Opposing quarterbacks haven’t seen much of Myles Garrett since his return from the COVID-19 list.
The star defensive end and the Browns are hoping that changes Sunday night when they meet the Steelers in a playoff showdown at Heinz Field.
Garrett, who was named All-Pro for the first time Friday, ranked sixth in the NFL with 12 sacks and third with four forced fumbles. But he’s had trouble handling the aftereffects from the virus since getting back on the field following a two-game absence — 2.5 sacks over the final five games.
Garrett had a sack against Pittsburgh in Week 6, but none against the Steelers in the season finale, even with Mason Rudolph in the pocket providing extra incentive.
“I think Myles is fine,” defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. “You have to give (the Steelers) credit. They did a nice job with their protection. At times, we were not able to get there and get close, and (Rudolph) was able to get rid of the ball fast.
“That is a dynamic of their offense, especially with Big Ben (Roethlisberger). Sometimes, it is catch and throw. If he is sitting back and throwing it deep, they will protect him at times. I just have to do a good job of combining man coverages and zone coverages and bringing some pressures, just to create some one-on-ones for not only Myles but some of the other guys to put some pressure on Ben.”
Garrett said Friday that he feels as though he’s back to early season form and will bring a do-or-die approach Sunday to his first playoff game.
“I am going to play like it is my last. It could be the very last opportunity I get,” Garrett said. “Not saying it will be because of our success, but you never know what is in your future. You never know what could happen in the world or to us individually or to our family. I am going to play like my hair is on fire and like I will never get another chance at it.”
Tracking and bringing down the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Roethlisberger won’t be easy. The veteran rarely takes sacks with a quick release and sturdy stature. He also owns a 23-2-1 record against Cleveland.
Add to that, the Browns won’t have Garrett’s defensive end partner in Olivier Vernon, whose Achilles tendon ruptured in the finale.
Adrian Clayborn, who has 3.5 sacks in 15 games, is expected to fill in for Vernon. But he plays on the right side, so Garrett could switch to the left against the Steelers.
“It is a hell of a challenge,” Garrett said of facing Roethlisberger in a playoff matchup. “This is what we have all been looking forward to and I know I have been looking forward to it myself. The Steelers and the Browns have had history against each other so now it is just up to us to step up to the plate.
“They have to show up and play just like we do. Nothing is being taken for granted and nothing is going to be given to them. Anything we get, we are going to have to take.”
— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) January 8, 2021
Garrett and the Browns got some extra motivation for their first playoff game since 2002 from a likely candidate, Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
“I think they’re still the same Browns that I’ve played every year. I think they’re nameless gray faces,” he told reporters. “They have a couple of good players on their team. But at the end of the day … the Browns are the Browns. It’s AFC North football. They’re a good team. I’m just happy we’re playing them again.”
After originally electing not to comment on Smith-Schuster’s “same Browns” bulletin board material, Garrett said: “We’ll have to prove it when we see them on Sunday.”
“We have been in (the underdog) role all year,” he added. “We have been in that role since I have been here. Nothing has changed. Our backs are against the wall, and we are going to fight out of it and fight off of it.
“Nobody is going to sit here and tell you that we are counting ourselves out. These guys are hungry, and we are going to take it to them.”