They contained Baker Mayfield for the most part the first time, but not as often as they had intended.
And when they didn’t, the Browns’ quarterback made the Steelers’ pay on Nov. 14 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Third-and-8 from the Browns’ 37-yard line, first quarter: Mayfield escaped the pocket between outside linebacker T.J. Watt and defensive tackle Cam Heyward and found running back Kareem Hunt for 20 yards on a drive that ultimately produced the game’s opening touchdown.
Second-and-1 from the Browns’ 23, second quarter: Mayfield pump-faked and then ducked away from outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott and found wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge for a gain of 41 on what became Cleveland’s second march for a touchdown.
Third-and-6 from the Steelers’ 8, fourth quarter: Mayfield stepped up, flushed right and evaded Heyward just outside the pocket just long enough to hit tight end Stephen Carlson for the Browns’ third TD in a 21-7 victory.
The Steelers didn’t succumb to an overwhelming number of those plays, but there were still too many of the “extended plays that make life a lot harder for the DBs,” Watt said. “We didn’t contain (Mayfield) as well as we had planned.
“He just made a lot of the throws that prove why he was the top pick (in 2018) and why he’s a franchise quarterback. We just gotta respect his mobility a lot more and be more disciplined in the rush lanes. I give him a lot of credit, though.”
Watt’s fellow outside linebacker, Bud Dupree, does, too.
Stopping the run will always be Job One, especially against a running back tandem as talented and potentially damaging as Nick Chubb and Hunt.
But accomplishing that, the Steelers must then stop Mayfield from doing what he does.
“We didn’t contain him enough,” Dupree agreed regarding the first meeting. “We let him get extended plays. We have to rush the same way, but we have to be smart in our rush lanes and know that he’s looking to escape to extend plays. Not escape to run, he’s looking to escape to throw.
“We can’t let him get out. He will get out because he’s an NFL player, too. But we can’t let him make those big plays, we have to limit that. Every time he breaks loose, in any game you watch, every time he gets out of the pocket he’s trying to throw down the field for a big play.”
It’ll take a collective effort, but as always a lot of the defensive responsibilities will fall upon Watt’s and Dupree’s shoulders.
They’re one of two linebacker duos in the NFL this season, along with Green Bay’s Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith, with at least seven sacks apiece (Watt has 11.5 and Dupree seven).
Watt and Dupree are the only linebacker tandem in the league with at least seven sacks, 10 quarterback hits and 10 tackles for a loss apiece.
And they’re the first Steelers’ first one-two linebacker punch to combine for at least 19.5 sacks through a season’s first 11 games since LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison (22.5) in 2008.
Dupree called Watt a “Defensive Player of the Year-caliber player.
“It’s just fun watching him and also being able to help him out,” Dupree said.
As for what’s expected of the two together, “We have to keep going up to another level each week,” Dupree added. “We work hard at it. We know our team needs it.
“(Head) Coach (Mike) Tomlin believes in us, what we can do, and we believe in ourselves.”
The Steelers prepare for the Week 13 matchup against the Cleveland Browns