CLEVELAND — The key to winning in the AFC North is to have a tough, punishing defense. Sunday the Cleveland Browns unlocked the combination to a defensive onslaught, forcing eight turnovers in a 20-14 win over Pittsburgh.
The eight turnovers were the most by a Browns team since 1989 when they also recorded eight takeaways in a 51-0 thumping of the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium and the most by any NFL team since the 2001 season.
“That’s what defense is about. If you create turnovers you’re going to win football games,” defensive linemen Billy Winn said. “Turnovers are a big part of the success of any football team.”
All four of the Steelers running backs turned the ball over once as the team fumbled the ball eight times, losing five.
Defensive linemen Phil Taylor, who missed the first eight games of the season with a torn left pectoral muscle, recovered a Chris Rainey fumble in the fourth quarter that helped to seal the win. He also had the lone sack of Pittsburgh quarterback Charlie Batch.
“Everyone was out there trying to make plays. We know how they run, they keep the ball out so we were trying to strip the ball,” Taylor said. “We try to strip the ball every week, but this week I guess it just came out more.”
The Steelers turned the ball over on three of their first six possessions, and then with Cleveland clinging to a narrow lead in the fourth quarter the Browns defense came up with four more turnovers in the final 12 minutes of the game.
After the Browns lost a 13 point halftime lead last week at Dallas, the defense felt the pressure to close out strong Sunday in front 69,661 cheering fans at Browns Stadium.
“We are ball-hungry right now. We know we have to get the ball to give our offense opportunities. We just have a lot of guys hungry to get the rock,” said Browns safety T.J. Ward, who became the first Cleveland defender since Chris Crocker in 2005 to force two fumbles in a game. “We never going to give in that’s just the type of we are. We’re always battling to the end, until the clock says zero. That’s what we’re going to do all season regardless of our record, regardless of the score.”
Ward, Winn and veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown each had an interception of a Batch pass.
Batch, Pittsburgh’s third string quarterback was forced into action this week after the Steelers lost Ben Rothlisberger and Byron Leftwich to injuries. The 37-year-old Batch was making just his second start since the 2010 season.
“I have a lot of respect for Charlie (Batch). He’s been in this league a while and he’s seen everything we did out there. I think we were just the better team today,” Brown said.
Cleveland has now forced 25 turnovers this year in 11 games, seven more than in all of the 2011 season and after sacking Dallas quarterback Tony Romo seven times last week the Browns are beginning earn a reputation for physical, hard-nosed play.
“I feel if you’re not a physical defense, if you’re not more physical that the offense it’s going to be difficult to win. I know a bunch of guys on this team as well, as defensive coordinator Dick Jauron, we all pride ourselves on being more physical that whoever we play and it showed today,” Ward said.
Cleveland’s defense did more than just force turnovers. It held the Steelers to 1-of-9 on third down conversions and held Pittsburgh to 49 yards rushing, its lowest output in nine seasons.
Winn, who was selected by the Browns in the sixth-round of the 2012 out of Boise State, recognizes that the true test of a top-notch defense is to be able to perform at the same high level week after week.
“We have to take what we did in this game and apply it to next week. We have another opponent and another chance to get a W,” Winn said. “We just have to go out every week and be physical,”
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