Thursday night football is always good news/bad news for NFL players. It allows a long break until the next game, but is a very short week since last Sunday.
The Browns-Steelers game had playoff and divisional race implications, although the percentage was greater for Pittsburgh and abysmal for Cleveland’s hopes. But still, both teams were in the hunt. The Steelers came into this game on a four-game winning streak while the Browns were 1-4 in their last five games with their first home victory. Could they win two in a row in front of the orange faithful?
All night long, the Browns controlled their division foe yet could not capitalize on numerous drives but still won 21-7 and upped their record to 4-6-0. Cleveland had four interceptions - the first such event in seven years. The loss for Pittsburgh (5-5-0) also tainted their efforts for a Wild Card or division crown. Before the game, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was 20-3-1 against the Browns and had won the past eight matches. It was a big win for the Browns and may become the catalyst for the club to turn the corner on the season.
The Browns are the first team to score against Pittsburgh on their opening drive all season. However, there were also issues.
Linebacker Joe Schobert – What a tremendous outing for one of Cleveland’s best defenders. Anytime you saw a hard tackle at an important moment, it was number 53 driving the player to the turf. He ended up with 10 total tackles, four pass defenses, two interceptions and a sack. He is quite adept as a pass defender as evidenced with Pittsburgh’s second to final drive of the game when he was able to swat away a pass meant for tight end Vance McDonald. His two interceptions would ultimately become game changers. No doubt he will become the front runner for the AFC Defensive Player-of-the Week honors. Currently the league’s fourth leading tackler with 92.
Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks – Wilks made certain that the Steelers could not run the ball all night as he overloaded against the rush and called multiple stunts. The edge on both sides of Pittsburgh’s offensive line collapsed often so either Denzel Ward or Damarious Randall could be sent for extra pressure. This worked beautifully as Steelers’ quarterback Mason Rudolph was harassed all night or had to hurry his throws.
Defense – This was the main storyline for the game. Rudolph rarely had time to throw as the pass rush was fierce the entire game. Four interceptions was the crown jewel. Four sacks, a mere 58 rushing yards allowed, 10 pass defenses, 11 quarterback hits, seven tackles for loss, eight knockdowns. A good night for Wilks’ and his players. Well done.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield – The signalcaller was very adept at scrambling when flushed and was still able to gain yardage on certain plays as evidenced by the acrobatic catch to Kareem Hunt in the first quarter. Even though he only gained 193 passing yards, Mayfield threw for two scores and then ran one in while only being sacked once all night. Excellent pocket escape abilities. Great second and third receiver reads. Very impressive with his scrambling skills. He was flushed out of the pocket eight times and was able to connect three throws for first downs plus throw for a touchdown all while running.
Pass Rush – Whether it was the usual presence of Myles Garrett, the Steelers pocket was in constant collapse the entire game. Tackles Larry Ojunjobi and Sheldon Richardson both had good push and essentially eliminated Pittsburgh’s run game. Eli Ankou played well in spurts along with Chad Thomas who netted a sack. Ojunjobi also had a pivotal sack. Linebacker Chris Smith and Randall were also used effectively in the pass rush.
Linebacker Mack Wilson – Five total tackles and was just around the ball all night. He is very aggressive and one of the surest tacklers on the roster. He is also very capable in pass protection.
Punter Jamie Gillan – Four kicks out of eight inside the 20, an average of 45.8, one booming 59 yarder and steady on holds on the field goal team. Two kicks inside the 20 should have been downed inside the five-yard line except linebacker Sione Takitaki grabbed the ball while it was still rolling while special team ace Tavierre Thomas went out-of-bounds and touched the football first while it was slowing down. Both players should have just let the ball die on its own.
Lack of Turnovers – For the second consecutive week, the Browns did not fumble nor throw any interceptions. Is this a trend or a new wrinkle in the offense? Whatever it is, it helps tremendously and does allow the defense ample time to rest. Sterling.
Red Zone Offense – Two for two. Can’t get any better than that. Suggestion: keep this aspect in the game plan.
