By Alan Robinson
Imagine this: it’s the Steelers who are praising the Browns’ defense, and not the other way around.
The Steelers are usually considered to be the crown jewel of AFC North defenses, but the Browns’ unit is higher ranked and performing better than Pittsburgh’s. The Browns are No. 5 overall, allowing 306.5 yards per game, while the Steelers (340.8 yards per game) are No. 14.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said Thursday this might be the best defense the Steelers (4-6) have faced all season. He said Joe Haden is the best cornerback, and defensive linemen Phil Taylor and Ahytya Rubin are better than the Lions’ more-publicized duo of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.
“I thought Detroit was real good, but this team’s better,” Haley said. “Statistically, they’re better. It starts inside with Taylor and Rubin. Last week I thought it was the best two interior guys; these guys, I think, top them. The front seven in general, I think, is the best front seven we’ve seen.
“They play a 3-4 and give you a lot of looks. And, week in and week out, they do a real good job of stopping the run.”
The Browns’ run defense is No. 8 overall, allowing 99 yards per game – a challenge to a Steelers running game that has yet to produce a 100-yard rusher this season. The Steelers are No. 30 in rushing at 76.5 yards per game.
The Browns built their defense largely on the draft, with five first- or second-round picks. Haden and Taylor are first-rounders and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, Jabaal Sheard (of Pitt) and strong safety T.J. Ward are second rounders.
Outside linebacker Paul Kruger signed in the offseason after winning the Super Bowl with Baltimore.
The Browns have allowed only 24 points in two AFC North home games, beating Cincinnati, 17-6, and Baltimore, 24-18.
Asked about his matchup with Haden, Antonio Brown said he would welcome going head-to-head against him.
“I hope so, because 1-on-1 on better than 2-on-1,” Brown said. “If you can study game plans and prepare for one guy, it’s a lot easier than (preparing for) other guys or zone coverage — those type of things have an effect on your routes. It should be a great matchup.”