The Browns should’ve beaten the Steelers back in Week 1. The defense forced six turnovers — five courtesy of Ben Roethlisberger — but a blocked field goal with seconds left in overtime meant Cleveland and Pittsburgh were headed for a tie.
Seven weeks later, the teams were to meet again and in the days leading up to the game, Browns defensive end Myles Garrett warned, “You do not know who is the better out of the two yet. We have to finish it off and see who wins round two.”
Now we know.
The Steelers cruised to a 33-18 win that shouldn’t have been that close. The Browns’ defense, which created two more turnovers, got off to a hot start; Pittsburgh’s first three offensive series ended like this: punt, interception, punt. Cleveland led 6-0 when Greg Joseph honked a 41-yard field goal early in the second quarter. The Steelers scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives, were up 14-6 at the break and never looked back. By the fourth quarter, James Conner was running wild through the secondary and an exhausted Browns defense was helpless to do much about it.
But Garrett thinks Sunday’s performance was less about effort and more about execution.
“I think we just took the wrong approach this time,” he said, via Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot. “I think we should’ve just stayed with what we did the first time, just go with base calls and punch them in the mouth. I feel like we should’ve stuck with the same game plan. … It’s not always going to be six, but I feel like if we would’ve stuck with what we did before, then we could’ve had another game like that or near that.”
So what changed from Week 1 to Sunday?
“I just feel like we were moving around a lot in the front four and we were experimenting with some things, and I think we should’ve just stayed in our usual calls and just got after that, but we’ll go back and look at what we could’ve done better,” said Garrett, who finished with a tackle, a tackle for loss and a sack.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams deserves a lot of credit for how this unit has performed through the first half of the season — both the (mostly) good and (occasional) bad.
“I don’t see it that way,” Garrett explained when asked if Williams would have an issue with his remarks. “He wants to go with the best plan possible, and if we think what works best would be what we did before, then he’s going to take our adjustment into account. He’s not going to bash us for having an opinion. He wants us to be able to be on the field and be comfortable.”
Coming into Sunday’s action the Browns ranked No. 2 in total defense, via Football Outsiders. Breaking it down, they’re first against the pass but 25th against the run, which explains how Conner ran for 146 yards on 24 carries (6.1 YPC) and two touchdowns. In the first matchup he finished with 135 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
“We’ve got to go back and look at the tape [to figure out how Conner had so much success],” Garrett said. “I think it’s more of what we did rather than him just being that explosive. I mean, he’s a good player, and he’s going to make those plays that we give to him, especially when we open it up for him, but we’ve just got to look back at the tape.”
Williams’ task doesn’t get any easier this week; the Chiefs, owners of the league’s most explosive offense, are coming to town. Patrick Mahomes can beat you through the air, but Kareem Hunt is more than happy to wear you out on the ground too. But this isn’t all on the defense; the offense, which has been among the NFL’s worst, has to get going.
To recap: The Browns have a plus-10 turnover differential and find themselves at 2-5-1.
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