Game Review: Browns' Defense Has Eight Takeaways in 20-14 Win Over Steelers

Jason Miller

Whether the Pittsburgh Steelers were starting Charlie Batch or not, it is still an incredible feat for an NFL team to record eight turnovers in a single game, but that's exactly what the Cleveland Browns did in a 20-14 victory. In a season in which Cleveland has failed to finish games against teams like Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Dallas, any time Pittsburgh had a chance to rally in the second half, they turned the ball over. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience in that regard.

Let's get to this week's game ball, followed by the rest of my complete game review.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns

1st 2nd 3rd 4th FINAL
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WEEK 12 - PITTSBURGH STEELERS
VS. CLEVELAND BROWNS (COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)

  1. Awarding the Game Balls: LB D'Qwell Jackson & S T.J. Ward - I spent way too long going through plays and trying to determine who deserved a game ball this week. When your defensive stat line reads "three interceptions, seven forced fumbles, and five fumble recoveries," there are a lot of worthy contenders to choose from. I narrowed it down to Jackson and Ward, who combined for an important play late in the game.

    Pittsburgh's only offensive drive came during the two-minute drill of the first half. Down 20-14 in the second half, the Steelers started faced a similar situation with 2:36 to play. Would Cleveland have another heartbreaking collapse? I was nervous on the first play of the drive -- it was a simple late dumpoff to fourth-string running back Chris Rainey.



    Although CB Joe Haden hits Rainey low, he is able to spin around like a top to prevent himself from hitting the ground. Thankfully, LB D'Qwell Jackson continues his pursuit from behind. Because Rainey is busy spinning, he holds the ball a little awkwardly in his right arm.



    When Jackson goes for the tackle, he wraps up in just the right spot to where the football is below the joint in Rainey's arm. I don't know if there are many running backs who would have the strength to hold on to the football with just their hand in a case like this, but I'm sure it's possible. The football appears to be starting to come out just a bit.



    For good measure, S T.J. Ward comes in and blasts Rainey as he is in an awkward position. The ball comes loose, and in the background, DT Phil Taylor alertly scoops up the football. The Steelers did get the ball back one more time, but the Steelers would've needed to go 97 yards in 19 seconds with no timeouts.

    All of Cleveland's turnovers were important, but this was the one that seemed to officially "seal the deal."

  2. Goat of the Game: RG Shawn Lauvao - Although he had a key block on LB James Harrison during Trent Richardson's go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, it didn't seem like the greatest day for Lauvao. Pro Football Focus did not approve of Lauvao's run blocking, and he had two consecutive holding penalties on pass plays in the third quarter that killed a drive before it could even get started:



    This was the second holding penalty in a row, which set Cleveland up with a 2nd-and-24 from the 6 yard line that they could not dig themselves out of. After a punt, it allowed the Steelers to start a drive in Cleveland territory for the first time all game.

  3. Seven Turnovers = 17 Points: I'm thrilled that the Browns scored points off turnovers, but when you force as many turnovers as Cleveland did, you'd love to capitalize to the point where you have more than a one-possession lead in the final moments of the game. Note: I only said seven turnovers because the Browns never touched the ball again after the eighth turnover. Let's take a look at each of those seven turnovers the Browns forced, and why the Browns did/didn't capitalize on offense.
  4. Turnover 1 (A. Rubin) & Weeden's Checkdown: The first forced fumble of the came is credited to DT Ahtyba Rubin. Rubin shows his hustle here; you can see where he's at, and he'll end up coming up from behind to strip the ball away much like Jackson did in the screenshot earlier.



    Cleveland took over 44 yards away from the end zone. They began the drive with three straight run plays of 6, 7, and 13 yards. After a run of one yard, Cleveland faced a 2nd-and-9 from the 17 yard line. Brandon Weeden dropped back, and Cleveland sent two receivers on the right side to the end zone. I thought Weeden made a good read given the coverage, and Josh Gordon was the only receiver who had a shot at making a play in the end zone.

    On third down, Weeden checked down to Mohamed Massaquoi. Fans were frustrated that the play was shy of the sticks and that Massaquoi was tackled immediately. Did Weeden make the wrong decision? Maybe he could've been more aggressive, but all of the receivers were covered tightly, as you can see below.



    If there's something better Weeden could've done here, maybe it would've been the ball placement to Massquoi. If he the throw leads him in stride vs. being stuck on him, maybe he can outrace the defender to the first down marker. Either way, I don't think you can blame Weeden for the Browns only getting a field goal here.
  5. Turnover 2 (J. Parker) & Cameron TD: The Steelers started a drive bad with a holding call. Then, on 2nd-and-16 backed up in their own territory, the Browns' defensive line got great penetration, forcing a run play to the outside where Sheldon Brown stuffed it for a loss of three. Pittsburgh tried a draw on 3rd-and-19, and DE Juqua Parker stripped RB Isaac Redman of the football. CB Buster Skrine came up with the recovery, and Cleveland took over ten yards away from the end zone.

