|On the chin: Steelers, Browns renew rivalry without Cowher|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 06 September 2007 15:43|
Bill Cowher and his famous chin won't be hanging around Sunday.
A new chapter opens in one of the NFL's fiercest and closest rivalries as Pittsburgh plays its first game under rookie coach Mike Tomlin. He has the unenviable task of trying to replace Cowher, the immensely popular Steelers coach who abandoned the stresses of the sideline for the comforts of the TV booth - for now.
Tomlin may be the 16th coach in Steelers history, but he's only the third since 1970, following in the Hall of Fame footsteps of Chuck Noll and Cowher, whose distinctive bust could one day be in Canton, too.
Along with averaging 11 wins per season, 10 playoff appearances, six visits to the AFC championship game and a Super Bowl victory, Cowher did something else better than any coach in Steelers history.
He pounded the Browns like a drum.
Including two playoff wins, Cowher went 21-5 against Cleveland, which has lost 13 of the last 14 and seven in a row against its hated neighbor from just down the Ohio Turnpike.
Tomlin, who spent last season as Minnesota's defensive coordinator, senses he's about to become part of something special.
``It's been an intense rivalry for a long time, I think dating back to 1950,'' said Tomlin, who was a summer coaching intern with the Browns in 2000. ``The geographical distances makes it unique - the fact that the two cities are close. It's been very impressive. Both organizations, franchises and storied histories, it's great to be part of it and I'm sure I'll develop a better appreciation for it as I get into it.''
Despite Pittsburgh's overwhelming recent dominance, the Steelers-Browns' series is knotted 55-55.
The 35-year-old Tomlin had the perfect pedigree to replace Cowher, whose teams were built around strong running games and relentless, blitzing defenses. When he took over the Steelers, Tomlin said Cowher gave him some simple, sound guidance.
``He said, 'Do it your way,''' Tomlin said. ``I'm sure he received the same advice from Chuck Noll. I think the longer I'm on the job, and I knew it going in, but the longer I'm on the job, then the more comfortable you have to feel doing things your way. I am, and I think that's why I'm having fun.''
For Tomlin's counterpart, Browns coach Romeo Crennel, fun has been fleeting.
Crennel's beginning a crucial third year in Cleveland, which has had just one winning season since returning as an expansion team in 1999. He's just 10-22 since taking over in 2005 for Butch Davis, whose three-plus seasons with the Browns were an absolute disaster.
Last week, general manager Phil Savage gave an unsolicited endorsement for Crennel.
``There is no Romeo Crennel watch in this building, on 76 Lou Groza Blvd., in Berea, Ohio,'' Savage said at the team's headquarters. ``I've said it 10 times: He's the right man for the job.
``There's nobody else out there that could've won more than eight to 12 games over the last two years with the roster we had and the circumstances and situations we've been through: motorcycle accidents, injuries, all sorts of things. To expect anything different than that is unrealistic.''
Crennel's future could rest in the hands of third-year quarterback Charlie Frye, who beat out Derek Anderson in training camp to be Cleveland's starter and must now hold off rookie Brady Quinn.
Frye has lost both starts against Pittsburgh. As a rookie on Christmas Eve, he was sacked eight times and had four fumbles in the Steelers' 41-0 mauling. Last year, he outplayed Pittsbugh's Ben Roethlisberger - a rival since college - for three quarters before the Steelers rallied for a 24-20 win.
Frye had to sit out Cleveland's second meeting of 2006 against Pittsburgh with a broken wrist. But from the moment the '07 schedule was announced, he has been looking for another shot at the black and gold.
Finally, Frye feels he knows the Steelers well enough to beat them.
``They just try to bring guys from different positions to try and cause confusion,'' he said. ``The more I look at it and the more times I play against them, the better feeling I get for them. I realize what I need to do. They're a good defense. They're well-coached. They are very fundamental and good tacklers. They really don't make a lot of mistakes.''
One of Roethlisberger's goals for 2007 is to minimize his mistakes after throwing a league-high 23 interceptions last season. The 25-year-old feels re-energized following a season that never got going after he was nearly killed in a motorcycle accident.
An 8-8 season, one year after winning the Super Bowl, was a huge disappointment for Big Ben, who appreciates the importance of getting off on the right foot against the Browns.
``People were coming up to me and (guard) Alan (Faneca) in the grocery store the other night saying, 'You have to win or the season's over.' Geez, it's the first game of the year,'' Roethlisberger said. ``But we take that mentality that it's a must-win for us because it is a divisional game, it is the first game and it's a start.''