PITTSBURGH – Forget the Johnny Manziel vs. Brian Hoyer soap opera that played out in Cleveland during the preseason. The Steelers had bigger concerns with the Browns.
Nobody particularly likes to prepare for the unknown. But that’s what the Steelers are doing this week as they get ready to face the Browns in their regular season opener Sunday at Heinz Field.
With yet another first-year head coach in place – Cleveland’s eighth head coach since returning to the league in 1999 – the Browns have been something of a blank slate at which the Steelers have been staring during the offseason.
Many of the players are the same, but with former Buffalo defensive coordinator Mike Pettine now in charge of the Browns after Rob Chudzinski was fired following just one season, the Steelers aren’t quite sure what to expect from Cleveland.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger began watching film of the Browns’ preseason games last week. But he was also forced to look at the 2013 Bills, searching for any tips into what Pettine might be inclined to do with Cleveland’s defense.
“There are a lot of the same faces out there but some different looking defenses,” Roethlisberger admitted.
Pettine and the Browns have been preparing for their opener against the Steelers since the schedule came out, something they were able to do since the Steelers returned most of the same players and coaching staff.
“Browns at Steelers in Week 1, in your first game as an NFL head coach? It doesn’t get any better than that,” Pettine said. “I love this division.”
The fact that the Browns are a division rival and the Steelers play them twice a season will help Pittsburgh in its preparation. Different coaches might run different schemes and have different game plans, but at the end of the day, the players are the still the same.
“You see a lot of the same guys,” said Roethlisberger of Cleveland, which the Steelers swept in 2013. “You see some different stuff, different players, but still three down (linemen) and mixing some nickel stuff in. I don’t want to give away everything I’ve seen so far in case they change stuff up, but there’s nothing glaring now to say they have a new coach.”
That’s likely by design.
Few teams, even ones without a new head coach, want to tip their hand in the preseason. They often keep things very basic to not give away too much to future opponents.
“Preseason is a lot different from the regular season,” said Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones. “(There is) no game planning. In the regular season, there is game planning. There is a whole lot more structure.”
While the Browns are something of a mystery, the Steelers feel like they have a lot they haven’t shown as well, particularly on defense, where there are a number of new faces who figure to see a lot of playing time, including rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier and free safety Mike Mitchell.
“I feel like we’re going to continue to grow as a defense throughout the season,” said Mitchell, who joined the Steelers as a free agent.
“You don’t want to hit your stride until the end of the season. You want to constantly be improving.”
Odds and end zones
The Steelers chose their captains for the season on Monday. Roethlisberger will represent the offense for the fourth consecutive season, while strong safety Troy Polamalu was chosen for the first time in his 12-year career to represent the defense. Special teams captains will be placekicker Shaun Suisham and safety Robert Golden. … The Steelers will unveil a decal on the back of their helmets against the Browns that will read “CHN” to honor Hall of Fame head coach Chuck Noll, who died in June. The team will wear the decal throughout the 2014 season. There also will be a pre-game ceremony to honor Noll in which his wife, Marianne, and son, Chris, will be presented with a helmet.