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Steelers will have to limit turnovers in order to beat the opportunistic Browns

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Takeaways proved to be the great equalizer in Week 1—literally—as the Browns created six turnovers in a 21-21 tie against Pittsburgh at FirstEnergy Stadium. If the Steelers are again careless with the football at Heinz Field this Sunday, they may not be lucky enough to escape with another non-loss.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The oddsmakers have installed the Steelers as eight-point favorites to beat the Browns this Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.

That seems like a reasonable betting line, that is, until you remember that the number eight is only slightly higher than the amount of turnovers Pittsburgh surrendered to Cleveland in Week 1 at FirstEnergy Stadium: six. Six sounds almost like “sucks,” which is what the Browns have done a lot of in recent years—including the previous two seasons, in-which they won a grand-total of one game.

But, regardless of a team’s talent-level or history of losing, if you turn the football over to it six times in one game, that team will likely find a way to beat you. Unfortunately, Cleveland couldn’t even do that, as the Steelers somehow managed to escape their mistake-filled regular season lid-lifter with a 21-21 tie.

The Steelers probably won’t get that lucky again this Sunday, not if they’re again that careless—and if the Browns have anything to say about it, they just might be.

You see, there’s one thing the Browns don’t suck at—at least not in 2018—and that’s causing other football teams to be careless with the rock. Through seven games, Cleveland’s defense, one designed by Gregg Williams, the always aggressive defensive coordinator, has a bountiful amount of takeaways with 20, a number that tops the NFL.

If that number looks familiar to you as a Steeler fan, it’s because it’s roughly what Pittsburgh’s defense has averaged for entire seasons for quite some time—including the previous two, when Keith Butler’s unit tallied 45 takeaways, total.

That’s right, for all its huffing and puffing and blowing quarterbacks down the past 22 regular season games, the Steelers’ defense still hasn’t figured out a way to parlay so many sacks—78 since Week 1 of 2017—into more turnovers by the opposition.

With 22 sacks through six games, Pittsburgh’s defense is on pace for 58 in 2018—a total that would break the single-season franchise record of 56 set just a year ago. Yet, with only eight takeaways so far, the much-maligned unit is on pace for 21—a total that would fall just below what it’s averaged the past two years.

The Browns’ defense, which will come into Sunday’s game with 19 sacks on the season, is no slouch when getting after the quarterback. Cleveland’s potent pass rush was on display in Week 1, as the Browns got to Ben Roethlisberger four times, turning two of those sacks into late fumbles that almost cost Pittsburgh the game.

An opportunistic defense can make up for a lot of deficiencies and keep a team in the game. In addition to forcing five turnovers by Roethlisberger—the Steelers’ quarterback was also intercepted three times in the first half—the Browns, who trailed 21-7 midway through the fourth quarter, got back into the game when defensive end Myles Garrett stripped running back James Conner of the football deep in Pittsburgh territory.

Finally, some say takeaways are a matter of luck. If that’s the case, the Steelers’ defense has been one unlucky unit for the entirety of the 2010’s. If we’re being honest, takeaways are the result of amassing a bunch of defenders who have a nose for the football and a knack for prying it loose.

The Browns, for all that ails them, now have a defense full of opportunists. And those opportunists could prevent the Steelers from walking away with a third-straight victory this Sunday.