The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to get over a four-game skid and climb back into the race for the AFC North, a conceivable possibility, given how week the division has been through the first half of the season. They are looking to break their losing streak against the only team in the league who has yet to win a game, the Cleveland Browns.
Only three of the Steelers’ eight inactives today are healthy scratches, but among them is first-year tight end Xavier Grimble, who is now fourth on the depth chart with Ladarius Green returning. For the Browns, cornerback Tramon Williams is a notable inactive.
Steelers Inactive Players:
QB Zach Mettenberger
T Brian Mihalik
S Shamarko Thomas
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
RB DeAngelo Williams
TE Xavier Grimble
S Jordan Dangerfield
Browns Inactive Players
QB Kevin Hogan
CB Tramon Williams
LB Corey Lemonier
OL Gabe Ikard
G Jonathan Cooper
WR Jordan Payton
QB Joe Callahan
The Steelers won the opening coin toss and chose to defer. Ricardo Mathews, starting for Cameron Heyward, made the first tackle of the game in the backfield for a loss of two. Isaiah Crowell did pick up five up the middle, setting up a third and seven. Terrelle Pryor got the better of Ross Cockrell on the play for a 38-yard reception to the 38.
Kessler had all day to throw on the following play, eventually firing a short pass that bounced right off the chest of his receiver. On second down, Ryan Shazier was able to get to Crowell in the backfield. A false start preceded the third-down play. Artie Burns intercepted Kessler on third and long on and underthrown deep ball to Corey Coleman, but he would have been better off batting the ball down, instead setting up the offense inside the five.
With Chris Hubbard on the field for the opening play, the Steelers handed off to Le’Veon Bell for a three-yard gain. He found space on the left side for eight yards. Ben Roethlisberger fired a quick screen to Eli Rogers for five yards. A patient run from Bell yielded four yards to set up third and one. He pounded ahead for five for the first-down on the next snap.
From the 30, Roethlisberger looked deep for Antonio Brown, who had some space behind Joe Haden, but it appeared that the wind took the ball off its trajectory, falling harmlessly incomplete. On second down, some behind-the-line window dressing produced a screen to Bell for 19 yards near midfield. He added 12 on the ground up the middle on the following play, in part due to a nice hole and, at the end, due to a nice cut for the final four yards.
Roethlisberger this time found Brown on a quick screen as he was pretty much already being tackled by Haden for three yards. From the 36, Bell made a tackler miss on a screen for a first down. He fumbled out of bounds. From the 28, he was limited to three yards up the middle. Yet another pass to Bell picked up the seven yards to move the sticks.
He followed that up with a seemingly effortless nine-yard run to the nine. But he was flagged for a false start just as it seemed that a touchdown was the inevitable conclusion on the drive. He was stopped for no gain on second down now to induce a third and six. Jesse James couldn’t catch the Roethlisberger pass on third down, which would have been short of a first anyway. The defensive back broke it up. So a Chris Boswell field goal ended a drive in which Pittsburgh had a second and one from the nine, a disappointing result.
Sammie Coates, busted hand and all, made the tackle on the ensuing kickoff. Stephon Tuitt dropped Kessler for his second sack of the season on the opening play of the drive. It was a loss of seven. Crowell picked up five to make it third and 12. A Lawrence Timmons blitz off the edge produced an incomplete pass that initially looked like it could have been intentional grounding, but the officials ruled that a receiver was in the area. Timmons showed nice closing speed on the blitz. But Artie Burns was flagged for illegal use of hands, so instead of punting deep, the Browns get a first down.
As things have gone this season, the following play included a missed tackle for a 20-yard reception. After an incompletion, Crowell picked up a few yards up the middle. On third and long, Javon Hargrave got his first sack of the season, with Timmons also coming on the blitz. The punt bounced and rolled inside the 20.
Bell was stopped for two on first down. Roethlisberger found Brown for a leaping pass and a first down on the next play. From the 37, Rogers was being covered by the corner and the incoming safety on a deep incompletion on the following play. Bell caught the edge for 11 and a first down around the left edge on second down.
He added two yards on the following play on a run that looked like it could go for a loss. A short pass to Rogers put the offense in a third and six situation. Roethlisberger was able to find Cobi Hamilton though, who fought for the first-down yardage to get things moving.
From the Browns’ 39, Bell showed burst up the middle to pick up about five. A false start preceded the second-down play. Now second and 10, play action led to a delayed screen to James, who merely got back the penalty yardage. On third and five, Roethlisberger’s pass was behind Hamilton, which limited him to two yards. The Steelers chose to go for it on fourth and three, however, finding Brown quickly at the first-down marker to move the sticks.
Bell used a cutback to find 10 yards inside the 20 on the play after the conversion, with David Johnson hitting a kickout block. He added about three yards on the next play. With time to throw, but nobody open, Roethlisberger threw the ball out of the end zone on second down. On third and seven, his pass was deflected for an incompletion. He took a hit at the end of the play. So once again, another long, promising drive ended in a field goal.
Sean Davis made the tackle after a four-yard screen, but Duke Johnson found some space for 12 yards to the 41. Corey Coleman failed to come up with another pass on the following play. It didn’t look like there was much pressure to be had, but Arthur Moats eventually got around the edge and hit Kessler to get him down. Moats was being blocked by the tight end. On third and 21, Johnson was dropped for a loss on a draw run. The Steelers will have about two minutes and three timeouts to end the half. A penalty and re-kick on the punt did take out the two-minute warning.
From the 41, Bell was spun down after a five-yard screen. A pump fake led to a draw run for seven yards and a timeout. Roethlisberger found Brown comfortably open down the field for 21 yards to the 26 and out of bounds. Bell was spun down inbounds after a short reception of four yards with the forward momentum. Then it was Rogers’ turn to get spun down after four yards, setting up a key third-down play. Roethlisberger found Bell late in the play, falling as he threw, for the first down, with Bell getting out of bounds.
From the 13, Bell was forced out of bounds after two yards on a short pass. He could not connect with Hamilton on a pass that would have set up first and goal. On third and eight, he did find Rogers for a first-down, leaving 10 seconds on the clock. From the three, Roethlisberger looked late to Hamilton, wide of the target, incomplete. With five seconds left, the pass was incomplete in Brown’s area, but a defensive hold gave Pittsburgh another play with no time left.
Mike Tomlin chose the aggressive route, going for the touchdown from the one and a half. A quick play-action screen to Brown led to another defensive penalty and another untimed play from the one. Bell got the carry and punched it in from one yard out, his second rushing touchdown of the season. Tomlin chose to go for the two-point conversion to make it 14-0. They converted with a pass to David Johnson.