The Browns and Steelers were both 1-1-0 going into this game. Oddly enough, every team in the AFC North was defeated last week. Cleveland needs victories in their first five games because the schedule is not kind at all from Week 6-on.
Three Browns defensive players are having an exceptional season so far and are all in the Pro Football Focus Top-10 in the defensive category: Myles Garrett, Anthony Walker and JOK. Walker was carted off the field in the third quarter and JOK went off and never returned.
What needed to change is how the defensive backfield handles their coverages since each of the first two games have been beset with receivers running down field completely wide open.
In the end, Cleveland played well on the offense, defense and special teams and won 29-17.
Do you realize that if the Browns’ coaches had figured out to kneel down three plays then kick a field goal at the end of the Jets game and left New York just five seconds Cleveland would be 3-0-0?
So who played well for the Browns? Who didn’t?
LG Joel Bitonio - Bits held his ground on passing down and pulled to the right quite a bit tonight. In the second quarter with the Browns facing a third-and-three on the 12-yard line, it was Bitonio leading Kareem Hunt taking out Ahkello Witherspoon for a four-yard gain and a first and goal. Next play was the David Njoku touchdown catch. Destroyed DE Delontae Scott in Quarter 4 when he pulled to which Kareem Hunt was able to gain five yards to the Steelers three yard line.
TE David Njoku - Finally a good productive game. The Browns second TD was a crisp route by Njoku with a great grab. With less then three minutes to play before halftime, he made several good catches including two key first down grabs finding the soft zones. Gained 12-yards on the screen in the third stanza as Njoku followed his blockers instead of trying to outpace them. Could not cradle the ball at the two as the third quarter was winding down on the good hit by CB Cameron Sutton although Njoku had both hands on the ball. Made a nice catch for a first down with just over seven minutes left to move the chains in a drive where the Browns needed the clock to wind down. Nine receptions, 10 targets for 89 yards.
WR Amari Cooper - With 8:43 left on the clock in the third quarter, Coop made a nice grab and then tip-toed down the sideline for a huge gain of 28-yards with most of the yardage after the catch. Ran a great route on a assumed run play to begin the fourth quarter and gained 32-yards. Should have had the bullet with just over five minutes to play in the game facing a third-and-12 but misjudged the path of the ball which hit him in the facemask. Seven receptions, 11 targets for 101 yards.
QB Jacoby Brissett - Made a bad throw as the third quarter was about to expire to Cooper which could have been a pick inside the 10. Tonight he was throwing in rhythm and had two key sneaks for first downs. What about the third-and-one in the fourth quarter where he took a new route and gained four yards which gave the offense a first-and-goal on the eight? His coverage analysis was on point. On the third-and-one pass to Cooper for a key first down to begin the fourth quarter, Brissett completely sold the play action. Was mentioned as a game manager by the TV announcers but proved he is much more than that. Finished with 21 completions on 31 attempts for 220 yards with two touchdown passes.
RB Nick Chubb - This dude cuts on a dime and has tremendous power once engaged. On the second play of the game he almost broke it. What a great run with 14:04 left in the game when he jump-cut then slammed off two defenders for a 16-yard gain as three Steelers had to bring him down which got him over the 100-yard threshold. How many times have we seen Chubb take flight for a short yardage play into the end zone as he did in the fourth quarter? Finished with 113 yards on 23 carries.
RG Wyatt Teller - Whether it was Chubb or Hunt, those better gains were to the rightside. The Chubb touchdown in the fourth was between Teller and center Ethan Pocic which was a huge hole.
Fourth down plays - Can’t beat three for three, eh? Two Brissett sneaks and then the Chubb fourth quarter touchdown from one yard out put the Steelers two scores down.
Lack of wide-ass open receivers - Finally, some communication and more man coverage to solve the secondary’s issues.
Key fourth quarter drive - Finished with a Chubb one yard plunge on a fourth-and-one to build a 23-14 lead. 80 yards, 11 plays and chewed up 6:30 of valuable clock and kept the Steelers offense off the field.
Defense building a lead and not breaking down - For the first two contests, this Cleveland defense built a decent lead and then let it dissolve. This game, when it needed to be done in the fourth quarter, the defense showed it was serious about this year.
Steelers third down conversions - Zero for three in the first half, one for five in the second half. Nice work “D.”
Opening drive - The Browns won the coin flip and instead of deferring until the second half, they trotted their offense out on the field. After Nick Chubb almost took it to the house on the second play and gaining a first down, then....nothing. Out comes punter Corey Bojorquez who launched a rocket downfield but into the end zone. The Steelers defense was considered frail coming into this game. Way to boost their confidence. No points - no glory.
