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Steelers won't overlook Browns this time

Despite their 2-4-1 record, the Cleveland Browns won't sneak up on the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field.

Sure, the Browns have struggled big-time in recent seasons, but the Steelers know that record is deceiving, as their AFC Central rivals played them to a 21-21 tie in the first week of the season.

And a 43-yard field-goal attempt by Browns kicker Zane Gonzalez (who has since been waived) was blocked with 13 seconds left in overtime.

"What happened in our game was no lightning strike," said Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin, whose team leads the division with a 3-2-1 record.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was wary of the Cleveland defense even before that first game.

Then the Browns intercepted three of Roethlisberger's passes and forced him to fumble the ball away twice while coming back from a 21-7 deficit in the fourth quarter to have a chance to win in overtime.

"I said going into the (first) game that they might be the best defense we face all year, and we'll still say that.

"Anytime you turn the ball over, you get disappointed," Roethlisberger said. "It was one of those games, whether it was elements of them making plays and us not making them, there were a lot of factors involved. At the end of the day, they made the plays and made us turn the ball over."

The Steelers probably spent much of their bye week trying to figuer out what to do with Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett, who has seven sacks this season and forced two fumbles in the fourth quarter of that Week 1 game.

Roethlisberger also will be keeping his eye on rookie cornerback Denzel Ward, who had two of those interceptions in that game. Safety Damarious Randall and linebacker Christian Kirksey each have two interceptions for the Browns this season.

The entire Steelers defense has only four interceptions through six games.

"It starts with the pass rush," Roethlisberger said. "Myles is one of the best in the business. He's long, he gets after the quarterback, gets a good jump on the snap. In the secondary, they catch the ball. We joke that defenders play defense because they can't catch. They can catch the ball. They just don't bat it down, they make plays."

Roethlisberger and the Steelers have done a better job of protecting the football since, turning it over only four times in five games and Pittsburgh will be gunning for its third straight victory.

Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma, did not play in that game but now is starting for Cleveland.

The Browns, much improved after going 3-13, 1-15 and 0-16 the last three seasons, could be even better, because in addition to that opening tie, they have lost to the New Orleans Saints, 21-18; to the Oakland Raiders, 45-42, in overtime, and to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 26-23, in overtime last week.

"The overtime (games), I have never been through anything like this; our team has probably played a whole other game in overtime (this season)," said head coach Hue Jackson, whose team is 1-2-1 in overtime. "It's been a lot of snaps. I don't know if there's any magic to it, other than that we have to find a way in those situations to win the game."

Cleveland's defense played a season-high 95 snaps against Tampa Bay and the Browns' defensive players have logged at least 84 snaps in each of the four overtime games.

The Browns are one shy of the NFL record of five overtime games played by the 1983 Green Bay Packers.

"We are not in the game or the league of moral victories; we come out here to win," Browns center JC Tretter said. "We have been frustratingly close at this point where we have been right down the wire, and we feel like almost every game -- obviously the Chargers game (a 38-14 defeat) stands out as one we did not play near well enough to win -- but other than that, we have been there in all those instances.

"I do not think anyone leaves the game like thinking 'Oh, at least we were close that time.' We expect to win football games here. Coaching staff, management, owners and players, we all expect to win now."

The Browns would like to start in their 132nd regular season meeting with the Steelers, but the numbers there are not promising, as Pittsburgh leads the series that dates to 1950, 72-58-1.

Updated October 25, 2018

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