The last time Myles Garrett faced the Pittsburgh Steelers, the game ended in a brawl.
Mike Tomlin has left that fracas in the past. The coach told reporters Tuesday he’s not focused on retribution, but on a win Sunday when his 4-0 Steelers face the 4-1 Cleveland Browns.
“We’re not looking for that low-hanging fruit or that reality TV storyline,” Tomlin said. “This is a big game here in 2020.”
It is indeed a big game. Pittsburgh is 4-0 for the first time since 1979 — a year in which the Steelers won the Super Bowl — while Cleveland is off to its best start since 1994, back when Bill Belichick was roaming its sideline. They’re both entangled with the Baltimore Ravens near the top of an incredibly competitive AFC North.
“We love being in the kitchen,” Tomlin said. “And AFC North ball is in the kitchen. It’s hot in the North.”
Hot, indeed. Cleveland and Pittsburgh have each ripped off four straight wins, with the Browns and Steelers both ranking in the top 10 in points per game (Cleveland is fourth, Pittsburgh 10th) and in the upper half of the league in offensive yards per game. Pittsburgh owns a better defense, ranking third in the NFL in yards allowed per game at 301.5.
The stingy Steelers defense might appear as a major advantage that would tilt the field in favor of Pittsburgh in this matchup, but Cleveland just dropped 32 points on the league’s No. 1 defense in the same category, Indianapolis. Add in the fuel of a long-dormant rivalry that might just be alive again after a 25-year slumber, and you’ve got yourself quite a ballgame ahead.
“When you are in those five-star matchups, it’s about what you do,” Tomlin said, via Erie News Now’s John Lydic, of facing the Browns in a battle for at least a share of first place in the division.
As for Garrett, Tomlin eschewed talk of helmet-swinging in favor of respect, calling the league-leader in total pressures (28, per Next Gen Stats) “a freakish talent.”
Garrett fell behind in the NFL’s race to lead the league in sacks in Week 5, but he remains on a path toward Defensive Player of the Year honors. Garrett leads the league in total disruptions (the combined total of hurries, pressures or sacks, with one counted per play) with 34, which serves as an accurate measure of his per-play effectiveness beyond completing the sack. On Sunday, Garrett and Co. pressured Philip Rivers at a rate more than 10 percentage points higher than he’d experienced in the last four weeks combined, resulting in his worst passer rating since Week 11 of last season and his first touchdown-less game since joining the Colts.
They’ll aim to bring that same intensity to the first of their two annual meetings with Pittsburgh, with much more on the line than usual. As evidenced by Tomlin’s words Tuesday, the Steelers will be ready for their arrival.
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