The Pittsburgh Steelers knew that they would be facing a Cleveland Browns team that had been weakened as a vertical threat with the suspension of wide receiver Josh Gordon and a quarterback in Brian Hoyer who has a lot to prove.
The Browns ran the ball nearly as much as they put it in the air, despite trailing for most of the game up until about 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter. They entered halftime trailing by 24 points, but they still kept the ball on the ground.
Of course, that had a lot to do with the success of running backs Ben Tate, Terrance West, and Isaiah Crowell, none of whom were with the team last year. Tate was a priority free agent signing, while the other two are rookies.
Nevertheless, the result was that it kept the Steelers in their base defense throughout most of the afternoon.
Out of 68 snaps, nickel back William Gay only saw the field on 16, yet he came up with some of the biggest plays of the game, registering three pass deflections and a big tackle for loss on third and long to help give the offense good field position on what was eventually the game-winning drive.
As they often do, the Steelers rotated their defensive line heavily. Brett Keisel wound up playing 40 snaps, while Cam Thomas found a few extra snaps replacing Steve McLendon at nose tackle on occasion.
Rookie Stephon Tuitt also saw some playing time on eight snaps during the game, while Cameron led the linemen with 60 snaps.
As a matter of fact, the only five players that played every snap were inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons and the starting secondary.
The coaching staff replaced rookie starter Ryan Shazier briefly, giving Sean Spence some playing time and registering seven snaps in the first regular season game of his NFL career, including a tackle on special teams.
The Steelers even gave Arthur Moats playing time over right outside linebacker Jarvis Jones after the team chose to keep him as the only backup at both outside linebacker positions.
Meanwhile, Jason Worilds played all but one snap, during which the Steelers chose to run their big nickel package. He otherwise played a full game.
The Browns had the Steelers’ defense on the ropes often in the second half, which likely contributed to the playing time for the likes of Moats, Spence, and Tuitt.
It will be interesting, however, to see if Pittsburgh continues to do any rotation among the linebackers, as that is not something that they typically do.