Mike Tomlin is focused on one thing this week and it's finding a way to minimize Myles Garrett's effectiveness against his offense ahead of Sunday's game between the Steelers and Browns. Pittsburgh, 4-0 for the first time since 1979, will host a Browns team that is 4-1 for the first time since 1994.
Tomlin is not, however, focused on rehashing his team's recent history against Garrett and the Browns. Sunday will mark the first time Pittsburgh has faced Garrett since the Browns' former Pro Bowl pass rusher got into a physical altercation with backup quarterback Mason Rudolph at the end of Cleveland's 21-7 victory in Week 10 of the 2019 season. Garrett was serving his six-game suspension when the Steelers beat the Browns at Heinz Field two weeks later.
"There really is no message," Tomlin said on Tuesday when asked how he will try to get his team to focus on the present as it relates to Garrett and the Browns. "My day-to-day existence kind of relays that message that you suggested. There's a lot on the table in reference to this game in terms of stakes. They're a 4-1 team. We're trying to remain undefeated. We're not looking for that low hanging fruit or that reality TV storylines and so forth. This is a big game here in 2020."
Garrett, who told Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot this summer that he would like to sit down and have a conversation with Rudolph, said that he actually contemplated retiring before changing his mind. Garrett ultimately signed a five-year, $125 million extension in July.
When it comes to Garrett's success this season, Tomlin feels that the Browns' 2017 first-round pick is having a Defensive Player of the Year caliber season. Through five games, Garrett has six sacks, a league-high three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 10 quarterback hits. He had one sack and a season-high four quarterback hits during Cleveland's most recent win, a 32-23 win over the visiting Colts this past Sunday.
"He's a sack-fumble guy, he's a game-changer," Tomlin said of Garrett, who has 36.5 career sacks in 42 career regular season games. "He's a guy that you have to be mindful of not just in terms of his location, but what he's doing and the quality and capability in which he can do it and his potential impact on the game. We just have to be really mindful of that."
Tomlin is also not sleeping on the the rest of the Browns' defensive front, a group that also includes Sheldon Richardson, Larry Ogunjobi, Olivier Vernon and backup Adrian Clayborn. Tomlin also lauded the Browns' offseason selection of Karl Joesph, a physical safety who spent his first four seasons with the Raiders before joining the Browns. Joseph recorded his first interception as a Brown during the team's Wake 4 win over Washington.
"They're just a very well-rounded group," Tomlin said, "and that front provides the wave that they ride."
While the Steelers have not lost to the Browns in Heinz Field since 2003, Tomlin does not think that fact holds any weight entering Sunday's game.
"You think [Browns coach] Kevin Stefanski cares, or [Cleveland defensive coordinator] Joe Woods cares?" Tomlin said. "Or some of the signifiant components, some of the new people care? No. You think some of our new people care, signifiant components of our equation. Guys like [tight end Eric] Ebron and others who don't have those shared experiences. I've learned to shell my experiences and get focused on the variables at hand, because oftentimes, those aren't shared experiences."
Sunday will be the first AFC North game for the Steelers, who posted a 3-3 divisional record last season after splitting their season series with the Browns. And while many fans believe that the Ravens are the Steelers' primary rival, Tomlin and his players believe that every AFC North foe is a rival of the black and gold.
"We love being in the kitchen," Tomlin said of Sunday's game. "AFC North ball is in the kitchen. It's hot in the North."