Meet The Opponent: Cleveland Browns

Donnie Druin

Who: Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4) at Cleveland Browns (3-6)
When: Thursday, November 14, 8:20 PM ET
Where: FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, OH
Network: Fox
Broadcast Team: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews
Spread: Browns (-2.5)

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now on a four game winning streak, and above .500 for the first time all season. The Steelers are rolling right now, and the team hopes to keep it's hot streak alive on a short week in what is being billed as a tough divisional match-up with the Cleveland Browns. 

Favored by many, the Browns reigned supreme as potential threats to the conference crown. Through nine games played, the Browns are 3-6 with disappointing play in nearly every facet of the game. 

Yet the Browns still possess worldly talent on both sides of the ball, and with a win, Cleveland would be one game back from Pittsburgh, a team that currently holds the sixth seed in the current playoff picture. All it takes is one game for a team to be rejuvenated. With two teams who are all too familiar with each other, "easy wins" don't exist when the Browns and Steelers prepare for battle. 

To talk about the upcoming Thursday night game, I had the pleasure of speaking with Pete Smith, Editor of Browns Maven. Follow Pete on Twitter @_PeteSmith_ for more updates on the Cleveland Browns. 

Donnie Druin: Before we talk x's and o's, what are your opinions on Thursday Night Football? Many (including myself) aren't terribly big fans of it. If you were Commissioner, what would you do about the league's current situation with TNF?

Pete Smith: I don't like Thursday Night Football. The physical toll it puts on player having played a game just days before is absurd. If they formed the schedule around bye weeks so that a team would have a bye week before a Thursday Night game, then they get the week and a half off after, it would be fine. But as it's currently constituted, it's ridiculous.

DD: There's no denying tensions have been rising in Cleveland, as many were quick to pencil Cleveland in as AFC North champions before the season. A win over a 6-2 Buffalo Bills team is certainly a start, but what in your opinion has to change in order for Cleveland to right the ship and start stacking wins?

Pete: The Browns have have gotten better in terms of turnovers the past two weeks particularly Baker Mayfield who has one fluky interception in the three games coming out of the bye week. The other issue that has plagued the Browns this season is their inability to capitalize in the red zone. That was obviously in the spotlight against the Bills, but that isn't an isolated incident. 

The team has not been nearly as effective as they were last year in that area of the field. If they can keep the turnovers down and do better in the red zone, they can win and win consistently.

DD: This will be the 135th meeting between the Browns and Steelers. Pittsburgh has dominated Cleveland since 2010 (15-2-1 record), yet 2019 will not see quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suit up in either match-up against the Browns for the first time in his career. We know fans in Cleveland have indifferent feelings (to put it kindly) for Roethlisberger, but do you believe the rivalry will feel different between the two teams? Or is the arrival of Mason Rudolph music to the ears of Browns fans?

Pete: Beating Ben Roethlisberger is certainly something the Browns and fans want to do, especially as he approaches the twilight of his career. They don't want him to retire without sending him out with a loss or few. When considering the Browns being 3-6, they aren't going to turn away wins from anyone. They need all of them, so Mason Rudolph being the quarterback doesn't matter. 

Beating the Steelers will always be important and if they can beat them twice in three weeks, it would be a massive boost for the season and how fans process this season.

DD: To swing the pendulum on quarterbacks, Baker Mayfield has fallen under heavy criticism for his play this season. Personally, I'm a fan of Baker. I believe he's got the right persona/edge that can help turn the Browns into a winning football team. However, a lot of his critics just don't believe he can get the job done. This is all from an outsiders perspective, however. What would you attribute Mayfield's struggles to, or are we simply overreacting to a bad stretch of games in the second season of a young quarterback?

Pete: Mayfield's struggles came down to a combination of things. He didn't trust his protection up front, so he was looking at the pass rush, holding onto the ball too long and taking sacks. He also fell victim to some bad luck with five interceptions off of the hands of his teammates. That stretched seemed as bad as it can really get for Mayfield. 

So if that's the floor, just getting back to average would be a massive improvement. Since the bye week, Mayfield has been far better, but he has to continue that trend. They haven't put up a ton of points, but he's been better against three top defenses.

DD: The Steelers defense currently average just over three turnovers forced per game since trading for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. For the first time in awhile, Pittsburgh's defense is the talk of the town, and not in a negative light. Although the defense has played great, nobody is without their faults. Are there any particular match-ups you believe the Browns can expose on the offensive side of the football? Off the top of my head, I'm not a big fan of Joe Haden following Odell Beckham Jr around all night. I'm also sure the Kareem Hunt/Nick Chubb duo will be a handful as well.

Pete: Minkah Fitzpatrick is great, but the Steelers corners are fighting to just be enough. Joe Haden played well against the Los Angeles Rams, a team with their own set of problems. The combination of Browns receivers, notably Odell Beckham, could force the Steelers to make a choice. Drop more into coverage or hope they can generate enough pressure quickly enough to cause poor decisions and make plays. If there's one benefit to this being a Thursday night game for the Browns it's the simple fact the Steelers have very little time to process and digest what the Browns showed with Kareem Hunt in the lineup coming off of suspension.

DD: While Pittsburgh's offense has been underwhelming at times, they've shown the ability to strike big plays when called upon. Do you see any favorable match-ups for Cleveland on the defensive side of the ball? Without James Conner, the rushing attack essentially is invisible, and Rudolph is too limited by his inexperience/play-calling to shoulder the load of a one-dimensional offense.

Pete: Myles Garrett has dominated Alejandro Villanueva when the two have faced each other. Whether they leave him on the right side or flip him to the other side is unknown, but the fact the Browns will probably be without Olivier Vernon again would suggest Garrett will stay on the right so Chad Thomas plays on the left side. If the Steelers can't run the ball, it should make Joe Schobert more dangerous at middle linebacker. He's got the ability to be an effective in coverage and force turnovers.

DD: If the Browns are able to (fill in the blank), they will win the game. 

Pete: Limit turnovers, succeed in the red zone.

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