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fordfixer
09-14-2008, 12:20 AM
Winning big game against Steelers significant

By Marla Ridenour
Beacon Journal sports writer
http://www.ohio.com/sports/browns/28354529.html

POSTED: 07:33 p.m. EDT, Sep 13, 2008

BEREA: Shortly after 10 a.m. Friday, the Madden Cruiser pulled up outside the front door of Browns headquarters, signaling that one of the biggest days of Derek Anderson's football life was nearly upon him.

Even if the Browns-Pittsburgh Steelers showdown tonight wasn't nationally televised, even if iconic announcer John Madden wasn't in the house, the game would carry the same magnitude.

The Browns hope to make the leap from playoff contender to playoff qualifier this season, but they certainly didn't look like one in a 28-10 loss last Sunday to the Dallas Cowboys.

To reach the next level, the Browns (0-1) will have to get by the defending AFC North champion Steelers (1-0), who have won nine in a row in the series and 15 of the past 16. Players have acknowledged that it is a must-win. On his radio show last week, General Manager Phil Savage called it ''the biggest game since I've been here.''

While the Browns must get over the Steelers' hurdle, Anderson faces one of his own winning a big game.

His record as a starter is 10-6, 7-2 at home. But in his three most important games with the Browns, Anderson has fared poorly.

The best or worst example came last Dec. 23 in windy Paul Brown Stadium. All the Browns needed was a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals to qualify for the playoffs. Instead, Anderson threw four interceptions in a 19-14 loss. His 53.4 passer rating was his lowest of the season.

Last Nov. 11 at Heinz Field, the Browns jumped ahead of the Steelers 21-6 and led 21-9 at halftime. But after halftime, Anderson completed 6-of-19 passes for 53 yards, a 40.9 rating for 30 minutes.

The 2008 opener against the Cowboys also belongs in the big-game category but deserves an asterisk. It was Anderson's first start since suffering a concussion Aug. 18 against the New York Giants and his timing, especially with receiver Braylon Edwards, was off. He completed 8-for-11 on the Browns' first two possessions, and the score was tied 7-7. But his final five passes of the half fell incomplete, with one that Edwards dropped, as the Cowboys went ahead 21-7.

Browns coach Romeo Crennel clearly wants to see more from Anderson, the Pro Bowl quarterback who received a three-year, $24 million contract Feb. 29.

Asked if Anderson had matured in high-pressure situations since last season, Crennel said, ''The jury is still out as far as big games go. As we go through the season we'll be better able to answer that question.''

Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski defended Anderson, saying Friday, ''I think it's what you classify as a big game, you could debate on whether he's done well or not. Derek has a lot of pride about himself and how he plays and his performance.

''He has prepared very well, I think he is eager to play well and I'm expecting him to play well.''

No one will question Anderson's arm, his preparation or his attention to detail. He and Edwards stayed after practice last week, and Anderson was confident that he would be sharper against the Steelers.

''We're going to make a point of that,'' Anderson said. ''Whatever it takes this week, not saying we weren't prepared, but making sure every little thing is covered. I think that was a little bit of an eye-opener for some guys that maybe we've got to do a little bit more.''

A tough day against the Cowboys will only serve as more motivation for a quarterback who wasn't lacking any. He can probably close his eyes and see those back-to-back interceptions on passes to Jason Wright and Edwards in the second quarter at Cincinnati that led to 13 Bengals points.

''I think he uses every incomplete pass he threw last year as motivation,'' quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer said in May. ''That's just the way he is. He learned you can't carry that and let it weigh you down, but you have to learn from it. I sense from him that he has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. A good chip, not a negative chip.''

Before the season began, Anderson wasn't lacking for backers among the national media. CBS analyst Boomer Esiason was even ready to dismiss the four-interception day against the Bengals.

''If you play long enough you're going to have issues. How about if Derek Anderson had a defense that was in the top five? Then how good would he be?'' Esiason said. The Browns' defense ranked 30th in 2007. ''You have to realize in every NFL city, there are different reasons why a guy is going to be successful or unsuccessful.

''Let's say David Carr, instead of going to Houston, going to Pittsburgh with Bill Cowher. Do you think he's going to be successful because of the way Cowher would have protected him? But instead he has to go to an expansion team, and he gets ruined for his career. People have to understand it's more than just completing passes. The other two-thirds of the team has to be good for you as well. Derek Anderson is going to be a really good player. I like the kid. I don't think he's as careless as everybody thinks he is.''

CBS analyst Phil Simms is still puzzled why the 6-foot-6, 230-pounder from Oregon State wasn't drafted until the sixth round by the Baltimore Ravens in 2005. The Browns claimed him off waivers that Sept. 21 when the Ravens were trying to sneak him onto the practice squad.

''A lot of people are there because of Derek Anderson,'' Simms said, referring to contract extensions for Crennel and Savage after last year's 10-6 season. ''Even when he got hurt (against the Giants), I saw an improvement physically over what I saw last year.

''I saw him at Oregon State and I remember going, 'I don't get it. He's tall, he can really throw.' I've followed his career, and I've always said he's one of the purer throwers of the football in the league.''

Anderson can improve and reach the next level, Simms said, but it's not entirely up to him.

''A lot of that's going to depend on who's around him and coaches,'' Simms said.''More deception, more things to do, give him more opportunities. But when I've watched him in preseason, his foot movement, his coordination and his speed absolutely has improved. I even noticed it (against the Giants). I was like, 'Wow, a little more dynamic moving and throwing it.' ''

Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar watched the opener against the Cowboys with Browns owner Randy Lerner and his faith in Anderson hasn't wavered.

