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3 Big Takeaways: Browns' mindset doesn't change, no matter who plays for Steelers

Cleveland will face Pittsburgh backup QB Mason Rudolph on Sunday

1. Browns' mindset doesn't change, no matter who plays for Steelers

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday announced veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger wouldn't play Sunday. Pittsburgh, which will start Mason Rudolph in Roethlisberger's place, clinched the AFC North with its win Sunday, didn't have a true bye week all season and can't move much one way or the other in its seeding heading into the playoffs.

Tuesday's announcement likely didn't come as too much of a surprise to Kevin Stefanski or Browns players, and it certainly doesn't change a thing with how the Browns approach Sunday's win-and-in game against their AFC North rivals. 

Stefanski set the tone with his comments Monday, fresh off Sunday's disappointing loss to the Jets.

"The challenge is playing a really good Pittsburgh Steelers team," Stefanski said. "They are well-coached. They have a bunch of good players. I have a ton of respect for how they play. We have to have a great week of preparation. That is the challenge for us is a really good team."

The Browns, of course, know this firsthand. One of their worst losses of the 2020 season came Week 6 at the hands of the Steelers, who dominated from the start and never let the Browns mount a comeback in a 38-6 rout at Heinz Field.

Six points, in almost all circumstances across the NFL, won't cut it, and Roethlisberger doesn't play defense. Even if the Steelers rest a few more of their key players — something Tomlin couldn't commit to this early in the week — the Browns will need to play the kind of football they've played through most of the second half of the season to clinch their first trip to the postseason since 2002.

Even before the news dropped Tuesday, the Browns were more than aware of what would be required of them Sunday before even thinking about who would be on the field for Pittsburgh.

"We know what we have to do," DT Larry Ogunjobi said. "That is just the mindset of whatever it takes to win, whatever we have to do to win. I feel like that is just the mentality we have to have. We have a unique and special opportunity to do something that has not been done in a very long time and once again."

2. On the running game

The Browns couldn't get anything going on the ground Sunday against the Jets in what became their least productive rushing effort of the season. The previous low of the season came at the hands of the Steelers, who limited the Browns to 75 yards on 22 attempts.

Stefanski credited the Jets and their schemes for bottling up the Browns to the tune of just 45 rushing yards. Cleveland also largely went away from the running game in the second half as it looked to come back from a 17-point deficit.

The Browns have been held to fewer than 100 yards just three times this season, and they've lost two of them. That aspect was what frustrated Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb the most — not their personal stat lines.

"We are not happy. We are never happy after losing a football game," Hunt said. "We are going to learn from it and come together as a team. On to the next game. Get better.

The potential return of G Wyatt Teller would certainly provide a boost. In the five games Teller has missed this season, the Browns have averaged just 81.8 rushing yards. All three of the sub-100 games have come without Teller in the lineup.

Still, the Browns aren't hanging their hopes of a better rushing performance on one player. It will take a collective effort to bounce back against one of the better rush defenses in the NFL.

"Wyatt is a good player, I understand that and everybody knows that," Stefanski said. "But again, I think we trust the guys that are in there. We have high expectations for our offense for our run game, pass game, really regardless who is in there."

3. Quote of the week

Ogunjobi was asked Monday what he was doing the last time the Browns were in playoff contention (2007) entering Week 17.

"I am going to tell you right now, I was not watching football," Ogunjobi said. "At 13, I did not know I would be playing football. I was on the games playing Xbox and eating chicken wings – I was a big boy. I do not think I was doing anything as far as football is concerned." 

Even though Ogunjobi grew up far away from Cleveland in Charlotte, the gravity of the moment isn't lost on him. He's learned quickly just how much a return to the postseason would mean for Browns fans.

"It is an amazing experience, an amazing opportunity to be able to do something special. I know that we have the guys in this organization to do it," Ogunjobi said. "That is pretty much it. We know our goals."

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