Mike Tomlin has dominate the Browns with a record of 23-5-1. (CBS Sports)
Browns season really starts with first division game against Steelers
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.
Four downs on Browns (1-1) v. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1)
First down: Season re-start.
The first game of the AFC North schedule represents a new beginning for the Browns. That’s a good thing. The loss to the Jets was a cataclysm of mental and physical foul-ups that turned a 30-17 lead into a 31-30 loss in the last 1 minute, 55 seconds. The worst kind of bad football, when a superior team gifts a precious win to an inferior team. Losing football. Angry fans drank hard and booed hard. Myles Garrett called out the fans. Interestingly, nobody in the locker room supported the team leader’s bad take. It all needs to be erased quickly if the Browns are going to contend. On Tuesday, the defensive team held a players-only meeting, per cornerback Greg Newsome, no doubt to stem the tide of passive-aggressive finger-pointing. It seems the Browns have reached a crossroads much, much too soon in a young season. But that’s where they’re at. Can quiet, stoic Kevin Stefanski rally the troops and steer them on the right track? The Steelers are the perfect opponent at this premature critical juncture. A Browns win puts them at 2-1 and, more importantly, 1-0 in the AFC North. It’s a good position to be in. Kind of like having the ball on your home field with a 24-17 lead and 2 ½ minutes to go in a game. Wait, what?
Second down: Mitchell-palooza.
Mitchell Trubisky’s homecoming was not supposed to be in a Pittsburgh Steelers uniform. Prior to the 2017 draft, the Browns’ analytics department, headed by Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta, argued to make Trubisky, the Ohio Mr. Football from Mentor High School, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Hue Jackson and Gregg Williams nearly had seizures in protest. They got their way – possibly for the only time – and the Browns took Garrett at the top of the draft. The Chicago Bears were so convinced the Browns would still make a play for Trubisky that they over-traded from No. 3 to No. 2 to select Trubisky. Fast forward to the 2022 offseason. The Browns and Steelers both were in the hunt for veteran quarterbacks. The Browns, with DePodesta still in a position of authority, passed on Trubisky in free agency and instead dealt three No. 1s and guaranteed $230 million for Deshaun Watson, who is suspended for 11 games. Trubisky was signed by the Steelers as a short-term bridge in the post-Ben Roethlisberger era until 2022 first-round draft choice Kenny Pickett is ready. Seeking to revitalize his career after four unfulfilling seasons in Chicago and one Microsoft Surface-holding season in Buffalo, Trubisky has a lot to overcome – including his own offensive coordinator – to earn his next starting job. He did beat the Browns as a rookie with Chicago, 20-3, in Soldier Field.
Third down: Myles to go.
Browns-Steelers games have come to be referendums on who’s the more deserving defensive player-of-the-year candidate, Garrett or T.J. Watt. Watt always has won that argument, which partly explains why Garrett never has received a vote for DPOY while Watt won it in 2021, outvoting three-time DPOY winner Aarond Donald. For this game, Watt is out with a torn pectoral muscle. That is a great benefit for left tackle Jedrick Willis and quarterback Jacoby Brissett. It is also a benefit for Garrett. If he shines on the national stage of Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime, he could jumpstart his case again for a vote for DPOY.
Fourth down: Get excited.
Mike Tomlin is 23-5-1 against the Browns. One of the losses was a shellacking in the 2020 season playoffs. But for the most part, Tomlin has had similar, dominating success against the Browns as did predecessor Bill Cowher. Yes, the Steelers have had the better talent most of the times. But they also had an edge because Tomlin, and Cowher before him, always stressed the importance of the games among division rivals. “It’s more of a statement game,” said Browns tight end Jesse James, who played for the Steelers from 2015-18. “There always should be [more buzz during the week].” Todd Haley was Tomlin’s offensive coordinator from 2012 through 2017, and then bolted to the Browns in 2018. He's been on both sides of this rivalry. Haley said, “Nobody ever took it for granted. You just try to impress upon your guys these division games are something special, and you need to treat them that way.” When asked about the Steelers game this week, most Browns took the approach of their even-keel coach: “It’s just another game.”
The pick: Browns 24, Steelers 16.
My record: 1-1.