CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers did not have much time to process how the first meeting of the season went between the teams, as just 17 days after meeting in a game that was memorable for all of the wrong reasons.
Less than three weeks after a fight between the teams cost Browns defensive end Myles Garrett at least the balance of the season and nearly three dozen players some kind of fine, the Browns and Steelers will renew their rivalry, this time at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh today.
“It’s either you or the team. Make a decision. That’s it,” Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said prior to Wednesday’s practice.
“We want to be tough and we want to play smart because that’s what usually wins football games. That entails a lot of different things, and that’s just one aspect of it. You have to put it all together to be successful, and sometimes, when you have younger guys, it takes them a little time to put it together, and I think we’re starting to see some of those examples that they can focus and just concentrate on the task at hand.”
Here are three things to watch for when the Browns and Steelers play this afternoon.
Recent history has not been good to the Browns when it comes to their AFC North Division rivalry against the Steelers.
The Browns have beaten the Steelers just seven times since returning to the National Football League in 1999 after a three-year hiatus, and that is a trend Cleveland’s players are very much looking forward to reversing by sweeping the season series for the first time since 1988.
“I always knew there was a rivalry, and Pittsburgh, I’m sure, always felt they were the big brother of the relationship,” wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said. “I think it’s saying ‘Enough is enough.’ We’re over here to be a part of something that’s different than what’s in the past and to be the more physical team and to be the one that comes out on top.”
Running back Nick Chubb added, “In order to make it a rivalry, we’ve got to win more games, like you said, they’ve won more in the past, so it’s probably a rivalry to us, but not to them, and we’ve got to continue to win games so we can get up there with them.”
With emotions running high in the rivalry because of the brawl between Garrett and Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph in the final eight seconds that marred a 21-7 Browns win two weeks ago, the players know keeping composure will be of utmost importance in a raucous environment in Pittsburgh.
“It will be huge. It will be loud and all that comes with it, but we have to stay together, stay composed and just play our game,” Chubb said.
“We know what we’re up against and we know how it’s going to be playing there. It’s just us ignoring everything and continuing to do what we’ve been doing, starting with today, getting better. How can we get better today and carry that on through the rest of the week and put it all together on Sunday.”
Protecting the ball
During the Browns’ three-game winning streak, quarterback Baker Mayfield has committed just one turnover, an interception on a deflected pass that was thrown behind and hit off the hands of Beckham Jr. against the Miami Dolphins.
The Steelers have been dominant in pressuring quarterbacks into mistakes, as evidenced by their 30 sacks at Heinz Field this season, as well as a plus-nine takeaway-giveaway ratio in front of the home fans.
“I have tried to build consistently to get better each week,” Mayfield said. “Obviously, the turnover last week was strictly due to a bad throw and it was bad feet. I just try to improve each week and continue to get better for our team.”