When it was suggested that Anderson has to win a big game sooner or later, Kosar replied, ''We're talking sooner.''
Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read her Browns blog at http://www.ohiomm.com/blogs/browns/.

BEREA: Shortly after 10 a.m. Friday, the Madden Cruiser pulled up outside the front door of Browns headquarters, signaling that one of the biggest days of Derek Anderson's football life was nearly upon him.

Even if the Browns-Pittsburgh Steelers showdown tonight wasn't nationally televised, even if iconic announcer John Madden wasn't in the house, the game would carry the same magnitude.

The Browns hope to make the leap from playoff contender to playoff qualifier this season, but they certainly didn't look like one in a 28-10 loss last Sunday to the Dallas Cowboys.

To reach the next level, the Browns (0-1) will have to get by the defending AFC North champion Steelers (1-0), who have won nine in a row in the series and 15 of the past 16. Players have acknowledged that it is a must-win. On his radio show last week, General Manager Phil Savage called it ''the biggest game since I've been here.''

While the Browns must get over the Steelers' hurdle, Anderson faces one of his own winning a big game.

His record as a starter is 10-6, 7-2 at home. But in his three most important games with the Browns, Anderson has fared poorly.

The best or worst example came last Dec. 23 in windy Paul Brown Stadium. All the Browns needed was a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals to qualify for the playoffs. Instead, Anderson threw four interceptions in a 19-14 loss. His 53.4 passer rating was his lowest of the season.

Last Nov. 11 at Heinz Field, the Browns jumped ahead of the Steelers 21-6 and led 21-9 at halftime. But after halftime, Anderson completed 6-of-19 passes for 53 yards, a 40.9 rating for 30 minutes.

The 2008 opener against the Cowboys also belongs in the big-game category but deserves an asterisk. It was Anderson's first start since suffering a concussion Aug. 18 against the New York Giants and his timing, especially with receiver Braylon Edwards, was off. He completed 8-for-11 on the Browns' first two possessions, and the score was tied 7-7. But his final five passes of the half fell incomplete, with one that Edwards dropped, as the Cowboys went ahead 21-7.

Browns coach Romeo Crennel clearly wants to see more from Anderson, the Pro Bowl quarterback who received a three-year, $24 million contract Feb. 29.

Asked if Anderson had matured in high-pressure situations since last season, Crennel said, ''The jury is still out as far as big games go. As we go through the season we'll be better able to answer that question.''

Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski defended Anderson, saying Friday, ''I think it's what you classify as a big game, you could debate on whether he's done well or not. Derek has a lot of pride about himself and how he plays and his performance.

''He has prepared very well, I think he is eager to play well and I'm expecting him to play well.''

No one will question Anderson's arm, his preparation or his attention to detail. He and Edwards stayed after practice last week, and Anderson was confident that he would be sharper against the Steelers.

''We're going to make a point of that,'' Anderson said. ''Whatever it takes this week, not saying we weren't prepared, but making sure every little thing is covered. I think that was a little bit of an eye-opener for some guys that maybe we've got to do a little bit more.''

A tough day against the Cowboys will only serve as more motivation for a quarterback who wasn't lacking any. He can probably close his eyes and see those back-to-back interceptions on passes to Jason Wright and Edwards in the second quarter at Cincinnati that led to 13 Bengals points.

''I think he uses every incomplete pass he threw last year as motivation,'' quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer said in May. ''That's just the way he is. He learned you can't carry that and let it weigh you down, but you have to learn from it. I sense from him that he has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. A good chip, not a negative chip.''

Before the season began, Anderson wasn't lacking for backers among the national media. CBS analyst Boomer Esiason was even ready to dismiss the four-interception day against the Bengals.

''If you play long enough you're going to have issues. How about if Derek Anderson had a defense that was in the top five? Then how good would he be?'' Esiason said. The Browns' defense ranked 30th in 2007. ''You have to realize in every NFL city, there are different reasons why a guy is going to be successful or unsuccessful.

''Let's say David Carr, instead of going to Houston, going to Pittsburgh with Bill Cowher. Do you think he's going to be successful because of the way Cowher would have protected him? But instead he has to go to an expansion team, and he gets ruined for his career. People have to understand it's more than just completing passes. The other two-thirds of the team has to be good for you as well. Derek Anderson is going to be a really good player. I like the kid. I don't think he's as careless as everybody thinks he is.''

CBS analyst Phil Simms is still puzzled why the 6-foot-6, 230-pounder from Oregon State wasn't drafted until the sixth round by the Baltimore Ravens in 2005. The Browns claimed him off waivers that Sept. 21 when the Ravens were trying to sneak him onto the practice squad.

''A lot of people are there because of Derek Anderson,'' Simms said, referring to contract extensions for Crennel and Savage after last year's 10-6 season. ''Even when he got hurt (against the Giants), I saw an improvement physically over what I saw last year.

''I saw him at Oregon State and I remember going, 'I don't get it. He's tall, he can really throw.' I've followed his career, and I've always said he's one of the purer throwers of the football in the league.''

Anderson can improve and reach the next level, Simms said, but it's not entirely up to him.

''A lot of that's going to depend on who's around him and coaches,'' Simms said.''More deception, more things to do, give him more opportunities. But when I've watched him in preseason, his foot movement, his coordination and his speed absolutely has improved. I even noticed it (against the Giants). I was like, 'Wow, a little more dynamic moving and throwing it.' ''

Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar watched the opener against the Cowboys with Browns owner Randy Lerner and his faith in Anderson hasn't wavered.

When it was suggested that Anderson has to win a big game sooner or later, Kosar replied, ''We're talking sooner.''

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read her Browns blog at http://www.ohiomm.com/blogs/browns/.