Heading into the season, the Steelers had won six straight against the Browns and 10 of the last 11. When the dust settled after their Week 1 get-together in Cleveland, the teams had their first tie in a series that spanned 133 games and goes back to 1950.
The Browns are currently sitting at 2-4-1, though you can make a pretty easy case that they should have five wins, and that includes a victory over the Steelers in the opener; with 13 seconds left in overtime, Pittsburgh linebacker T.J. Watt blocked what would’ve been the game-winning 43-yard field goal.
Seven weeks later and some Browns players are still sore with how things ended — and they have no intention of letting it happen again.
“You do not know who is the better out of the two yet,” defensive end Myles Garrett said, via Pro Football Talk. “We have to finish it off and see who wins round two.”
Safety Jabrill Peppers added: “I definitely feel like we let them sneak out of here. We fought all of the way back, but it should not have even been that if we did what we were supposed to do from the get go. We are just going to go over there focused, ready to go, hungry. They are coming off of a bye week so they will probably have a couple of wrinkles and things we probably have not seen on tape yet. For the most part, we know what we are going to get. We know what their guys are. We know what we have to do to win. It is just about going to battle.”
The Browns created six turnovers in that first meeting, including five courtesy of Ben Roethlisberger (three interceptions, two fumbles), who looked every bit the 36-year-old quarterback. But since that game he’s thrown 11 touchdowns, three picks and hasn’t fumbled once, and the Steelers have gone 3-2 and are atop the AFC North by percentage points over the Ravens and Bengals.
And while the Browns’ offense continues to sputter, the defense remains one of the league’s best units. In fact, this group ranks second behind only the Bears; they’re No. 1 against the pass but just 25th against the run, which could mean Pittsburgh leans on second-year running back James Conner, who went off when these teams last met. Conner finished with 135 rushing yards and two scores, in addition to 57 receiving yards. But he also had a critical second-half fumble that helped the Browns get back into the game.
And the Browns fully expect to force the Steelers into more mistakes on Sunday.
“That is the goal,” Garrett explained. “Six turnovers is a lot, but I think that it is doable. Just have to keep on getting after [Roethlisberger]. … For our season and our momentum, we have to come back and punch them in the mouth. It is definitely a big game for us as it is for them — all division games are. We have to be on our p’s and q’s.”
Peppers, meanwhile, thinks this is an opportunity for the Browns to get back on track.
“You could not write this story any better. Coming off of a tough loss — three tough losses,” he said. “Two of those, I think, we should have had, but that is the way the ball rolls some times. They are top of the division. We tied them at our place the first game of the season. Now, we get a chance to go up to their place. It is set up perfectly. Get this bad taste out of our mouths and start this run.”
Coach Hue Jackson said that he could take over playcalling duties from offensive coordinator Todd Haley. It’s worth noting that Jackson called the plays during his first two years in Cleveland and amassed a 1-31 record.
“I’m the head coach of the football team,” Jackson said earlier this week. “I will do what I feel I need to do to get this team where it needs to be.”
The Steelers haven’t lost at home to the Browns since 2003, when Bill Cowher and Butch Davis were the coaches, and Tommy Maddox and Tim Couch were the starters. Pittsburgh finished that season with a 6-10 record, one game better than Cleveland.