CLEVELAND — Despite all of the challenges, the Pittsburgh Steelers just keep on finding ways to win games, and have been earning respect along the way.
Typically, the loss of a franchise quarterback spells disaster for a National Football League team, but the Steelers have weathered the storm that came with losing multi-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl-winning signal-caller Ben Roethlisberger to elbow surgery early in the season.
The Steelers have won five of their last six games and find themselves in the thick of the playoff race heading into Thursday’s game against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
“They’re doing the right things, man,” Browns defensive back T.J. Carrie said. “They’re on a hot streak right now. They’ve played some really great football.
“Defensively they’re doing really, really good things, so I think going into this game is definitely going to be a big turnover-battle margin. I think that defensively, whoever can get the most turnovers and get off the field on third down will definitely be more successful.”
Browns right tackle Chris Hubbard knows all about the culture of the Steelers, as he started his NFL career in Pittsburgh before leaving in free agency two years ago to sign with Cleveland, and the veteran blocker has not been surprised by recent results.
“We made things happen, so it’s not surprising at all to see that happen,” Hubbard said. “You have to play football, not matter how it’s done, whether it’s running the ball, throwing the ball, eliminating him from throwing the ball -- things like that. The defense is playing well. The offense is making plays. They’re playing sound football, so we all have to play sound football.
“They’re one of those groups. I’ve been over there and been through hard times with those guys. Those guys are going to stick together. They continue to fight each day through practice, and they hold each other accountable. That’s one of those things that Coach Tomlin harps on -- keeping guys accountable, and then, making the players make changes and making sure they’re of one accord.”
Being able to adjust to adverse situations requires belief in oneself and the leaders of the organization, and the Browns understand that longtime Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is a big reason why Pittsburgh has remained in contention for the postseason despite losing Roethlisberger early in the year.
Along with Roethlisberger, the Steelers lost running back Le’Veon Bell in free agency and traded away Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown during the offseason, completely overhauling their roster on the fly.
“They’ve done it before, not just this year,” Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said. “They’ve done it over time, and what you want to do is be consistent over time in how you approach the season, and they’ve done an excellent job of that.
“Mike’s done a tremendous job of just staying on task and staying the course, and anytime things like that happen, you’ll always have outside influences, outside noise and they’ve just kind of relied on each other.”
Hubbard added, “He’s a player’s coach, so he has to make sure his players hold each other accountable and make sure they’re prepared.”
With Tomlin leading the Steelers, the Browns know they will be in for quite the challenge when they lost Pittsburgh in front of a national-television audience this week.
“Mike Tomlin does an excellent job of coaching them and having them ready to play,” Kitchens said. “He is one of the best coaches in the National Football League. Tremendous history, story, great defense and good offense. We have our work cut out for us.”