Lack of pass rush - Myles Garrett needed one sack to break the franchise record of career sacks and was MIA in the first half. The loss of Jadeveon Clowney must have been huge because his replacements, rookie Alex Wright and Issac Rochell, did not offer much penetration. DT Taven Bryan, DT Tommy Togiai and DT Jordan Elliott? Not much going on. The Steelers offensive line has been criticized for being so porous during the first two games now suddenly appeared to be full of Pro Bowlers. Jordan and Garrett each had a good pressure right before the half. With 1:16 left in the third quarter Garrett finally got to the quarterback with a QB hit but no sack.
Missed tackles - For the second week in a row, the Browns defense missed crucial tackles at the wrong time. On the Najee Harris touchdown run to begin the second quarter, Harris ran wide left to which S Grant Delpit had him on the five yard line only to whiff. Then S John Johnson met Harris on the two and a stiff arm later was laying on the turf while Harris had six. This was Johnson’s second missed tackle in the first half. Jacob Phillips and Sione Takitaki missed QB Mitchell Trubisky in the second quarter before he hit Diontae Johnson for a huge gain right on the drive that eventually became the Steelers second score.
Injuries - LB Anthony Walker sustained a knee injury in the third to which the cart was summoned. Around the same time frame, JOK went out with a quad injury and was questionable to return. DT Taven Bryan had a hamstring issue with the questionable tag placed on him. LT Jedrick Wills went down but came back later in the third quarter.
Milk Bones – it starts with “Here, hold my beer.”
Special teams - Punt coverage was excellent. Punter Corey Bojorquez boomed his first kick 61-yards and then shanked one badly that gave Pittsburgh great field position near midfield. In Quarter #4, his 48-yard kick landed on the five with another kick downed inside the 20 and his final punt out on the four. K Cade York missed an extra point for the second week in a row. His kickoffs usually landed at the minus-8 range and was true from 34-yards on the field goal in Quarter #3 to put Cleveland up 16-14. The critical PAT in the fourth quarter after Cleveland went up 23-14 was a wobbler, but was good to make it a two-score game. KR Jerome Ford came out of the end zone and was nailed at the 12 after the Steelers second touchdown in the first half for horrible field position. PR Chester Rogers was elevated from the practice squad and made two fair catches in traffic while wisely leaving the ball alone to bounce in the third quarter.
S John Johnson - Made a great play on RB Jaylen Warren with just over six minutes to play in the second stanza by punching the ball out only to have the Steelers’ Diontae Johnson fall on it instead. Johnson had a nice defense on WR Chase Claypool with just under nine minutes to play in the game on a second down play that would have been a first. With 3:52 left in the first half and the Steelers at the Browns two on a second down, Trubisky faked a handoff then dashed to the right pylon. Johnson had a sure tackle at the four but attempted to make the tackle too high and fell off. Trubisky scored instead of a tackle for loss.
C Ethan Pocic - Had some issues and was manhandled a few plays by Pittsburgh DT Tyson Aulalu. With 1:58 to play before halftime on a second down play, Pocic destroyed LB Robert Spillane going onto the second level as Hunt shaved Pocic’s backside in route to an 11-yard gain as the chains kept moving. It was Pocic who was pushing that pile in the third quarter which gave Chubb an extra five yards. Two QB sneaks for first downs was a Pocic highlight as well. On Chubb’s jump-cut run early in the fourth, Pocic whiffed on his man LB Malik Reed who put the first hit on Chubb but luckily bounced off. The very next play Pocic turned around former Brown Larry Ogunjobi as Hunt gained eight.
LB’s Tony Fields, Jacob Phillips and Sione Takitaki - With two starting linebackers out, the backups were called upon. Fields recognized the run play and nailed Najee Harris for a one-yard gain with 2:27 left in the third quarter. The very next play Trubisky did a QB rollout and had open field to which Takitaki made a shoestring tackle for minimal gain. He was also good in coverage. Phillips had the sack with just under five minutes to play with the Steelers facing a third-and-three and was forced to punt despite being nine points down. With less than two minutes in the game, Phillips (led all tacklers with seven) batted away a third down pass attempt to TE Pat Friermuth which forced a field goal.
OG Hjalte Froholdt - The backup right guard was the fullback on Chubb’s leap into the end zone in the fourth quarter. As center Pocic and RG Teller had opened a hole, it was Froholdt who took out the incoming linebacker Devin Bush and then pushed him back into the end zone and out of harm’s way. Sometimes you play one play and get mentioned.