    Two run plays by Trent Richardson only netted five yards, setting up a 3rd-and-goal from the 5. Getting only a field goal here would've been a big wasted opportunity. Fortunately, Brandon Weeden found TE Jordan Cameron for his first career touchdown.



    In the screenshot above, you can see the formation. Jordan Cameron is lined up as the slot receiver, and Joshua Cribbs is at the top of the screen split wide.



    Cameron makes a quick move right off the line and doesn't face a jam. Brandon Weeden sees this immediately, and all he needs to do is make a good throw and he'll have a quick strike touchdown to Cameron. That's exactly what happens, and Cleveland takes a 10-7 lead. It's a red zone + capitalizing on a turnover miracle!
  6. Turnover 3 (T. Ward) & Deep Shot to Gordon: Right after Cleveland added another field goal, it was RB Jonathan Dwyer's turn to touch the football for Pittsburgh. On the first play of the drive, S T.J. Ward put his shoulder low into Dwyer and right on the football, forcing it free for LB D'Qwell Jackson to recover. That gave Cleveland the ball at the 34 yard line, meaning they were already in Phil Dawson's field goal range.

    On the first play of the series, Brandon Weeden ran a playaction fake and took a sack for a loss of seven yards.



    At the start of the play, Josh Gordon lined up wide right. Gordon runs upfield and eventually makes his break to the post. The safety on the left starts drifting toward the left sideline. I think the Browns wanted to take their deep shot with Gordon here.



    Right as Weeden would like to step up, he sees a rusher coming at him. TE Alex Smith was unable to hold his block on OLB Jason Worilds long enough, and Weeden eats it, taking the Browns out of field goal range. Second down was a run for no gain. On third down, Weeden was aggressive in trying to throw for Greg Little on a 17-yard peelout, but the ball is underthrown, and Ike Taylor almost makes a diving interception. If the throw is higher, it gets past Taylor and Little likely catches it for a first down.
  7. Turnover 4 (S. Brown) & Richardson TD: In the third quarter, the Browns' defense finally got their first interception off of Charlie Batch. Facing a 3rd-and-6, CB Sheldon Brown was covering WR Plaxico Burress on the outside. Burress definitely showed some rust in running on this route as he drifted up the field on his peelout rather than using his frame to come back to the ball and shield off Brown. Brown read it right, jumped the route, and made the pick. Cleveland began their drive 31 yards away from the end zone.

    There was a lot to like about this offensive series. On first down, Brandon Weeden didn't like what he saw and then checked it down to Trent Richardson in the flat for four yards. On second down, he found a wide open Mohamed Massaquoi down at the 10 yard line. After a false start penalty, Richardson went untouched up the middle for a 15-yard go-ahead touchdown.



    This play is nothing if the right guys don't hit their blocks. It's a pull guard play, and Shawn Lauvao sticks it to LB James Harrison. Showing his value as a replacement for Owen Marecic, Alex Smith comes through to take LB Lawrence Timmons out of the way. Richardson wisely does not juke and just bolts through the gap for the score.
  8. Turnover 5 (B. Winn) & OL Breakdown: With the Steelers in Cleveland territory at the start of the fourth quarter, Charlie Batch had a good idea: he tried to throw the ball on a quick hitter to a slanting Mike Wallace as soon as he took the snap, since the Browns were showing a lot of defenders up front. He threw it way behind Wallace, though, and after Joe Haden tipped the ball twice, DT Billy Winn ran up to intercept the pass. Cleveland took over at their own 26 yard line, meaning they'd need to go a long way to score.

    This drive failed right off the bat due to the offensive line I suppose, although some of the officiating calls were questionable. On a 2nd-and-2, Alex Mack was called for holding, making it 2nd-and-12. On the next play, Cleveland had a breakdown in protection off of a playaction pass:



    At the snap, RG John Greco saw two guys coming up the middle and could only pick one. I'd like to hear rufio's explanation as to what went wrong on this play. If I could make a wish list, I would say this: with about six seconds on the play clock, James Harrison came off of guarding WR Travis Benjamin from the slot to show blitz. If Weeden takes a hair longer, he could recognize this and make an adjustment by forgetting the playaction and darting it to Benjamin for a quick hitter. That's probably too much to ask for, though. Weeden couldn't do anything with a free rusher bearing down on him as he turns around, so a sack made it 3rd-and-21. Another holding call, this time by John Greco, later made it 3rd-and-27.
  9. Turnover 6 (J. Haden) & Run Game: Late in the fourth quarter, Joe Haden was targeted on a deep route by Mike Wallace. Haden was with Wallace all the way like glue, and with the ball underthrown, he read it well in air and made the interception.

    On offense, with just over three minutes to play, Colt McCoy was in the game for the concussed Brandon Weeden. Cleveland ran three run plays, which is fine by me. Ideally, you'd love to move the chains with those three runs. Here's a critique on Trent Richardson's first two runs:



    In the screenshot above, Richardson has two routes he can take after the handoff. The run blocking and the defense are going to the right (from Richardson's viewpoint), and that's where he decides to go (the yellow arrow) for a gain of two yards. Given the Steelers' heavy pursuit to that side, I think Richardson could've had something like a gain of six -- and more if he breaks a tackle -- if he takes it up the middle instead.



