Ten­sions high for Browns, Steel­ers

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NFL - By Tom Withers

CLEVE­LAND — The Browns are fairly healthy head­ing to Pitts­burgh for their hyped rematch with the Steel­ers.

There’s no telling what kind of con­di­tion they’ll be in com­ing home.

Sun­day’s meet­ing be­tween the bit­ter AFC North ri­vals — their sec­ond game in 17 days — has taken on the feel­ing of a heavy­weight cham­pi­onship fight with both teams bat­tling to keep their play­off hopes in­tact.

Of course, the stakes have been sent into or­bit fol­low­ing the Nov. 14 brawl in Cleve­land trig­gered by Browns de­fen­sive end Myles Gar­rett’s hel­met-swing­ing at­tack on Steel­ers quar­ter­back Ma­son Ru­dolph in the fi­nal sec­onds. That set off a side­lineclear­ing skir­mish that led to sus­pen­sions, apolo­gies, ac­cu­sa­tions, fines, pos­tur­ing and a dark­en­ing of the bad blood that al­ready ex­isted.

“We kind of set the fire here,” Browns rookie corner­back Greedy Wil­liams said Fri­day. “I know they can’t wait to get this home game just to strike back.”

Gar­rett is sit­ting out Brown­sS­teel­ers II, been banned in­def­i­nitely by the NFL. He has also con­tended Ru­dolph used a racial slur to­ward him. Ru­dolph de­nied Gar­rett’s as­ser­tions, and the league found no ev­i­dence such a slur was used. But Ru­dolph will watch af­ter be­ing benched by Steel­ers coach Mike Tom­lin.

Also, Steel­ers cen­ter Mau­r­kice Pouncey is out while serv­ing his two-game sus­pen­sion for kick­ing and punch­ing Gar­rett.

Play­ers on both teams ex­pressed con­fi­dence things won’t get out of hand this time, but noth­ing is guar­an­teed.

“I feel like they cir­cled this game af­ter that last one,” Browns run­ning back Ka­reem Hunt said. “So they’re def­i­nitely go­ing to come out ready to hit and do what­ever it takes to in­flict their will on us. So we’ve just got to go out there and be more phys­i­cal.”

Be­yond Gar­rett’s ac­tions, the Steel­ers weren’t happy about two hel­metto-hel­met hits de­liv­ered by Browns de­fen­sive backs this month, one of which will side­line wide re­ceiver Juju Smith-Schus­ter for the sec­ond straight week with a con­cus­sion.

The Browns’ big­gest in­jury go­ing in is to start­ing left of­fen­sive tackle Greg Robin­son, who was placed in con­cus­sion pro­to­col this week and is ques­tion­able Sun­day.

Robin­son didn’t prac­tice again Fri­day, but coach Fred­die Kitchens didn’t rule him out and said the for­mer No. 2 over­all draft pick was able to in­crease his ac­tiv­ity.

“I know he was do­ing some stuff when we went out to the field,” he said.

Robin­son was placed in the league’s con­cus­sion pro­gram this week af­ter he re­ported to the team’s fa­cil­ity Mon­day with symp­toms. Robin­son, who has started 10 of the Browns’ 11 games, played in last week’s win over the Dol­phins

If Robin­son can’t go, the Browns (5-6) will likely start Justin Mc­Cray, who has made two starts this sea­son. He started at left tackle against the Pa­tri­ots on Oct. 27 af­ter an in­ef­fec­tive Robin­son was benched for one game.

The Browns could get back de­fen­sive end Olivier Ver­non back against the Steel­ers (6-5) af­ter he missed the last three games with a sprained knee. He’s also ques­tion­able.

Ver­non’s re­turn could ease the sting of los­ing Gar­rett, who had 10 sacks be­fore his sus­pen­sion.

“It is go­ing to be a great boost if he can go,” de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Steve Wilks said. “He has been lim­ited this week and try­ing to see ex­actly how he feels. He was play­ing at a high level be­fore he left. Hope­fully, we can try to get him back this week.”

The Browns will have tackle Larry Ogun­jobi af­ter he sat one game as pun­ish­ment for shov­ing a hel­met-less Ru­dolph in the re­cent melee.

“It is good to have Larry back. He is ex­cited to be back,” Kitchens said. “Men­tally, Larry is in a good place. I think he is ex­cited to go play the game — just a game. A lot of times that cures a lot, just play­ing a game.”

RON SCHWANE/AP PHO­TOS

The Browns’ Myles Gar­rett (95) is taken down by the Steel­ers’ David DeCas­tro, right, and Mau­r­kice Pouncey on Nov. 14.

The Steel­ers’ Trey Ed­munds, left, and Jor­dan Danger­field, right, stand with quar­ter­back Ma­son Ru­dolph af­ter a brawl against the Browns.

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