The Pittsburgh Steelers have largely been a team of trends this season. They are the worst team in the league in the first quarter, and the best in the second. Today, they lost the first quarter 6-0, and won the second 14-0. So double check marks there.
One of the changes that they have made in recent weeks, however, has been the demonstration of the ability to close out games. They failed to do that in the season opener against the Cleveland Browns despite having a 14-point lead halfway through the fourth quarter. They bottomed out against the Baltimore Ravens and then even in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game that they won.
The last three games have been different. Against the Atlanta Falcons in Week Five, they put up 28 points in the second half, including 14 in the fourth quarter, holding Atlanta to seven. While the defense gave up the go-ahead score late to the Cincinnati Bengals, the offensive closed with a game-winning drive, 11 points in all in the fourth quarter, and 14 in the second half overall.
Today’s closeout drive was another impressive continuation of that trend, though one can argue that they scored too soon, because the Browns were able to score a garbage touchdown at the end of the game to make it 33-18 at the end.
After the Steelers’ offense stalled at the Browns’ 24 with 13:39 remaining in the fourth quarter and settled for a Chris Boswell field goal, the offenses of both teams combined for three consecutive three-and-out efforts. Pittsburgh got the ball back again with 7:41 left to play.
They would not give it back for 5:37, and that was only after scoring on a 10-play, 65-yard drive that began with a Ryan Switzer fair catch at the 35. And it was all 10 consecutive runs, even with a delay of game thrown into the mix.
As you might guess, most of it was James Conner, who went over 100 yards on the ground during the drive. All six of his carries on the drive were successful plays for the offense, highlighted by a 13-yard run on second and seven and then a 22-yard dagger for a touchdown on third and three.
In between Conner’s first five carries of the drive and the last, rookie running back Jaylen Samuels got his first touches of his career, given four consecutive carries, on which he gained 17 yards. It started with a seven-yard gain followed by three for a new set of downs. After gaining six yards on second and nine, the Steelers checked Conner back in on the possession down from the Browns’ 22.
That is when Conner closed out the game with his second rushing touchdown of the afternoon. It left the Browns with time to run their offense, but down 21 points at the time. it was for all intents and purposes a close-out drive, even if it didn’t end the game, and something that the Steelers needed to show that they are capable of doing after struggling with it to start the season.