If the Cleveland Browns ever want to fully arrive in the AFC North, their road goes a little south and east to the mountains of Pennsylvania.
That's where the Pittsburgh Steelers have sat with their feet on the desk and tossed paper wads into wastebaskets while the Browns tried to get in the door. No team has done more to make the Browns feel like a kid brother in the division than the Steelers.
And no quarterback has done more to leave them more defeated than Ben Roethlisberger. That's the challenge the Browns face Sunday when the teams play and the attitude the Steelers bring having won four of their last six.
This game is a rivalry in name only. Pittsburgh has owned Cleveland -- it took a Charlie Batch start and eight turnovers for the Browns to win last season -- and the Browns are trying to prove they belong.
As Sunday's 1 p.m. ET game approaches, ESPN.com Browns reporter Pat McManamon chats it up with Steelers reporter Scott Brown.
McManamon: Scott, Pittsburgh had what looked like its most impressive game in beating Detroit (a team that handled the Browns). At this point, are the Steelers looking at the Browns as two winnable games as they make a playoff push, or are they still trying to find themselves?
Brown: Shame on you, Pat, for asking a question like that. As a veteran NFL reporter, you should know that they play one game at a time, especially in Pittsburgh. Mike Tomlin will be the first to tell you that his team's play will be below the line -- obviously -- if it looks ahead and that he doesn't want the Steelers assuming anything even though the arrow is pointing up for them. OK, maybe answering this after enduring Tomlin's weekly news conference wasn't such a good idea.
Your point is well taken, and Steelers fans are certainly playing out the schedule in their mind along with talk-show radio hosts and other media folk such as myself. A lot of people probably have the Steelers beating the Browns twice given recent history and the fact that Cleveland is still paying a heavy price for passing on Roethlisberger in the 2004 draft.
Pat, it seems like a never-ending quarterback carousel in Cleveland with Jason Campbell the latest to take a turn at the most important position for the Browns. I know he is not the long-term answer, but is he good enough to beat the Steelers?
McManamon: If he does, Scott, he's in select company. The only Browns quarterback to beat Roethlisberger since he was taken in 2004 was Brady Quinn -- who won even though he went 6-for-19. Yes, the Steelers have done a number on the Browns since 1999 on a regular basis. Can Campbell win? Doubtful, based on the way he played in Cincinnati. But if he somehow finds a way to play like he did against Baltimore and Kansas City, then maybe. But even the maybe is a long shot. Because Campbell is the kind of immobile, long-windup quarterback the Steelers' defense feasts on. No, this is not a typical Steelers defense, but the way Pittsburgh is playing should be enough to beat Campbell.
Scott, I saw Le'Veon Bell had 18 carries in the win over Detroit. He got only 36 yards, but is his return to healthy any kind of positive for Pittsburgh's run game or is the offense Ben, Ben and more Ben?
Brown: Bell has stabilized the running back position even though he has still yet to run for 100 yards in a game and is averaging 3.1 yards per carry. He has gotten some tough yards in key situations and rushed for four touchdowns. Bell also has good hands, can be trusted to pick up blitzing linebackers and has the skills to develop into the best all-around back the Steelers have had in years.
That said, he will probably be more of a receiving than running threat against the Browns. This doesn't look like a favorable matchup for the Steelers as far as establishing Bell, and I think they will try to use the pass to set up the run.
Pat, it looks like the Browns have assembled a really good defense. My question is two-fold: How similar is the defense to the brand played for years in Pittsburgh given Ray Horton's Steelers ties, and where is the Browns' defense most vulnerable?
McManamon: Interesting question, Scott, because Horton touts his defense as a carbon copy of the Steelers. He even said last week that it would be interesting to see two teams playing the same defense. Horton adores Dick LeBeau, loves the style he coaches and implements it in Cleveland. They have a corner developing into a Pro Bowler in Joe Haden whose assignment will be Antonio Brown. That matchup is key to Horton's success and allows him to go after the quarterback aggressively. The Browns are probably most vulnerable if their aggressiveness does not lead to pressure or sacks. A veteran like Roethlisberger should be able to find the favorable matchup if he can avoid the pressure.
While we're talking defense, Campbell turned into the checkdown king in Cincinnati on Sunday. Only when the Browns were well behind did he even try to throw deep, and he never threw down the middle of the field. Clearly Campbell seemed affected by the Bengals' rush. Are the Steelers salivating at the thought of facing the statue this weekend, or have they lost their pass-rush touch?
Brown: Pat, I will say this: Campbell won't face nearly the caliber of pass-rushers that he did the last time he started a game against the Steelers. That came in 2008 when the Steelers sacked him seven times in a 23-6 win over the Redskins and had James Harrison, who would win NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors that season, at right outside linebacker.
The Steelers have just 18 sacks this season, and Harrison is now playing for the Bengals with a combination of Jason Worilds and rookie Jarvis Jones manning right outside linebacker. The Steelers will allow Campbell to check down all afternoon if he wants. One staple of a LeBeau defense is to keep everything in front of the defensive backs and tackle after the catch. The Steelers will gladly take their chances in forcing Campbell to put together extended scoring drives to beat them.
My final question for you is this: Do the Steelers take any psychological advantage into this game because of recent history in this rivalry and the fact that the Browns are reeling a bit?
McManamon: The Steelers will always have a psychological advantage over the Browns until the Browns take it away. Beating Batch doesn't do that. As long as Roethlisberger is the quarterback, as long as Pittsburgh wears black and gold, the Steelers will have an edge. That the Browns enter having lost four of five only exacerbates the issue. The adage in the NFL is that respect is not given, it's earned. The Browns have done little to earn anything from the Steelers but scorn.