A trip to Pittsburgh has been a constant for Paul Kruger ever since he's entered the NFL.
The veteran pass rusher made a yearly trip to Heinz Field during his four seasons with the Ravens and continued to do so with the Browns. He knows the Steelers' home field, terrible towels, etc., as well as anyone.
A win Sunday would move Kruger to 4-3 all-time at Heinz Field.
ClevelandBrowns.com caught up with Kruger after Friday's practice. The conversation follows:
CB.com: You've had a few extra days to prepare for Pittsburgh. How much of a difference is that from the short week you had for the Bengals?
Kruger: I think the biggest thing that comes to mind is the ability your body has to have a break, a little more time to recoup and that's physical and also mental. During the season, you're not only going to be physically banged up and playing with injuries and things like that, but you're also very stressed out. It's a high intensity type of environment. That all gives you time to settle, relax and refocus. It's been a nice little time down, but also able to get a little extra study of the tape in.
CB.com: Since the schedule was released, the team has been eying this stretch of four consecutive games against AFC North foes. Now that you're in the midst of it, how different is it from the rest of the season?
Kruger: Anytime you're facing a division opponent, there's an added incentive. There's a lot riding on it. It really makes the difference on your season. For us, we're not where we want to be at this point of the season but we still have a lot in front of us. If we can finish strong, there's no telling what can happen. We're excited about these next couple of games coming up and we've got to go get one at a time.
CB.com: As a veteran, what's your role to keeping a team afloat during a slump like this?
Kruger: Honestly, you can do a lot of things off the field, being a good example, putting in the time off the field, rehab, extra study of film, but the biggest thing is just coming out and making plays in the game. That's what your playmakers and veterans are here to do. That's what I'm working on the most, being effective in the game and causing big plays that help our team win.
CB.com: What's been the main focus for the defense during this week's preparation?
Kruger: I think they're a pretty well-rounded offense, so for us there hasn't been one thing that's been predominantly focused on necessarily more than anything else. We need to do a good job against their run game. They've been really effective the last couple of weeks and throughout the season. They've got talented guys in the backfield and they're a pretty aggressive group of linemen up front. Not only that, but the big playmakers with the quarterback and receivers are able to hit some home runs consistently. Those are the things we're really trying to contain. They do it all well. For us, we need to get after the run, we need to minimize the big plays. If we can do that, I think we'll be all right.
CB.com: What changes for you if Landry Jones starts in place of Ben Roethlisberger?
Kruger: To be honest, you want to be relentless in your pass rush no matter what. Ben's a guy that's proven he's able to escape tackles and sacks and extend the play in a situation like that. It can really devastate a defense when you're there, you're getting to him and then all of a sudden he pops a big play. If it's a different quarterback back there, you're not going to dial it down at all or anything. For me, it's not really going to change a whole lot.
CB.com: You picked up your first solo sack of the season last week. Defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil said sacks come in bunches. Is that what you're expecting going forward?
Kruger: You don't want them to come in bunches for long. You want to get them consistently. I'm hoping they come in bunches as well. It's not all about sacks. You need to be effective in all areas of the game. Sacks are big plays and it's really devastating to an offense when that happens, so I'm going to be doing my best to get there and make those things happen. That will help our defense tremendously.
CB.com: What's your assessment of the outside linebackers as a whole this season?
Kruger: I think the biggest thing I've seen is we've been able to see Nate (Orchard) progress as a rookie. That's something that's going to long-term really be beneficial for not only Nate, but the team. Armonty (Bryant) is back healthy and to see him out there making plays is awesome because to come back from an injury and have success, those can be really spirit-killers. You never wish that upon anybody. To see somebody come back from that and have success is real special to me. Just a well-rounded group and to see those younger players make plays is awesome.
CB.com: What kind of challenges does Heinz Field present?
Kruger: I would say it's kind of a breed of its own. It's a different type of field. It's a little slippery out there, especially toward the end of the year. It can be challenging in that way. It's a pretty hostile environment. The crowd is very into the game and I think their productions group does a great job with the music and highlight reels. They just have done a good job of figuring out the timing of that, when to get everybody juiced up. I've seen some games turned because of that. I don't know if it was only that, but definitely had an impact on us. I think they do some special things in that way. I wouldn't really compare it to anything. I would say the Dawg Pound is the most similar I've seen, but it's a fun place to play for sure.
CB.com: What would a win mean against a team like this heading into a bye?
Kruger: It would be huge. The biggest thing is it would create momentum and that's what we need as a team. Picking yourself back up after every game can be extremely challenging after so many times. The biggest thing for us is creating momentum, creating enthusiasm, creating a positive vibe in the building and that's going to come with a win. You can try to do different methods and try different things to keep spirits high but winning is the bottom line around here, especially in this business. I think that would be the biggest thing. It would just turn the tables a little bit.