Browns out to prove they can deal with success of 1-0 start

Sep. 16—The Browns have done their best in the days since beating the Bengals in the season opener to show they are experienced at handling success. Now they have to put those words into action by hitting the field hard when they visit the Steelers for a "Monday Night Football" contest.

If the host Bengals beat the Ravens on Sept. 17 and the Browns walk out of Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh 2-0 for the first time in 30 years, they will be alone in first place in the AFC North. There is still a long, long way to go, but the Browns haven't been division champs since 1989 when they were in the AFC Central along with the Bengals, Steelers and Houston Oilers and the NFL was a 28-team league.

"For a long time, (the Steelers) had a top quarterback in the NFL in Big Ben (Roethlisberger). Much respect to him," linebacker and team captain Anthony Walker said Sept. 14. "And then they are well coached. They do the fundamental things very well, and they don't beat themselves. So obviously, it's a huge challenge for us this week.

"It's the next game, so it's a huge game for us. But last week, we don't want to put too much into that one. You kind of want to flush it and go to the next week, and obviously, it's another division opponent. You never want to take those games for granted. So, yeah, we have a huge challenge ahead of us, and I think we're ready for it."

The Browns' defense did everything but take the ball away from the Bengals in the opener. They held Cincinnati to 142 net yards. The Bengals were 2 of 15 on third down.

The Browns' offense was far from spectacular. There is no danger of Deshaun Watson and his crew getting too comfortable. The Browns were just 4 of 14 on third down last week. Watson completed 16 of 29 passes for 154 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

The wet weather that made for a "heavy" football affected Watson and Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. Burrow completed 14 of 31 passes for a paltry 82 yards.

"Sometimes the weather factors in and you have to change your game plan," Watson said on Sept. 14. "But hopefully, it's clear skies on Monday night and we can really get the offense going and throw the ball around a little bit."

Watson will get his wish if the weatherman is accurate. The forecast for Pittsburgh on Sept. 18 calls for zero precipitation at night and a low of 52 degrees.

Watson tried to throw deep to Marquise Goodwin twice in the opener, but both throws were short and incomplete because Goodwin had to wait for the ball. The wet ball was a factor. Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt wasn't shy about including deep passes in the game plan for the Steelers. It's a safe bet head coach Kevin Srefanski won't be shy about picking a spot or two for Watson to throw deep in Pittsburgh.

"They're really low percentage if you look at the overall completions, but they're huge explosives when you do hit them," Van Pelt said Sept. 15. "We'll take misses. We're going to stretch the field. We want to be explosive.

"The other part of that is if it's not there, it's one of the things we talk about in the quarterback room. If the shot's not there, find a completion at the checkdown. So we can't get greedy in those situations. Just have to take what they give you and just keep dialing them up."

Watson completed a league-high 69 pass plays of 20 yards or longer when he was with Houston in 2020 — his last full season as a starting quarterback. He completed 11 plays of 40 yards or more that season.


When: 8:15 p.m., Sept. 18

Where: Acrisure Stadium, Pittsburgh

Records: Browns 1-0, Steelers 0-1

TV: WEWS; Radio: WKRK-FM 92.3, WNCX-FM 98.5, WKNR-AM 850