Browns Have Changed Since First Meeting

Trades, QB benching have given Cleveland different look

Josh Rowntree
October 24, 2018 - 4:43 pm
Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey (53) holds the ball at the line of scrimmage against the Cleveland Browns during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Categories: 

Five turnovers, a blown 14-point lead and an ugly tie on an ugly day in Cleveland. 

That was how the season started for the Steelers. What followed was an even uglier loss to Kansas City and a home defeat in prime time to rival Baltimore. 

But the Steelers have changed for the better, winning their last two games and ascending to the top of the AFC North. Cleveland is a drastically different team, as well. 

Rookie Baker Mayfield has taken over at quarterback for Tyrod Taylor, leading the Browns to their first win in 20 games. 

“He’s a gambler,” Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton said. “He likes to take chances. He’s very accurate. He’s a guy that likes to get out of the pocket. He doesn’t use his feet much, but he’s able to. So he’s a mixture of a lot of good things.”

“I like him,” safety Sean Davis added. “I watched him on film. He got trucked, but he got up and ran into the defender’s face. I kind of like that.”

“When I hit him, he’s not going to run into my face,” Davis joked. “But I do like him. He’s a good ball player. He’s put some good stuff on tape. I’m looking forward to playing him though.”

Cleveland’s defense leads the NFL in turnovers, with 20. So taking care of the ball appears to be top priority for Pittsburgh’s offense.

“We don’t look past that,” wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said. “We take that into account, that Cleveland’s defense is high in turnovers, interceptions, forced fumbles. We’ve got to be more aware of that. 

“Obviously, protecting the ball this week is going to be key. Turnovers, on our side, we have to limit those. It’s all about possession of the ball.”

In the first meeting, Pittsburgh led 21-14 in the fourth quarter. But James Conner, making his first start of the season in place of Le’Veon Bell, fumbled at his own 4-yard line. Cleveland then pulled to within a score and eventually tied the game late. 

“You just can’t let that happen,” Conner said of the play. “But that’s not me though.”

Now, with Bell still sitting out, Conner will look for redemption on his home field. 

“It’s going to be a tough game,” he added. “It’s going to be a physical game. They’ve got a great defense with a lot of turnovers. So we’ve just got to protect the ball.”

While Cleveland’s defense has stayed somewhat consistent, the offense has seen changes art the top of all three major positions. In addition to Mayfield’s emergence, wide receiver Josh Gordon was traded to New England and running back Carlos Hyde was shipped to Jacksonville. 

“We’re going to know what to expect this time,” Hilton said. “They’re leaning on their run game, heavy. Nick Chubb’s had two good weeks for them these last couple weeks. He’s a guy that they try to get the ball into his hands, make plays. We feel like, if we contain the big plays, we’ll come out on top Sunday.”

Chubb ran the ball just three times in the season opener. Taylor, Hyde and Gordon scored scored Cleveland’s three touchdowns in the opener. 

“We’ve just got to go out there and take care of business,” Hilton added. “We can’t focus on what happened in the first games. That’s seven or eight weeks back. We know they’re going to come in, ready to play. We’ve got to match their intensity.”

“I hope they’re working hard, man,” Davis said. “Because we’ve got something for them. But you can’t really worry too much about them. I just feel like, as long as we take care of us, we’ll get the job done.”