The numbers haunt Crennel
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Everywhere he looks this week, Romeo Crennel sees a bad number.
That's the number of yards his Cleveland Browns allowed against the Dallas Cowboys four days ago. A quarter ton of yardage, if you will.
That's the yards allowed by his alleged pass defense downrange from Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, meaning somebody's obviously off to a miserable start in the all-important Romeo/Romo ratio.
That's Cleveland's time of possession while losing the opener at home, 28-10. Barely enough time to prepare a pizza. What's that? Large pepperoni? You gonna pick it up?
OK, give us 22 minutes, 31 seconds.
Crennel found the right word for all this yesterday in a conference call with the Pittsburgh media.
"We're underwater," he said, and frankly, he sounded like a man preparing to be handed an anchor.
"We haven't done very good against the Steelers," he said. "We have to play a lot better just to be respectable. We're trying not to dwell on negative things that have happened in the past."
The thing is, Crennel can't figure out what to do with that big bag of bad numbers he's lugging around, other than to throw it on the mountain of haunting numerology that is the always fresh history of Steelers-Browns, and hope to torch the whole thing back toward that ever-elusive respectability.
Evidently, even when the Browns go 10-6, as they did last year, these biannual 60-minute sessions with the Steelers remain crippling to that franchise. Few know the very, very bad numbers better than the suffering Browns audience. The Steelers have won nine in a row in this series, 15 of 16, 22 of 25.
"I know it's the biggest game of the year for them," said Steelers defensive tackle Nick Eason, who spent three seasons with the Browns through 2006. "They might not say it, but this is the game. If they lose, it's catastrophic for the city, catastrophic for the players. The fans, I know they're still sick from last year's game up there, and sick from the second game too. I remember in one game, I had Ben [Roethlisberger] for what should have been a sack, but he ran this fake and I let him go. He still had the ball. He wound up completing a pass and it kept the drive alive that won the game [24-20]. I stayed at home after that. Didn't even go to the grocery store, you know? Out of sight, out of mind.
"Hey, this is their Super Bowl; I know because I've been there."
The pressure on the Browns to beat the Steelers is as much external as internal, where the pressure is merely explosive.
"The city puts a lot of pressure on the team," said Keith Butler, the Steelers' linebacker coach who spent four years with Cleveland beginning with its 1999 expansion team. "It's all they talk about, and I know the owner [Randy Lerner] would like to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers as much as any team in the league. It's a lot like a playoff game to them, because it kind of gets you a boost up in the division. All that said, do they put more emphasis on it than we do? No.
"It's just that the systems that are in place here have been in place a long time. This is my sixth year here. Coach [John] Mitchell's been here a lot longer than I have. The defensive system has been taught for a long time. The offense has changed somewhat under [offensive coordinator Bruce Arians]. But when you have players who teach it to other players, it gets to be part of the culture. James Farrior's become a great coach. Larry Foote's become a great coach. That kind of culture has been very hard to establish for them, especially when they keep firing head coaches and firing coordinators."
Nine consecutive victories by one club over a familiar opponent isn't by itself worthy of undue inspection. Buffalo has done it to Cincinnati, New England has done it to Buffalo, San Diego has done it to Oakland, and all those streaks are current. None of it's all that hard to explain, not even this somehow singular Browns-Steelers relationship.
"They've won nine in a row because they've played better," said Crennel, who is only 0-6 personally in this series. "If we'd play better we'd have a chance to do something about it."
Given a favorable reaction of talent and desperation, Sunday in prime time might be Cleveland's best chance to do something about it in a long time. While the talent gap has ostensibly narrowed between these two, the specialized psychometry of the series has only hardened.
"I don't think we have any big edge in talent; they've got pretty good talent," said Mitchell, the Steelers' assistant head coach whose first pro job was with the Browns in the early '90s. "Sometimes I think with them it's like a baseball player, you get into a slump and sometimes it just takes a long time to come out of it."
There's some wisdom in that, obviously. I mean if the Browns played baseball, they could easily be the Indians, provided they took Crennel's advice and, you know, played a little better.
Gene Collier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1283.
First published on September 11, 2008 at 12:00 am
More numbers that will haunt Cernnel - 98,99,91,51,50,95,55,43,25,20,26, I won't even start with the offense