As the Cleveland Browns are felt to be on the cusp of relevance, there is already talk about their rivalry with the Pittsburgh Steelers emerging—or re-emerging, after decades of slumber—as one of the great ones in all of the NFL this season. It’s certainly possible, but kind of needs to be seen to be believed.
Rivalries are strong when the games are competitive, but they are at their best when it’s not so lopsided in the win column. That hasn’t been the case for the Browns against the Steelers. And it wasn’t the case for the Cincinnati Bengals during their recent run of success, either, making the playoffs five years in a row.
Geoff Hobson, the primary writer for the team’s website, has a theory as to why the Steelers dominated the Marvin Lewis era in spite of the fact that there were times during that period where Cincinnati actually had a better season, or even a better team.
“Here’s why I think the Steelers dominated the Marvin Lewis Era”, he quote recently in a mailbag article in response to a question asked by a fan. “While the Bengals would say, ‘we want to run the ball’, Pittsburgh would say, ‘we’re going to run the ball’. Big difference”.
Now, understand, Hobson is not specifically talking about each team’s respective ability to run the football. What he is talking about is more general, an attitude, a sense of confidence. The Bengals, he is saying, are a team that aspired to things, that wanted to reach a certain level. The Steelers always understood that they were on that level and knew that they could do anything that they needed or wanted to do on any given day.
I think that’s an interesting take, and probably has a lot of truth to it. Even during the recent height of the rivalry, the Bengals’ players always talked in tones that reflected their understanding that they are the younger brother in the relationship, trying his hardest not to get dunked on anymore.
And, boy, have they gotten dunked on. Sure, they’ve played the Steelers close a number of times—they needed a comeback drive in the first game last year—but this has been one of the most lopsided series in recent NFL history.
Pittsburgh is currently on an eight-game winning streak against the Bengals, going back to a 33-20 victory late in the regular season of 2015. They are 11-1 in the past 12 meetings extending into the 2013 season. Overall, Lewis beat the Steelers just seven times in 16 years, posting a 27-7 record in that span, including two postseason losses.
But the Lewis era is over now. He inherited a no-luck franchise and actually turned them into occasional contenders. Zac Taylor actually has some talent to work with from Lewis’ years, and he is coming from a winning organization. Can he change the Bengals’ mentality in trying to knock off the big dog in the division?