the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.

The Browns (1-3) are hoping to end the Steelers' stranglehold Sunday night in a nationally televised game at Heinz Field. Cleveland's visit will be its first since Jan. 4, when the Browns blew a 17-point lead in the second half and lost 36-33 in the AFC playoffs.

Nothing new there. The Browns have perfected the art of the close loss to Pittsburgh.

Last season, they went 0-3 against the Steelers (2-2), losing each game by three points. In the past two years, they've lost twice to Pittsburgh in overtime, once when Phil Dawson's potential game-winning field goal was blocked in OT.

Offensive tackle Barry Stokes said it's time to reverse the trend.

"We're going to get out there and beat the Steelers," said Stokes, whose practice time this week was limited by a sprained right ankle. "I can already sense it in the locker room. You feel it when you're going to have a good game. The energy is there."

It's just that the points haven't been. Beyond their current losing streak, the Browns are just 2-13 in their last 15 games against Pittsburgh.

But to a man, Cleveland's players don't believe the Steelers hold any kind of psychological advantage over them. They insist they don't get spooked or mesmerized by those black helmets or yellow Terrible Towels.

"I don't see that happening with this team," said quarterback Tim Couch, who will make his second straight start for the injured Kelly Holcomb. "I don't think anyone is any less confident because we haven't had any success against them. We've gone out there and put up good numbers against them.

"We've done some decent things against them, so we feel like we can go in there and get a win."

Unlike Davis, Chris Palmer had some success against the Steelers, going 2-2 in his two seasons as Browns coach.

Palmer, too, may have uncovered a secret to offsetting Pittsburgh's ball-swarming defense. In his second matchup against the Steelers in 1999, Palmer used multiple wide-receiver formations, helping the Browns get a 16-15 win.

It's a strategy that wide receiver Kevin Johnson thinks other teams have mimicked in recent years against the Steelers.

"He came up with great game plans," Johnson said of Palmer, now Houston's offensive coordinator. "I think he was one of the first guys to spread them out."

That worked for the Browns last January before the Steelers rallied in the second half, scoring 22 unanswered points to hand Cleveland yet another heartbreaking loss.

Cowher has been on both sides. As a backup linebacker and special teams star for Cleveland, he never won in Pittsburgh. The Browns lost 16 straight games at Three Rivers Stadium from 1970-85.

"It's a special rivalry," he said. "I really do enjoy playing in this game."

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