Browns not so easy anymore

PITTSBURGH — The Cleveland Browns are in town today, and their visits have usually been as welcome as those from Santa Claus.

It’s generally been a nice way for the Steelers to pick up an easy win.

Maybe not now, though. The Browns still aren’t good, but they aren’t awful, either.

The Steelers should have picked up on that when the Browns managed to come out of the season opener with a tie against them. That was with the mediocre Tyrod Taylor at quarterback. He has since been supplanted by No. 1 draft choice Baker Mayfield.

His name may sound like a brokerage (“I moved my money from Hunter Pence to Baker Mayfield”) but he’s a talented player who has actually helped the Browns win games, something no Cleveland quarterback has seemingly done reliably since the days of Brian Sipe (Good morning, fellow old-timers).

The Steelers used to be automatic against rookie quarterbacks, devising schemes that would confuse them to the point of nightmares. This current Steelers defense mostly scares just Mike Tomlin.

The Steelers are coming off the bye week, and sometimes that leads to sluggishness. This is a big game for the Browns.

The Steelers and Browns frequently meet at the end of the season, when Cleveland’s hopes of respectability have been dashed and the sole priority is exiting the game without an injury that will ruin the offseason.

This time, though, the Browns are 2-4-1 and tap dancing on that thin line between winning and losing. They’ve lost two games by three points and another by four.

They may not be good, but they’re also no longer the Browns who inspire more laughs than a “Seinfeld” rerun.

Panthers a lot of fun

If you’re not invested emotionally in the outcome, Pitt’s football games are fun to watch.

There’s a lot of offense on both sides. The Panthers are either marching on some sort of spectacular drive, or they’re allowing one.

If you’re teaching an elementary school student basic math skills, Pitt games are a virtual workbook. They’re always adding six.

For those who are invested emotionally — like the university’s administration — it’s not such a good thing. Pat Narduzzi got the head coaching job on his resume as a defensive coach, and the Panthers don’t stop a whole lot of teams very well.

Viewer’s guide

FOX made at least one good decision with its World Series coverage. There are just two people in the booth, Joe Buck and John Smoltz.

They have sideline reporters, but they’re not called upon that often and usually have some valid information to offer.

Compare and contrast that with ESPN’s coverage of routine Sunday night games, which have three announcers in the booth — Matt Vasgersian, Alex Rodriguez and Jessica Mendoza.

More often than not, it seems like the game is an inconvenient backdrop for three-way conversation among the announcers. Then ESPN has to wedge in all the material it already has prepared because that justifies the effort of the people who did all the research.

FOX at least keeps it pretty basic during the game. Buck seems to annoy a lot of people, but he’s a capable TV play-by-play broadcaster. Smoltz can dive too deeply into analyzing every pitch, as though every pitcher can put every pitch exactly where he wants it.

However, they let the game come through where ESPN suffocates a routine regular season game.

Viewers are advised to come late and leave early to avoid FOX’s yuck-filled pre and post-game shows, where a bevy of former players take turns insulting each other.

If there’s anything good about it, it’s that FOX bounced pathetic Pete Rose after allegations that he enjoyed dating underage women when he was a player. That was too sleazy, even for FOX.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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