The Cleveland Browns head to Heinz Field to take on the 4-0 Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, October 18th at 1 pm est.
The Browns have not won at Heinz since 2003, beating the Tommy Maddox lead Steelers 33-13. This has been a one-sided rivalry for a long time as Ben Roethlisberger owns a 23-2-1 record against the Browns. This year, the difference is the Browns are 4-1 under new head coach Kevin Stefanski and come in with a confident team ready to make the past the past. So what will it take to beat their rivals this year?
Protect the football
Baker Mayfield has been an improved quarterback through five games this season. Last season at this point, Mayfield had thrown four touchdowns compared to eight interceptions. Under new head coach, Kevin Stefanski, Mayfield has started the year with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. Last week against the Colts was the embodiment of Mayfield’s inconsistency right now.
In the first half he threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns. In the second half, as pressure increased, he threw two interceptions. The Steelers have 70 pressures per Pro Football Reference and will bring it on every down as they always have. Mayfield has to be better at protecting the ball. Overall, Mayfield had a solid game, and the Browns won, but you can’t let teams like the Colts or, for that matter, the Steelers back into games. Eventually, it will end badly.
This is not a knock on Mayfield. He is still growing in a new system with limited game reps. It is just a fact. Turnovers must be minimized, especially against good teams, or you will lose no matter how good you play otherwise.
In three games against the Steelers, Baker has thrown five touchdowns and two interceptions with a quarterback rating of 81.6. This is the new ‘biggest game of the year,’ so he will need to be at his best.
Keep pounding away
Simple, right. Well, maybe not so much. The Steelers are the best run defense in the NFL. Last week against the Colts’ stout front, the Browns were able to muster 124 yards but only averaged 3.8 yards per carry. They were able to make some big plays at the end to help seal the win.
The Browns need to have the same commitment to the run this Sunday. Of the four teams, the Steelers have faced, the Eagles are the best rushing offense at 108 yards per game. They ran for 94 yards this past weekend, but most of that came on a 74 yard run by Miles Sanders. The other three teams faced are all 28th or worse in rushing offense.
They need to stick to the run and make the Steelers prove they are as good as the numbers.
Get Ben on the ground
Big Ben has taken it to the Browns since day one as a Steeler. Most of this has fallen on the Cleveland organization’s ineptness over that time, but Ben is also a good quarterback. The Browns will need the pass rush to hit home once again.
Myles Garrett has four sacks against the Steelers in four games. The only other team he has more against is the Jets. He is always ready to get after Roethlisberger. The rest of the Browns’ top ten pass rush must also get constant pressure. Roethlisberger has been sacked six times this season and has two fumbles (Looking at you, Myles). The front four must dominate once again for this defense to have a chance.
Don’t lose focus on the run
The Steelers are not the ground and pound team of the past as they only rank 16th in rushing yards, but they will use it if it’s working. With the focus falling on stopping Cleveland killer Roethlisberger, the Browns can’t lose sight of the ground game. James Conner proved against the Broncos he can still hit for big yardage, so the defense must stay disciplined.
Speaking of discipline, the Steelers have also made handing off to receivers a regular part of what they do. In three of the first four games of the year, they have had at least one handoff to a receiver. This is a smart, sound football team, and the defense must be ready for anything come Sunday.
It would not hurt if they could keep the turnover trend going either.
Out Sunday for the Browns
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