Steelers, Browns both aim to halt losing streaks
It only seems natural that head coach Hue Jackson would be on the hot seat in Cleveland. The Browns are off to their worst start in 70 years having lost 10 straight to begin the season and are staring down the barrel at a perfect season — perfect as in 0-16.
When things go wrong along the lakefront — as they have so often — Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has been quick to bring down the guillotine. Since purchasing the team in 2012, Haslam has fired three head coaches.
The Steelers, on the other hand, have had three coaches since 1969 — Chuck Noll (1969-1991), Bill Cowher (1992-2006) and Mike Tomlin (2007 to present).
In Pittsburgh, they're not used to adversity and now that the Steelers have lost four in a row, it seems like everyone is clamoring for Tomlin's head.
Never mind that the Steelers, who travel to the Dawg Pound for a 1 p.m. Sunday affair, have a good chance to be tied atop the AFC North after this week's action.
Such is life in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately NFL where the heat is on Tomlin of the 4-5 Steelers but not so much on Jackson of the 0-10 Browns.
With the Steelers in danger of suffering their first losing season in Tomlin's 10-year career at Pittsburgh, he has ignored the outside clutter and is focused on getting his team ready and forgetting about the nightmare that was the Cowboys.
“We're just not playing well enough,” Tomlin said after losing 35-30 in the final seconds to Dallas on Sunday. “We're not in the right place enough. We're not looking at the right things enough.
“The tape says we're not disciplined enough. The tape says there aren't enough people doing the right things on a consistent basis to produce a victory,” he added.
Pittsburgh now has lost three straight on the road and plays four of its next five away from Heinz Field. The offense has been inconsistent on the road — they have scored a total of 32 points in those three losses — and the defense has been atrocious.
And now the Steelers must find a replacement for their best defender, Cam Heyward, who tore a pectoral muscle against Dallas and is out for the season.
Heyward had plenty to say about the Steelers' inability to prevent the big play after the defense allowed three scoring plays of 30 yards or longer against Dallas.
“When you do that you're not going to have a lot of success in this league,” he said “I take this one on the chin personally because I feel like our offense did enough. As the leader of the defense it falls on me and goes down from there. It's just unacceptable.”
Big plays and the mounting losses are taking a toll on a number of defenders including linebacker Ryan Shazier.
“We just have to have better detail. … We're giving up too many big plays. We're not stopping the run. That's a recipe for disaster,” Shazier said. “We'll look at the film, criticize each other and make sure we get each other back on point. Losing sucks.”
If there's one team that knows about losing it's the Browns. They've lost 13 straight dating to the end of last season, and despite some reports of a rift between Jackson and the front office, there appears to be a long-term plan in place that has the backing of the players and management. The fans just want a win.
The Browns have the youngest team in the league and have stockpiled draft picks in the next few years. They might be on their way to a historically bad season, but they haven't thrown in the towel.
“Everyone hates losing, but if you get discouraged, your play is going to drop, and if your play drops, you lose your job,” guard John Greco said. “Hopefully, the veteran leadership and the guys that have been on winning programs will show the young guys this is a long season, but we want them to get their first win so we can turn this positive culture we talk about into a winning culture.”
One of the few bright spots for Cleveland this year has been the emergence of wide receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr., who has compiled 51 receptions for 627 yards and four touchdowns.
Whoever is at quarterback for the Browns — rookie starter Cody Kessler or veteran Josh McCown — they might want to take advantage of Pryor's speed and height against rookie corner Artie Burns.
Another glimmering hope for the Dawg Pound has been the play of linebacker Christian Kirksey, who leads the NFL with 94 tackles.
The Browns on Wednesday also received a bit of good news when quarterback Robert Griffin III was cleared for non-contact activities. The fifth-year QB broke a bone in his shoulder the first week of the season and is expected to begin practicign again next week.
“We are not here to have the record we have,” Jackson said. “We're all disappointed and probably to a person a little embarrassed by it.”
Jackson can take solace in receiving the support of executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown earlier this week.
“The days of winning are coming. I'm confident of that. We just have to stick with the plan and support our fans through the process,” he said.
Only one thing will take the heat off Tomlin and that's a victory. With the Ravens playing the Cowboys this weekend, the Steelers have a golden opportunity to forge a tie atop the AFC North, and the Browns are just what the doctor ordered.
Cleveland has one of the league's worst defenses, giving up 419 yards and 30.1 points per game. Expect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown to take advantage of a weak Cleveland secondary that has struggled against other top passing offenses.
And while Pittsburgh has had its problems getting the running game in gear, there should be plenty of opportunity for running back Le'Veon Bell to find some success against the Browns, who are 31st against the rush, allowing 144 yards per game.
Sunday's game is the 127th time the teams have met in the regular season and the Steelers lead the series, 68-58, and since 2004 the Steelers have dominated sweeping the Browns nine times. The two teams close out the regular season on Jan. 1 in Pittsburgh.