Browns vs. Steelers: Four things to watch

Posted at 12:42 PM, Nov 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-20 12:42:28-05

The Cleveland Browns are in search of their first win this Sunday as they host the Pittsburgh Steelers at home. Wondering what to watch during the game? Here are four things we're looking for during the game. 

1. Can Cody Kessler bounce back?

After being pulled in the third quarter against the Ravens, rookie quarterback Cody Kessler said he’s used a tough night in Baltimore as added motivation moving forward.

“After the game you kind of have a little bit of a 24-hour rule where it upsets you that night or the next day but you’ve got to move on, you can let it stick in your head or continue to bother you or else that's what you're going to think about it,” he said Thursday. “At the same time, you learn from it. It’s something you want to move on from but at the same time learn from.”

Kessler, who has completed 67 percent of his throws for 1,241 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception, also said his confidence hasn't wavered in the meantime. Neither has head coach Hue Jackson, who said Kessler will make his eighth start this season.

“He’s out there working, ready to go, bright-eyed, excited about the opportunity to play. He is playing the Pittsburgh Steelers. You better be ready,” Jackson said, laughing. “I think we have really read into it a little bit more last week. I understand what everybody felt, but I don’t think he looked at it that way. I think it motivated him. He is preparing himself to go play, and he will walk out there and go play well this week. That is what he has to do.”

2. The big three

When Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are clicking, the Steelers offense has proven to be one of the league’s best over the years. “It’s always a challenge,” Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton said Friday of facing Pittsburgh’s trifecta of playmakers. But for the Browns to have a chance at notching their first win Sunday, they’ll have to figure out a way to at least slow them down.

"Most teams try to be built this way. They try to have obviously a triangle attack whether it is the running back, tight end and wide receiver – obviously you have to have a quarterback – but they have been doing it for quite a while over there," Horton said. "In the past it has been different people, but every week they have somebody that you have to take away."

The Steelers average 370 yards a game, most of which comes through the air via Roethlisberger to Brown or Bell, who is perhaps one of the league’s most potent dual-threat running backs.

3. Revitalizing the run game

After a hot start to the season, the Browns running game has cooled off considerably in recent weeks. The hope, of course, is that Cleveland finds its footing against Pittsburgh and the final month-and-a-half of the regular season.

“We're really just excited to get the run game back on track,” run game coordinator and running backs coach Kirby Wilson said. “They think this game presents a challenge.”

Jackson, who was asked about running back Isaiah Crowell’s drop in production, took ownership

“I take responsibility for that when it comes to Crowell,” Jackson said. “This guy is a really, really good player, and we have not rushed the ball as well over several weeks now, and that is disappointing. I have to do a better job. I have to put him in better situations because he is a very, very talented player.”

Crowell, who ranked near the top of the league with 394 yards on 61 carries after Week 4, has totaled 157 yards on 60 carries the past six weeks. That figure, of course, has been hampered by injuries on the Browns’ offensive line.

Jackson, though, isn’t one for excuses.  “Everybody in the league is going through some of those things so I don’t not look at it and go, ‘Woe is me.’ We just have to find a way, and we have,” he said. “We have plugged guys here and there, and it is a credit to our players and a credit to the coaches to keep trying to find ways to get it done.”

4. Finish

The emphasis on closing games — and closing the season the “right way,” Jackson said — is loud and clear around Berea. So much so that the team has painted the word FINISH and 6 5 4 3 2 1 below that in the end zone of its practice field.

“The second halves are something that we really talked about. We need to finish a game,” Jackson said. “As you guys all know, we have been up at halftime on about six of these opportunities. Normally, that’s where you want to be. For some reason, we have not been able to finish it.”

That dynamic surfaced when Baltimore used a second-half surge to really past the Browns, who led 7-6 at halftime.

“To make winning a reality, that is what you have to do. You have to finish games, and we are going to count this thing down,” Jackson said. “There are six of them left and I told these guys that, and that’s what (the end zone paint) is there for. We're going to try to finish this season the right way because we need to.”