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Bill Cowher: Elimination Of Big Plays On Defense, Consistent Running Game Has Been Key For Steelers

Ryan Mayer

The Steelers and Browns rivalry opened this NFL season with the first tie. The Browns harassed the Steelers into six turnovers, five by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (3 interceptions, 2 fumbles), but their own kicking woes kept them from capitalizing. Now, the two teams meet again, this time in Heinz Field with their seasons heading in opposite directions.

Pittsburgh enters Sunday on a two-game win streak, beating the Falcons and Bengals prior to their bye week. The Browns, meanwhile, come in losers of two straight, including an overtime loss to the Buccaneers last week.

With the rivals squaring off once more, we checked in with former Steelers coach and current NFL Today analyst Bill Cowher. In addition to the Steelers-Browns matchup, we asked Coach about cross-conference battles between the Chicago Bears and New York Jets, and the Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens.

You can watch Coach Cowher, along with Nate Burleson, Boomer Esiason, Phil Simms and host James Brown, every Sunday on The NFL Today beginning at 12 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS. (Editor's Note: This conversation has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

CBS Local Sports: The first game between the Browns and Steelers ended in a tie. What are the biggest adjustments each team needs to make heading into the rematch to avoid that result this time around?

Bill Cowher: For Pittsburgh, it's very simple. In the first game, they had six turnovers. They have to cut down on that. To be able to get out of that game with a tie, it's almost like a win. You can't turn the ball over six times like they did in the first game.

For the Cleveland Browns, they have found themselves in four overtime games already this season. Finding a way to close games out has been the hurdle that they have had to try and get over in order to take the next step, which is winning games. They're putting themselves in position right now, but they still need to learn how to close games.

CBS Local Sports: The Steelers have won two straight games entering this one. What's been the biggest reason for their recent success in your opinion?

Bill Cowher: There's been a couple of things that I have noticed with them in the past couple of games against Cincinnati and Atlanta. Number one, they have returned to the running game. That has brought more balance to their offense, because they're not throwing the ball as much as they were in the beginning of the season. James Conner has become a big part of that running game, which has been a huge part of the balance that has allowed Pittsburgh to be so successful. The balance on offense will only help Ben Roethlisberger going forward.

Defensively, they haven't given up the big plays they were giving up earlier in the season. They have started to rush the quarterback and get some turnovers, but I think the biggest thing is they are starting to settle down on defense. Elimination of the big plays on defense and more consistency in the running game on offense are the two biggest factors that have allowed them to be consistent in the last couple of weeks.

CBS Local Sports: There are a couple of interesting cross-conference matchups on CBS this week. First in Chicago, the Bears are coming off a tough, close loss to the Patriots and now face the New York Jets. What change does Chicago need to do to get back in the win column after consecutive losses?

Bill Cowher: Well, last week was their first loss at home this year. When you look at Chicago, they seem to be a different team at home than they are on the road. If you look at that game last week, going against the New England Patriots, it's a game they very easily could have won. They gave up two special teams touchdowns, and they had a Hail Mary fall just short at the end. So, I like how they are playing right now.

Mitch Trubisky is using his feet to extend plays, to keep drives going. Khalil Mack is still dealing with an ankle injury that you can tell is keeping him from being the same dominating player he was at the beginning of the season. It just comes down to the ability to win close games.

On the other side of it, from Sam Darnold's standpoint, he's coming off a tough week going against one of the more difficult defenses in the league in the Vikings and throwing three interceptions. One thing you do have to take into consideration with that game is the wind factor. I think it's the first time for him, as a kid from Southern California, experiencing northern weather, when it wasn't just cool but also windy. I know it was three interceptions for him, but some of that can be attributed to the weather and also, of course, to a very good Vikings team.

CBS Local Sports: You mentioned Darnold's struggles last week against the Vikings. As a coach, what would your advice be to him this week as he looks to bounce back from a tough performance?

Bill Cowher: He'll bounce back. I think we've seen that from the very beginning, when he was named the starter. I like what they have done with him in terms of the game plan, keeping his throws in the high 20s and low 30s. He's been very effective in that range. As a quarterback, you have to have a short memory. Don't lose your confidence, and stay within yourself. Don't try to do too much. The one thing you can't do in the NFL is turn the football over, and he'll be aware of that. What we have seen from Sam Darnold so far is that he's a pretty mentally tough kid and he'll bounce back.

CBS Local Sports: Finally, the Ravens meet the Panthers in Carolina. What's the key matchup that will decide this game?

Bill Cowher: The big key in this game is the defensive front going against Cam Newton. In that offense, it's not just Cam's ability to throw and move around in the pocket, he runs the ball as well. He's the second leading rusher on that team, and he's had a very good season through the air, with 11 touchdowns and only four interceptions. The ability for Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Brandon Williams, and Michael Pierce to get some push in the pocket and keep him contained and keep him from extending drives with his feet will be big.

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