The Browns defense will make a reunion with a familiar face in its Week 6 matchup Sunday at Heinz Field.
For the first time since 2018, Cleveland will match up against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who didn't play against the Browns last season after undergoing surgery on his right throwing arm that sidelined him for all but six quarters in 2019.
Roethlisberger's return to Pittsburgh's offense has been one of the biggest storylines of the AFC North. Now, the Browns will attempt to hand him his first loss of the season.
"We're still working on slowing him down," defensive coordinator Joe Woods said with a smile Thursday in a Zoom call with local reporters. "You see him throwing the ball with accuracy down the field and on underneath throws. He has total command of the offense."
Roethlisberger has won 23 of 26 games against Cleveland and has thrown 40 touchdowns, tied with the Cincinnati Bengals for the highest of any of his opponents, and 22 interceptions. The Browns have never beaten Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, either, but they have plenty of reasons to believe that will change Sunday.
Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers
Much of the early season hype about the Browns has revolved around their efficient offense that leads the NFL with 942 rushing yards and is fourth in the league with an average of 31 points per game. Cleveland certainly has the offensive firepower to match what Roethlisberger is capable of doing with his own offense. The defense, however, has made plenty of plays that have helped the Browns extend their winning streak to four games for the first time since 2009.
The Browns lead the NFL with 12 turnovers thanks to six interceptions and an even more remarkable six fumble recoveries. Cleveland has made up for defensive mistakes by forcing takeaways and keeping the opposing offense off the field, and any turnovers will feel even sweeter Sunday against Roethlisberger and the divisional rival.
"We just have to be able to challenge those guys," linebacker B.J. Goodson said. "He takes whatever you give. I have seen a lot of defenses make it easy for him."
Interceptions and fumbles are only one way to stop Roethlisberger, though, and the other options are just as difficult to accomplish.
Even though he underwent surgery on tendons in his throwing arm, Roethlisberger has shown the same arm strength and accuracy that have made him one of the most consistent throwers in NFL history. He has a strong batch of receivers to catch his passes, too, in Juju Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and rookie Chase Claypool, who torched the Philadelphia Eagles for four touchdowns last weekend.
At 38 years old, Roethlisberger is still elusive in the pocket and can find ways to muscle out of heavy pressure and extend plays. A 6-foot-5, 240-pound player is never easy to bring down, and the Browns don't need to be reminded about the difficulty of tackling the sturdy quarterback.
"He's big," Goodson said with a chuckle as he shook his head. "He's just a big guy. It's that simple. For his size, he has good balance, so he's hard to take down."
Not many franchises are as familiar with the challenges Roethlisberger brings as an opposing quarterback than Cleveland, but the Browns have tapped into a type of early-season success they haven't found in decades. A win Sunday, for example, would give the Browns their first 5-1 start to a season since 1994 and first win at Heinz Field since 2003.
To get there, the Browns need to do something they haven't done since 2014: beat Big Ben.
"He's hard to deal with," Woods said, "and we'll have to be at our best to come away with a win."