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10-18-2009, 03:14 AM
Browns looking forward to Steelers matchup

Defensive coordinator says 'Bring it on;' underdogs hope to shake off woeful history

By Marla Ridenour
Beacon Journal sports writer

Published on Sunday, Oct 18, 2009

BEREA: Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan stood at the podium in the Browns' media room Friday looking like he was ready to stomp on a Terrible Towel.

He even weighed that suggestion before sanity prevailed.

''No, I'm going to let that one go. I'm not saying nothing,'' said the usually ebullient loose cannon, perhaps abandoning the idea of a prediction for the game today in Pittsburgh against the defending Super Bowl champions.

But with his ferocity, Ryan showed he understands what it means when the Browns play the Steelers, even if it has been a rivalry in name only of late. The Browns have lost 11 in a row and 17 of the past 18, which spans three coaches Chris Palmer, Butch Davis and Romeo Crennel. Only three players on the Browns' roster kicker Phil Dawson, tight end Steve Heiden and long snapper Ryan Pontbriand have ever beaten the Steelers with the Browns.

''Right here I'm not jumping off this thing, but I'm getting ready to,'' Ryan said, a dive off the platform seeming a serious possibility. ''This is why you come into coaching, these are the type of games you look forward to playing and watching your guys. Is it going to take all they've got physically? Damn right. That's why you love this type of game. I hope it snows, rains, mud, I don't care. Bring it on, we're excited about it.''

The Steelers have bedeviled the best of Browns coaches, even Hall of Fame-bound Bill Belichick. Marty Schottenheimer (7-2) and the late Bud Carson (2-1) had winning records against the Steelers. The defensive coordinator during Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain days, Carson drilled the Steelers 51-0 in his debut in 1989.

But since Carson's 25-game stint as Browns coach, success has been defined by breaking even. Jim Shofner 0-1. Belichick 3-8. Palmer 2-2. Davis 1-8. Crennel 0-8.

At least twice, Browns execs have said they would have to rebuild their team to beat the Steelers. The first came after Belichick's Browns lost three times to the Steelers in 1994, including a 29-9 playoff setback. The next was General Manager Phil Savage, who said before the 2006 draft: ''Can the guy help us beat Pittsburgh? That's the question that has been imposed on every player we have evaluated thus far.''

Now comes coach Eric Mangini, with his graphs and Excel charts and extensive files on coordinators' tendencies probably dating to their first high school job. Can he push the Browns' buttons against the Steelers?

Savage, who worked with Mangini under Belichick in the 1990s, seemed burdened and always made references to the Browns' past. Can Mangini forget the Steel anvil hanging over the Browns' heads?

Asked if his team is intimidated by the Steelers, Mangini said, ''I don't think anybody feels that way.''

The Steelers have won two Super Bowls in the past four years, one under coach Mike Tomlin, who succeeded Bill Cowher in 2007. Tomlin sounds like he's escaped the pressure of past Steeler glory and doesn't see why Mangini should be burdened by past failure.

''We don't worry about what's happened in the past,'' Tomlin said. ''I know coach Mangini doesn't care what's happened the last 11 times we've played those guys. Those aren't issues. He's not toting that baggage and neither are we.''

Last week, Mangini did try to give his players a little Pittsburgh flavor, playing Steelers fight songs during practice, including Here We Go . . . Pittsburgh's Going to the Super Bowl, a Steelers version of Roll Out the Barrel, and another that mentioned ''Bradshaw and Rocky.'' A sports psychologist is on staff and it's likely he was busy. Mangini didn't rule out a motivational speaker, although that might not be exclusive to Steelers week.

''If I thought that that would play a role in it, I'm open to that,'' Mangini said. ''Do you have any suggestions? I'm not making light of it. If there was something that I thought could help out, it'd be great. There's a lot of motivation internally. It's to win this game and to continue to make progress. This is a process.''

Mangini defeated the Steelers in 2007 when he was coaching the New York Jets. During a 4-12 season, the Jets prevailed 19-16 in overtime in the Meadowlands. They sacked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger seven times, intercepted him once and forced and recovered one fumble. Steelers running back Willie Parker managed just 52 yards.

Ryan has beaten them, too, in 2006, when he was defensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders. They prevailed 20-13 at home during a 2-14 Raiders season.

Ryan remembered almost every detail. He recalled two Raiders' interceptions returned for touchdowns, four interceptions and five sacks of Roethlisberger, missing on only his team total yards of offense. Ryan said it was 80, the Raiders actually managed 98. Roethlisberger threw for 301 yards in a losing effort.

Another regime, another formula for the Steelers. Will it be the same story, different day?

While Mangini reviews his notes and tapes and DVDs of past Steeler games and tries to defeat them with preparation, Ryan will try to rally the troops with fire.

''I'm looking forward to it,'' Ryan said Friday. ''It's one of the reasons I came here to Cleveland. I love football, I know Pittsburgh loves football, I know our town loves football.

''They're a great team to watch. They're physical and they represent their town well and I know we do, too. Right now we're a work in progress, but this is a team this city's going to love because we're a tough city, we're tough people here in Ohio. We're going to just keep getting better and eventually everybody's going to see that the plan's laid in place and it's perfect.''

Ready to trample a Terrible Towel yet?