The Cleveland Browns built a convincing 10-0 lead only to allow the Pittsburgh Steelers to score 20 unanswered points en route to a 20-13 defeat. The loss broke a Browns’ three-game winning streak and all but ended their season.
With the Steelers without three of their top offensive skill players plus their starting center, before the game, did anyone actually think that Pittsburgh would have any chance in this contest? Oh yeah, plus they were starting their third-string quarterback. Anyone?
Linebacker Mack Wilson – The rookie linebacker had several key stops and showed how dependable he is with his sure tackling skills. Led all Cleveland defenders with eight total tackles and has shown he is a force in the pass defense game.
Defense stopping Third downs – This was one of the bright spots for the Browns. Pittsburgh was 1-7 on third down conversions although the one was a key pass completion late in the game that kept the Steelers last drive alive and subsequently forced Cleveland to use the rest of their timeouts.
Right tackle Chris Hubbard – Hubbard did not have an answer for Steelers’ defensive end T.J. Watt all game long. Often, the offense would line up a tight end to help the tackle because Watt’s speed was just too much for Hubbard to get his body in front of. So instead, a lot of hand pushing was used as the only method to slow down Watt, who had one sack. In the third quarter after making the fourth-and-one call, Hubbard’s holding call stalled the drive which the offense could not recover from and resulted in a punt instead of points. On the opening drive with a second and six on the Steelers’ seven yard line, Watt came off the right end to which Hubbard just could not keep up. The rest of the line held the pocket intact, but Watt was able to grab Mayfield which resulted in a six-yard sack.
Sacks – How many times did you count the pocket collapse? Quarterback Baker Mayfield was flushed five times of which once he fumbled and another he was sacked. Pressure came from all sides as Mayfield was sacked a grand total of five times. On one particular play, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Javon Hargrave simply ran past Browns’ guard Joel Bitonio and had a clear shot at the quarterback on Cleveland’s second-to-last possession of the game. Fill-in left tackle Justin McCray had issues of his own and allowed a sack.
Defensive Stops – When the Browns needed the defense to stand stout and stop Pittsburgh, it just didn’t happen time-and-time again. Huge gains up the gut and large chunks of yardage through the air were the norm in the second half.
Third down Conversions – This was the Achilles heel for the Browns. 2-10 on third down attempts stopped many good drives. Among these attempts were three sacks and a two-yard loss. Only four of these third down efforts were from 10 yards or longer, which meant the offense’s chances were very makeable. Drive-killing third down failures was the difference in the game.
20 unanswered Points – What went wrong? The Browns were 10 points up while the Steelers had only eight rushing yards and minus-six in the passing department. Then the Hubbard hold, and suddenly the whole complexion of the game swung. At one time Pittsburgh could not run and then suddenly they were popping off seven and nine yard gains. Pinned down on the one yard line, Steelers’ running back Benny Snell, Jr. ripped off an 11-yard scamper without a single defender in the middle portion of the field. Snell is the club’s third-string back.
Defensive back Denzel Ward – What happened to Ward? Sophomore slump? The Pro Bowler has zero picks this year and just can’t tackle worth beans. Often, he does not even have the skills to locate the ball in flight. With 2:14 left in the game and the Steelers facing a third down and six, Pittsburgh tight end Vance McDonald made a fake to the outside and then faded inside. Ward had bitten on the fake and so McDonald was free to make an easy catch in a critical juncture. Tied 10-10 in the third stanza with the Steelers on a drive, quarterback Duck Hodges hit receiver James Washington deep right for 44-yards. Ward is Washington’s shadow the entire fly pattern, and yet he never looked back towards the ball. Not once. So while Washington can see the flight and make an adjustment to the toss to catch it, Ward is content to fall onto the receiver after he catches it. Then three plays later, third-string receiver Deon Cain is held by Ward for a pass interference call that places the ball at the one.
Tackling – If you jump on an offensive player two yards short of the first down, yet he carries you for three yards, does it not register that maybe thumbing a ride is not the answer to bring down a player? How does a hand grab bring down a running back? Is taking out a player’s legs no longer an option in tackle football? Poor (or missed) tackling by Chad Thomas, Denzel Ward, Sione Takitaki, Sheldrick Redwine, T.J. Carrie, Sheldon Richardson, Greedy Williams and Tavierre Thomas.
Turnover Opportunities – The Steelers scored three points off Mayfield’s fumble. Cleveland netted zero points from Terrance Mitchell’s interception. Advantage: Pittsburgh.
2019 Playoff Hopes – While riding a three-game win streak with playoff implications if they had defeated the Steelers, mathematically the Browns are still in it. Realistically, they are not.
Milk Bones – good cheese grits along with some yucky Brussel sprouts
Tight end Stephen Carlson – Two targets, two catches, good blocking skills plus a nifty downed punt.
Safety Sheldrick Redwine – Missed several tackles, but saved a touchdown with 1:12 left in the first half. Had six tackles, but often was in the wrong position.
Passing Attack – It has been a long time the passing numbers have been this low. That is mainly because of the lack of protection with the offensive line which felt like jail break on many plays. OBJ was only targeted six times with three catches for 29 yards. Why did the Browns trade for him? Jarvis Landry had pedestrian numbers for him with a mere 76 yards, most of those in the first half and was the forgotten warrior in the second half. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are each excellent pass catchers yet had only 21 and 19 yards, respectively.
Brown Bombers – Both Chubb and Hunt had their moments, but overall were a disappointment especially in the second half. Hunt’s touchdown catch and run in the first quarter was epic, and then – nothing. Chubb is always the workhorse but finished with 58 yards of which 12 came on one play. In all fairness, the holes just did not develop all game.
Special Teams – Punter Jamie Gillan kicked three punts for a 48.0 average with one kick 58 yards. Kick returner Tavierre Thomas muffed one kick which made the Browns begin on their own seven. He brought out another kick to the 18. Carlson was spectacular with downing an Austin Seibert punt on the one. The kick was the first part of that awesome play in that it bounced softly inside the five-yard line. Seibert had kickoff issues with three kickoffs landing plus-one, plus-six and then plus-nine. Kickoff coverage allowed Steelers’ returner Kerrith Whyte, Jr. to take it all the way down to his own 40. Returner Dontrell Hilliard ran into his own man Tae Davis for the stop. Excellent teams tackling by Thomas, Takitaki, J.T. Hassell and Adarius Taylor. Seibert was a perfect 2-2 on field goals.