    On the next play, LB James Harrison shoots right between TE Jordan Cameron and TE Benjamin Watson and gets to Trent Richardson so fast it's unbelievable, given the fact he was supposed to be double teamed. Richardson was hit for a loss of 3.5 yards back to the 17.5 yard line. For some reason, the officials spot the ball at the 19 yard line, making it only a loss of 2 yards. Cleveland ran it again on third down and punted.

  10. Turnover 7 (D. Jackson) & Run Game: The final important turnover was already discussed in the game balls section. Cleveland took over 40 yards away from the end zone. On the first play, it was almost "heart attack time" when Trent Richardson was stripped of the ball on the first play. It was clear as day, but for some reason, the referees blew the play dead. I guess they said forward progress was stopped, and if that's the case, it was a bad call. Let's not overlook something that happened on the play, though: after Larry Foote got the strip+recovery, he got up and started to run. I would've had no faith in Charlie Batch leading a drive, but another defensive touchdown would've been crippling. Just in case, here comes the last line of defense:



    As soon as Colt McCoy saw the potential of a fumble, he raced up to Foote and wrapped him up...



    ...and threw his ass to the ground. It's good to know that McCoy was alert in a case like this. Cleveland was fortunate of the referee's ruling, that Pittsburgh didn't have any timeouts, and that the play was run just outside of two minutes.
  11. Bad Day for Weeden? I've read in a few places that it was a poor day for Brandon Weeden, and I think some may place the blame on him for Cleveland not getting more points off of turnovers. Let's consider a few things, though: first, on two of the turnover drives, Cleveland had Colt McCoy in the game and decided to just run the clock out. That cuts it down to five opportunities for Weeden. On one of those five opportunities, the offensive line didn't cut it. Down to four opportunities. Out of those four, Cleveland got two touchdowns and a field goal. Not too bad. I'm not praising Weeden's performance as if it was a work of art by any stretch, but he held in there against the league's top-ranked defense.

    The two plays I liked the least, in terms of outcome, were Weeden's first two pass attempts. His first pass attempt was to Travis Benjamin, and the pass was horribly underthrown and should've been picked. Now, let's look at Weeden's pick six. I actually like the decision on this play. He is going for WR Greg Little, who is being guarded by a linebacker here. You like his chances to get a first down, despite the attempt being short of the sticks.



    If you ignore the yellow arrows/circle I drew, would you imagine this being a pick six? I don't think so. In that scrum of guys near the 45-yard line, though, Brett Keisel sticks his hand up at the last second and tips the pass. Lawrence Timmons then has a clear path to grab the tipped pass and run it in for a score. It happens, it's the NFL.
  12. Discussing the Officiating: For all of the complaining I did about officiating last week, I guess I should thank the officials for not calling Richardson's fumble a fumble? Still, I do have a complaint from earlier in the game. In the first half during their two-minute drill, Pittsburgh had two timeouts. A pass thrown to RB Chris Rainey was stripped by CB Joe Haden. The strip happened in bounds, but then the ball bounced out of bounds.

    I don't know the rulebook by heart, but surely the clock should continue running as soon as possible, forcing the Steelers to hurry, right? Well, the referees stopped the clock and decided not to start it until they spotted the ball and blew the whistle to continue. Pittsburgh got to keep an extra timeout because of this, which helped them in the long run en route to scoring their only offensive touchdown of the game.

  13. Snap Counts on Offense & Defense: If you missed them, here are the links to our Week 8 snap count trackers for offense (link) and defense (link). On offense, RB Trent Richardson saw 97% of the snaps, which is way too many. On defense, S Tashaun Gipson made the start over Usama Young.

  14. Special Teams Tackles: The Browns had four special teams tackles -- one each from LB Tank Carder, CB Buster Skrine, CB Trevin Wade, and CB Johnson Bademosi. The latter three guys also had one assist, along with one assist for LB L.J. Fort.

  15. Brownies: Except for one beauty coffin corner to close out the game, it was another rough game of punting for Reggie Hodges in terms of distance and hang time. ... It was puzzling to see RB Montario Hardesty get back-to-back carries early on, only to never enter the game again. ... CB Sheldon Brown was close to being a goat for his pass interference penalty on WR Plaxico Burress, but he made up for it later with an interception that helped lead to a touchdown.

    The Browns stuffed the hole for RB Chris Rainey at the end of the first half, but clumped into each other and were unable to wrap up. ... Both teams were poor on third down, as Pittsburgh was 1-of-9 and Cleveland was 3-of-16. ... Cleveland's run defense was outstanding, holding Pittsburgh to 20 carries for 49 yards and forcing each back to have a fumble. ...It was interesting to see the differing strategies on kickoffs; Shaun Suisham constantly kicked the ball out of the end zone, but Phil Dawson decided to kick it super short most of the time, even drawing a fair catch on one occasion. ... Major props to TE Benjamin Watson for having the catch of the game when he went full extension on an out route to catch a pass for a first down.

Up next, the Browns head to the West to take on a terrible Oakland Raiders defense. It's time to build a winning streak.

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