Unbeaten Steelers look to snap Browns’ four-game streak
AFC North matchups between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns are always heated given the teams’ proximity and history, but things could be heightened in the newest version of the rivalry Sunday at Heinz Field.
This time, both teams are having strong seasons after Cleveland (4-1) has manned the struggling side of the equation for years. Pittsburgh (4-0) will be aiming to remain unbeaten.
Also this time, there could be a marquee matchup of quarterbacks.
The Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, 38, has bounced back from elbow surgery a year ago, while Baker Mayfield, 25, seems to be blossoming into the franchise quarterback the Browns have been seeking for years.
“Coming back from an injury, not playing last year, I was a little worried about my play and what was going to happen,” said Roethlisberger, who has thrown for 10 touchdowns and one interception. “I am just glad we are winning football games.”
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski doesn’t see a dropoff in the presumptive future Hall of Famer. “He’s a problem for defenses,” he said of Roethlisberger. “Coming back off of injury, he looks outstanding to me.”
Mayfield came out of last weekend’s 32-23 win over Indianapolis with tender ribs and was limited in practice Wednesday, saying he was “sore … but that is why we have the rest of the week until game day.”
The Steelers are well aware of the rib problem.
“It’s up to us to make him think about that injury at the end of the day,” Pittsburgh defensive end Cam Heyward said.
The Steelers have the NFL’s No. 3-ranked defense, something that does not deter Mayfield.
“It’s a great test for us,” he said. “They bring the physical challenge. They’ll hit you and try to impose their will, but that’s what our division is all about. We have to play that ball and match that energy and then exceed it.”
During their four-game winning streak, the Browns have scored at least 30 points, the first time they have reached that total in four straight games since 1968.
Protecting Mayfield would seem to be a priority. He has been sacked just seven times in five games. Pittsburgh leads the league with an average of five sacks a game.
Perhaps more than Heyward, the Browns will need to try to contain outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, who have combined for 7 1/2 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception.
“They rush with violence,” Stefanski said. “It’s a very impressive, formidable scheme.”
Watt (shoulder), like Mayfield, was limited in practice Wednesday but seems likely to play.
Also for the Steelers, guard David DeCastro (abdomen), center Maurkice Pouncey (foot) and receiver Diontae Johnson (back) didn’t practice Wednesday but all three are candidates to practice later in the week and play. Less clear is the status of receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) and tight end Eric Ebron (hand). Neither practiced Wednesday.
For Cleveland, in addition to Mayfield, safeties Ronnie Harrison (concussion) and Karl Joseph (hamstring) and receiver Jarvis Landry (hips/ribs) were out Wednesday, although Stefanski said he expects Landry to return to practice this week. Running back Kareem Hunt (thigh), who has been carrying the load with Nick Chubb hurt, was limited Wednesday.
–Field Level Media