You can say one thing about the 2020 Cleveland Browns, a team that everyone seems so desperate to crown as a true contender: They’re inching closer.
Unfortunately for the Browns, their improvements may have to be measured at glacial speed. Just weeks after opening up the regular season with a 38-6 loss to the Ravens, its first test against a traditional AFC North contender, Cleveland got shellacked, 38-7, at Heinz Field on Sunday against the Steelers, its second test against a traditional AFC North contender.
But this article isn’t about Cleveland and its worthiness as a contender—not totally. This article is more about the Steelers and the beatdown they administered to those Lake Erie warriors who came to town looking for respect.
The Browns didn’t earn any on Sunday. Pittsburgh did, and it didn’t do it by talking trash or exacting any sort of extra-curricular revenge for what transpired last November in a 21-7 loss at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Steelers earned their respect by thoroughly dominating Cleveland physically and fairly.
Cleveland came into the day leading the NFL in rushing yards with 188.4 per game. The Steelers allowed just 75 on Sunday, a number that will keep their defense near the top of the rankings in that category.
Pittsburgh’s defense was dead-last on third downs heading into Week 6, allowing teams to convert at a 50 percent clip. The Browns were only 1-12 on the day, and for good measure, Pittsburgh made sure they were also 0-3 on fourth-down tries.
As for the turnover battle. The Steelers took the football away twice—including a pick-six by the temporarily beleaguered Minkah Fitzpatrick—while Cleveland came away with the old goose egg.
Back to the physicality. The Steelers were really laying the wood on Sunday. How many times did you find yourself screaming “Wooo!” following a loud and forceful tackle by a Pittsburgh defender during the game? I personally lost count after the first few.
The Steelers sacked quarterback Baker Mayfield four times and battered his already sore ribs so thoroughly, they ultimately forced him to the sidelines in the second half.
But the way the Steelers expressed their physicality on offense may have been even more impressive. No, Pittsburgh didn’t gash the Browns on the ground collectively, but running back James Conner, who carried the football 20 times for 101 yards and a touchdown, certainly did individually.
And how about Myles Garrett vs. Alejandro Villanueva, Chukwuma Okorafor or whomever along the offensive line? Garrett was credited with four tackles, one sack and one quarterback hit on the day. That’s certainly a win for the hogs up front.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was efficient if not dominant. The Steelers receivers were solid if not spectacular.
It was total domination for a team whose strength of schedule and 4-0 record were being questioned heading into Sunday.
What can you question about the Steelers after Sunday? Is Cleveland a contender? If so, Pittsburgh beat up on a damn good team. If the Browns aren’t legit contenders, the home team did what it had to do against such an opponent.
No matter what you think of the Browns, you have to acknowledge one thing after Sunday: They still don’t belong in the same tier that the Steelers currently occupy in the AFC North.