Who helped key the Browns second half resurgence against the Steelers?
Well, that's a trick question. There is no answer to the "who" part. It wasn't individuals. It was truly a team effort.
There were certain leaders who started rallying the troops.
Paul Kruger was at the forefront of that effort.
"[Paul] was one of the guys at halftime too who kept saying, 'Hey, there's a lot of game left,'" said head coach Mike Pettine. "I think there were probably a few doubters in that room [who thought], 'Hey, we're probably done here being on the road in this environment down by this much.' He was one of the guys who I thought kept it up and stepped our guys up."
"Nobody panicked," said Kruger. "It was just a situation where, hey, we were obviously not playing our type of football, so let's get back on the right track. Everybody bought in and believed. It was still a heartbreaking loss. I wish we could've pulled it out."
Kruger's statistics – five tackles, two sacks – against the Steelers stand out on paper. But if you re-watch the game, Kruger's influence was literally everywhere. The outside linebacker constantly was frustrating Steelers offensive linemen in the running game, garnering some double-teams as the game wore on. Pittsburgh might've went into the game thinking Kruger was just-a-guy. They left knowing they will almost certainly have to account for the shaggy-haired pass rusher when the Steelers travel to Cleveland in Week Six.
Kruger, 28, was candid this offseason in saying he had to expand upon his 2013 season and morph into a player the Browns can count on to wreak havoc each Sunday.
Kruger shed weight and refined his technique, over and over. In the hot summer months both in Ohio and his home state of Utah, Kruger lined up on a practice field as a pass rusher and worked on his explosion – for hundreds of reps at a time. The training method was monotonous, but at Heinz Field, the results of his rededication were apparent.
"I feel faster," Kruger said in the locker room on Monday.
There are some veteran players around the NFL who shrug off major suggestions from coaching staffs. Kruger has embraced Pettine and the rest of the defensive coaching staff.
"Paul played well. He did," said Pettine in his Monday press conference. "I thought he was very physical. His production came as a result of rolling off the ball and being very physical. Paul is a guy who's come a long way with his technique. We got on him early on. He was getting too far up the field. Our running saying in the defensive room is 'you can't get a sack on a run play.' He's taken it to heart and taken the coaching."
There might not be another 0-1 team around the league with as much confidence as the Browns. Brian Hoyer and the offense put excitement into all of Northeast Ohio, scoring 24 unanswered points. However, Kruger and Cleveland's onslaught of pass rushers – namely Jabaal Sheard – spurred the Browns' second half revival just as much.
The Browns are not ignoring how well they played in the second half.
"It creates some momentum that you need," Kruger said. "Momentum is a big part of football and just sports in general. The more you can gain it, sustain it and know how to battle through adversity the better you're going to be as a team. That's really where I feel we can make the most strides. Finding that momentum, building on it, sustaining it and if we have some setbacks, find a way to get the ball back in your court."
As the Browns shift their focus to Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and the New Orleans Saints, there is one major goal in mind: play four quarters of football. Kruger reiterated there's no secret formula for how to come out of the gates firing.
But as all the Browns begin reviewing film of their individual and collective group performance against the Steelers, players will notice something: Paul Kruger was one of few players who did play four full quarters against Pittsburgh.
Expect the veteran leader to challenge his teammates to do the same.