Friday, October 16
It's the next game: Joe Haden has experienced what it's like to be on both sides of a Steelers-Browns matchup. He played for the Browns for seven seasons, from 2010-16, and during the time the Steelers record against the Browns was 12-2. Since coming to the Steelers in 2017, the black and gold have a 4-1-1 edge.
Haden has seen every aspect of this AFC North battle, speaking on it like not many can.
"Being with Cleveland for seven years, every time we played against Pittsburgh that was the biggest game of the year, every year I was there," said Haden. "Just being here now, just every game is the next game. When we start playing AFC North football, Coach (Mike) Tomlin always emphasizes just how that's important, you have to rule your division to get to the playoffs. With the Browns being so good now, and the Ravens also, and this division being so good.
"The Browns, being the team that I came from, playing good against the team I used to play for is a big thing for me.
"I am just really excited about our team. We are 4-0. I have never been 4-0 before. It's the next game, it's an AFC game, it's our first division game and we are trying to win. To have a good division record is the biggest thing to get to the playoffs.
"There is a lot going on, but I think it's going to be a real intense game. Two good football teams."
Haden knows this might be one of the most intense games between the two teams based on the records, the Steelers sitting at 4-0 while the Browns are 4-1. He expects nothing less than a 60-minute battle on both sides.
"I think it's a very important game. I think we both have similar goals," said Haden. "I have been away for four years, but they are working hard, they play as team, they have the No. 1 rushing attack (in the NFL).
"The same way with us. We are 4-0. We have Big Ben (Roethlisberger). We have the defense we have. I just really feel like we have a very good team and we have played nowhere near to the level that we are capable of on defense. I just think it's going to be a really good matchup.
"Like Coach T said, it's a five-star matchup. I think it's going to be a really good challenge."
He said it:
T.J. Watt on what he is seeing different in Baker Mayfield:
"His confidence. He is throwing the ball well. He has been able to escape the pocket and be able to use his speed and throw on the run better than I have seen him in the past. It will be a challenge for us."
He said it:
James Conner on Sunday game:
"Must win game. AFC North football."
Not looking back: The Eagles' 10-for-14 performance on third downs last Sunday has been a much-discussed topic among Steelers leading into this Sunday's meeting with Cleveland.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler cited defensive coaching as a contributing factor.
"We've got to do a better job of coaching," Butler maintained this week. "We blitzed a little bit but not a lot. If we did a little bit better job of coaching in terms of disguise (of coverages and blitzes) and stuff like that I think we'd have helped our guys out a little bit.
"We've got to make sure we do a little bit better disguising."
Inside linebacker Vince Williams wasn't buying that this morning and won't moving forward.
"No, never," Williams said. "I trust my coaches. I believe in them. They work just as hard as us. It's tandem, it goes hand in hand. No matter what call is called, we have to go out there and we have to make that call work. When they give us that call, they have confidence in it and we have to be able to uplift that confidence by performing it.
"I never really look for coaches to save players and I never really think that any call can't work."
Williams was on board with the Steelers' emphasis in advance of the Browns game being on what will happen this time, as opposed to what happened between Browns defensive end Myles
Garrett and Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph last season in Cleveland.
"We're completely past it," Williams insisted. "What happened in 2019 was 2019. We have enough problems to deal with this year.
"We're not really looking back. We're not looking in the rearview mirror and worrying about what happened last year."
Williams also had this to say when asked if the strength at the top of the AFC North Division enhanced this Sunday's matchup: "To be honest with you, from my perspective, I don't really think we pay attention to it. We just know that we have to go out there and whack the next opponent over the head."
- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta
1 vs. 1: It's one of those games where something has to give.
The Steelers head into Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field the No. 1 rush defense in the AFC, and No. 2 overall in the conference, while the Browns are the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL.
It's going to be a battle, but one linebacker Devin Bush is looking forward to.
"That is going to be the biggest test, one against one," said Bush. "That is a big matchup. That is a matchup we are all waiting for."
Kareem Hunt leads the charge for the Browns with 70 carries for 347 yards and three touchdowns, but they have lost one of their weapons as Nick Chubb, who has 57 carries for 335 yards and four touchdowns, is on the reserve/injured list.
Regardless, the Steelers are preparing for a serious ground attack.
"We have been working all this week being tight as a unit," said Bush. "They have a good running game. They have good players on the offensive side of the ball. We have been working on our disciplines and playing our defenses at the right time, executing at the right time and doing what we can to eliminate those big runs.
"That's the biggest thing, being able to combat that run and being able to play those three hard downs and not let them allow their run game the whole game. You want to focus on their run game. Their run game is really, really big."
Bush knows it will be an intense battle, the Steelers coming in 4-0, while the Browns are 4-1 after winning four straight games.
"It's definitely one we get up for, the organization gets up for as well as fans," said Bush. "It's big conference play, we see each other twice a year, and every time it's for the win."
The Steelers prepare for the Week 6 matchup against the Cleveland Browns
Wednesday, October 14
Staying focused: It's been a big week for Steelers rookie Chase Claypool.
After his record-tying four touchdown performance against the Philadelphia Eagles, he was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for Week 5 of the season, and even garnered the SNICKERS 'Hungriest Player.'
Claypool said it was cool to be named the AFC's top gun on offense this week, but he has to take it for what it is.
"It's definitely super cool and an achievement I will remember," said Claypool. "It doesn't really affect my mindset going into the game. You have to enjoy it for a little bit and then forget about it and keep focused on what you are doing and prepare for the Browns."
Claypool had seven receptions for 110 yards, three of those seven catches were touchdowns, and also rushed for a two-yard score.