Multiple Player ejections – The Browns have been a franchise since 1946 and in the history of the club there has never been multiple players tossed. Paul Brown just rolled over in his grave. Damarious Randall decided that after the ball had fallen incomplete and the play was well over that it would be a good idea to hit the receiver late and then coincidentally go helmet to helmet thus knocking the player senseless. Yes, Steelers’ quarterback Mason Rudolph had the helmet of Myles Garrett who should have merely stood up and walked away. The ensuing melee found Larry Ogunjobi shoving Rudolph to the ground with a blindside love tap. Manly stuff. The end result will not only be hefty fines for all, but Garrett will likely be suspended 2-4 games and would not shock anyone if for the remainder of the season and will be sorely missed. Make no mistake, the NFL will want to make an example of Garrett. Both teams meet again in just 17 days. It was a good game and a good fight, but it was Cleveland who ended up with the black eye.
Rightside of the offensive line – This is the Achilles heel for the Browns. At no time were any holes generated to this side manned by right tackle Chris Hubbard and right guard Wyatt Teller. Hubbard could not handle the pass rush of defensive end T.J. Watt all game who was the disruptive defender in the backfield all night. If a team can only run to one side, things get pretty predictable real quick. Mayfield was flushed from the pocket eight times, six of which the pass protection broke down from the rightside.
Penalties penalties Penalties – Costly penalties at the worst times while three flags were not accepted or offset. On one drive alone there were three penalties which set up the Steelers for their only touchdown. That 66-yard drive was aided with 58 yards in penalties. Some of the biggest plays for the Steelers were penalties.
Kicker Austin Seibert – Not a good night for the rookie who had been gold all season long with making field goals. With Cleveland up 14-0 and starting at the Steelers’ 30-yard line after the interception by Morgan Burnett, two incomplete passes along with a three-yard Nick Chubb run necessitated Seibert to come in and help build the lead. The result for the 45-yard attempt that hooked wide right so horribly that the ball sailed into the crowd. This would have been a 17-0 halftime lead. Then on the Browns’ drive in the third quarter right after Pittsburgh cut the lead to 14-7, Mayfield orchestrated a 12-play 43-yard drive to the Steelers 31-yard line. A two-score lead was in the balance but the 50-yarder again went wide right when the wind was blowing slightly the other way. Seibert also had two kickoffs that went for plus-5 and plus-6 and were both run forward.
Third down Offense – The Browns had issues with making key third down plays and was seven for 16 for the game. Seven of these misfires Mayfield threw incomplete from the shotgun. It is fortunate Cleveland has a good punter.
Finishing – The Browns had so many opportunities to salt the game and just didn’t commit to nailing the Steelers to the pine box they ended up leaving in. The Browns were dominant for most of the contest and could just as easily won 41-7. Sheldon Richardson did not drop on a fumble. Randall’s ejection penalty kept a Steelers drive moving forward. Two missed field goals. Greedy Williams not turning around on an eventual pass interference penalty that he could have caught. Not just allowing the punt to settle and downed inside the five became a touchback. Penalties aid Pittsburgh’s only touchdown and giving away third downs. Denzel Ward dropped an interception that hit both gloves. In Steelers end of the field and short-armed a pass to Odell Beckham, Jr. who was open.
Milk Bones – sweet and sour
Tight end Stephen Carlson – Hey, if you are a rookie and you catch your first NFL touchdown someone needs to say “Hell ya” to you. Here it is. All night long the broadcasters kept praising safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Mark Barron, both former first-round draft picks. Yet, it was the focus of an undrafted rookie activated from the practice squad just two weeks ago with an awesome catch who basically sent those black and gold jerseys in the stands headed for the exits.
Offensive players Odell Beckham, Jr., Kareem Hunt, KhaDarel Hodge – Each player had a great first half with sensational catches which moved the rock and helped the Browns to a dominating game up until halftime. And then - nothing. Was this the halftime adjustment to stop using three of your weapons?
Running back Nick Chubb – Plugged along all game and had his moments especially running to the leftside of the offensive line. Finished with 92 yards on 27 carries with a long run of 12-yards. Only targeted once in the passing game which was odd as he is a sure receiver. Went over the 1,000-yard threshold in only his 10th game which is impressive. Currently is the league leader in rushing yards with 1,011.
Defensive back Greedy Williams – The rookie had a very good first half with solid tackling, something he was earmarked at being poor at doing coming out of college. He is slowly coming around as a dependable pass defender, but has a few things to work on. In the third quarter and the Steelers driving, a long pass attempt to receiver Johnny Holton ended up with a 38-yard pass interference penalty by Williams. If he had simply turned around, it would have been an easy interception that was thrown short.