The post-bye week schedule has been unforgiving for Baker Mayfield and the Browns offense.
It started with the Patriots, who lead the league in total defense, turnovers forced, non-offensive touchdowns and more. Next it was the Broncos, the NFL's fourth-ranked defense with one of the stingiest units inside the red zone. On Sunday, it was the Bills, who hadn't surrendered multiple passing touchdowns all season and ranked as one of the best in the league against the pass as a whole.
Now, it's the Steelers, who are right on the heels of the Patriots in forced turnovers, rank third in sacks and have been the driving force of a four-game winning streak they'll take into Thursday night's primetime showdown at FirstEnergy Stadium.
"Yeah, we have been playing some good teams," Mayfield said after Tuesday's practice. "I think if we eliminate some of the turnovers in some of those early games, we would stack up a little bit better. It happens when you play good defenses. You have to eliminate mistakes, eliminate turnovers and we have been able to do that over the past couple weeks. Now it is just about making the plays when we need to."
Check out photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Steelers Thursday by team photographer Matt Starkey
For Mayfield and the Browns offense, the focus will center on building upon what they've been doing lately. The red zone remains a major trouble spot -- an issue that came to a head during a confounding, eight-play opportunity inside the 2-yard line in Sunday's first quarter -- but the Browns have played with much more discipline and took much better care of the ball since turning it over three times in three plays Week 8 at New England.
As a result, Mayfield has posted some of his best numbers of the season. In the past three games, he's completed 65 percent of his passes for 705 yards, four touchdowns and an interception -- good for a 91.6 quarterback rating.
Mayfield had arguably his best game of the season Sunday when he became the first quarterback all season to throw multiple touchdown passes against the Bills. The second one mattered the most, as it sent Cleveland to a much-needed win while ending a spell of games that ended with unsuccessful final drives.
"He made good decisions on where to go to the ball," Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said. "He was seeing the field well from the standpoint of going through his progressions, and the ball came out of his hands for the most part. A lot of that had to do with the receiving group was pretty precise on where they were supposed to be.
"Like I have told you before, it is not all on the quarterback when he is playing bad, and it is not all on the quarterback when he is playing good. I think Baker would be the first to tell you that. Those guys did a good job outside, the protection held up for the most part for most of the night and he was able to complete the ball with accuracy."
Accuracy and ball protection have been tough for opponents of the Steelers, especially since they acquired safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in a Week 3 deal with the Dolphins. Fitzpatrick, a 2018 first-round pick, has intercepted five passes since joining the Steelers, including one last week that sealed a win over the defending NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams.
Pittsburgh has forced at least three turnovers in its last five games and has won the turnover battle all but once in its games this season.
The Browns know snapping that streak won't guarantee a victory Thursday, but it will certainly make it more likely.
"There are certain things you can carry over but it is about what are the Steelers doing right now and the thing that jumps out to you on tape is that they are creating turnovers, and they are protecting the ball as well," Mayfield said. "That is why their margin in the turnover battle is so positive for them.
"It is about us doing our job mentally and going out there and executing on Thursday."