"Confidence definitely builds with games like that, but I am not trying to act any different because of performances," said Claypool. "I think that is when you stop being humble. I am just trying to stay the same as I have been."
While the confidence is building, so is the attention he is going to receive from opposing defenses, something he is aware of.
"There might be a safety creeping over to my side or a corner might follow, but that opens things up for other people as well," said Claypool. "I am not too worried about it."
Claypool became the first rookie in team history to score four touchdowns in a game, and only the third player in team history to do so, the last one when Roy Jefferson caught four touchdown passes against Atlanta on Nov. 3, 1968, while also becoming only the third player in team history to score 24 points in a game. It was a big achievement for a rookie who didn't have a preseason but came into the season ready to go.
"I knew I had to have the playbook down before the first game and that caused me to study more," said Claypool.
The Steelers have found a lot of ways to use Claypool already, including in the slot where a 6-4 receiver doesn't normally get work.
"I think I put enough film up at Notre Dame in the slot for the Steelers to trust me at that position," said Claypool. "They've got creative minds. They always try to move guys around to make it difficult for defenses to pick up on. I think that is one of the things, put me in the slot and try to run some different routes from there."
Cam talks Cleveland: Cleveland's offensive line play has gotten Steelers defensive tackle and defensive captain Cameron Heyward's attention through what has been a 4-1 start for the Browns.
"Their tackles have been playing big for them," Heyward assessed. "They're mean, nasty guys that finish plays. That's what you want out of your tackles."
The new left tackle, Jedrick Wills, was drafted 10th overall out of Alabama. And the new right tackle, Jack Conklin, was signed as an unrestricted free agent from Tennessee.
The Browns will arrive at Heinz Field on Sunday as the NFL's No. 1 rushing team with an average of 188.4 yards per game on the ground.
And quarterback Baker Mayfield had established an ability to make plays outside of the pocket, particularly on play-action bootlegs, prior to this season.
"His escapability is something we have to be on point with," Heyward said. "For us, especially, if you're going to run upfield you have to have hands on him, that way you can come back on plays. I think sometimes guys, when they shoot so far upfield, they don't give themselves enough of a chance to come back, so it creates a vertical hole. We have to do a great job of being able to come back and destroy those rush lanes and make sure he doesn't find the open gap.
"As a quarterback, if you can extend the pocket you're bound to find a wide open receiver."
That's particularly been the case with Mayfield, who has been working in concert with that No. 1-ranked running game and with what Heyward maintained is a "stout" Cleveland defense.
"I think their defense has been the catalyst for them going forward, and they don't turn the ball over a lot," Heyward observed. "I think their offensive scheme in getting their running game going allows their defense to play well. And then out of that and out of necessity I think Baker plays off a good running game.
"You're able to set up a play-action, you're able to do a lot more things when you get the running game going."
Mayfield emerged from last Sunday's 32-23 win over Indianapolis with "sore" ribs, according to Cleveland head coach Kevin Stefanski.
"I'm not a doctor," Heyward offered. "I'm not going to sit up here and tell you I know how bruised up he is. At the end of the day I'm just trying to inflict good punishment. As a D-line and as a defense you want to make sure he's thinking about the rush.
"We play a physical game. He's gonna come out there and try to be a warrior for his team but it's up to us to make him think about that injury during the game."
-- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta
Monday, October 12
Since being drafted in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills, Ray-Ray McCloud has experienced the ups and downs of life in the NFL.
He played in 10 games his rookie season, with five receptions for 36 yards. He was released by the Bills before the 2019 season, spent a short time with the Carolina Panthers, then returned to the Bills on their practice squad.
After spending the 2020 offseason with the Bills, McCloud was released on July 27 and sat idle for almost a month, before getting a phone call from the Steelers at a time when he was keeping the faith that he would land somewhere for the 2020 season.
"I wasn't wondering if it was in jeopardy," said McCloud of what point he was in his career while he was waiting to be signed. "I was at a point where I wasn't getting worried, but it was like, dang, I am really sitting at home knowing I can compete with players in the NFL and to not be on a team was difficult for me. I just honed in on the moment and trained and trained. When my opportunity came, I was going to take advantage of it.
"The day the Steelers called me I was at church. A phone number kept calling me and it was at the point where you are having one of those days where you are to yourself, and you don't want to talk about it. It was that day. God was talking to me at church and as soon as I left, I had to get on a plane."
For McCloud, it was definitely divine intervention. Coming to the Steelers has changed him because quite simply, he didn't have to change to fit in with the black and gold. At his previous stops he said he felt like he couldn't be himself, but as soon as he walked into the Steelers locker room, he felt something different.
"When I got here, they took me in as family," said McCloud. "That is what you feel here. It feels like college. We are together all of the time. It's like family. Coach (Mike) Tomlin makes it like that. He is upfront with everything. There is no sugar coating anything. You have to love that from a coach standpoint. When you love your coach, you go all out for him and yourself.
"When I got here my mindset was go be you and just be Ray-Ray. Don't change for anybody. You have to be a professional but go be yourself."
McCloud has found that being himself works perfectly. Against the Eagles on Sunday he had two carries for 63 yards, two receptions for 12 yards and two kickoff returns for 48 yards.
He brings the offense, and special teams, a new threat and is fitting right in with his fellow receivers, who he said like to have fun, but take football seriously as well.
"If I had to pick one word, on a day to day basis, it's goofy," said McCloud in describing the receiver's room. "We have a goofy room and have fun, we laugh. If we feel like we are not being on our craft, we are like we have to chill and get back to work. As a whole, we're young. You can feel it's young in the room. We all come in and compete with each other, push each other, motivate each other on the field. If we think we can do something better, we talk about it as a group in the room. The room is great."