We can’t do anything about the Week 1 abysmal performance the Steelers had against the 49ers, so it’s time to look at the Cleveland Browns ahead of Monday night’s 8:20 p.m. ET kickoff at Acrisure Stadium. These long-time division rivals have plenty of history, so let’s dive right in.
Steelers vs. Browns matchup history
It’s hard to find a more lopsided recent series history than that of the Steelers over the Cleveland Browns. Since Bill Cowher took over the team in 1992, the Steelers have had a 43-12-1 advantage as part of an 80-62-1 all-time lead.
The Steelers’ low point in this history would be the 51-0 opening-day drubbing the Browns gave the Black and Gold back in 1989. It’s been mentioned several times this week that the ‘89 Steeler team rebounded from that horrific showing in Week 1 to make the playoffs.
Legend has it that during the 2002 AFC Wildcard Playoff, with the Steelers trailing the Browns 24-7, during a 3rd quarter TV timeout the stadium decided to play Styx’s 1979 hit “Renegade”. The dejected Heinz Field crowd came to life, going crazy with their terrible towels during that song. Feeding off this shot of energy the Steelers began chipping away at the 17-point deficit.
QB Tommy Maddox would hit WR Plaxico Burress for a touchdown on the next drive. The “Renegade” effect was called upon again during the fourth quarter. Maddox would add TD throws to TE Jerame Tuman and WR Hines Ward before RB Christian Fuamatu-Ma’afala ran in the final TD of a 29-9 comeback in the 36-33 victory. The legendary hype song was born. There are now claims that the song gives the Steelers a measurable statistical advantage—one study states that an opponent fumble is seven times more likely to occur on the first snap after “Renegade” is played.
A more recent unforgettable memory from this series would be in the waning moments of a 2019 game when Browns’ DE Myles Garrett decided to try to drive QB Mason Rudolph like a railroad spike into the Cleveland turf using Rudolph’s own helmet as the hammer. For his actions, Garrett would be suspended by the NFL for the remainder of that season. The Browns reacted by signing him to a new contract making him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. Go figure.
The most recent game was the Steelers’ 28-14 victory in the final week of last season. That win gave the Steelers a 9-8 record and kept flickering playoff hopes alive momentarily. All the Steelers needed was for the Jets to beat the Dolphins, but a field goal with 23 seconds left secured the final playoff spot for Miami leaving the Steelers out.
Changes for the Browns in 2023
While technically not a change for 2023, as he played six games at the end of last year, QB Deshaun Watson remains the biggest story with the Browns. After an 18-month hiatus between taking snaps for the Houston Texans and his first snaps with the Browns, Watson looked rusty in those six games. Whether that rust got removed or will linger for the rest of his career remains to be seen. There’s not much history of an NFL quarterback missing 18 months and coming back to play, so we shall see.
Part of what the Browns traded to the Texans in acquiring Watson included this year’s first and second-round picks. As such, there’s not much new young talent in Cleveland to talk about. Starting RT Jack Conklin went down with a season-ending injury in Week 1, so 2023 fourth-round pick OT Dawand Jones will be starting for the Browns. If you’re not familiar with Jones, he measured 6’8, 374 pounds at the draft combine. He will be the mountain of a man in an orange helmet that T.J. Watt will either be running past or get swallowed by.
The Browns added a couple of veterans to play next to Garrett. DT Dalvin Tomlinson came over from the Vikings as a free agent. Za’Darius Smith, also from Minnesota, was acquired in a trade of late-round draft picks, giving Cleveland a very stout defensive line.
Family Ties: Steelers-Browns connections
For two teams that have been neighbors for such a long time, there are not a whole lot of notable players to suit up for both teams. In 2017, the Steelers solidified the secondary by signing CB Joe Haden about 10 seconds after Cleveland released him. Current Steeler Larry Ogunjobi started his career with four seasons in the Mistake by the Lake.
The biggest names with Browns and Steelers ties would be in the coaching ranks, where Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll each played for the Cleveland Browns before their Hall of Fame coaching careers would bring a combined five Super Bowl Championships to the Steel City. Noll was a guard and linebacker for the Browns championship teams of the ‘50s while Cowher was a special teamer in the early ‘80s for Cleveland.
It sure is easy to have disdain for our neighbors two hours to the Northwest, but perhaps gratitude is in order. Cleveland, thank you for Joe Haden. Thank you for “Renegade”. Thank you for any part in developing the young football minds of Noll and Cowher and the first five shiny Lombardi’s they brought to Pittsburgh!