It was a rough night for the Pittsburgh Steelers long before Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett assaulted quarterback Mason Rudolph. While the offense was more or less terrible throughout the night, with Rudolph responsible for throwing four interceptions, the defense had its issues as well.
And its biggest issue? Not getting pressure, but finishing pressure. They were able to move Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield off of his spot and flush him out of the pocket consistently throughout the night.
But they were not able to stop him consistently from making plays once he got out of the pocket, and for Mike Tomlin, he told reporters immediately following the loss that he believes “that’s really kind of the story of the game”.
“I think Mayfield did some positive things on extended plays, and that was probably the difference on that side of the ball”, he said of his defense’s performance. “We didn’t keep him in the pocket enough on extended plays. He created some things, and we weren’t strong enough on the back end in terms of combination with the rush to keep him in, so he made a few plays that we weren’t able to overcome”.
Mayfield was extremely successful on the move, starting early. On third and eight, he was flushed out to his right by pressure from T.J. Watt, among others, and was able to hit Kareem Hunt down the field working against Mark Barron, who did nearly get a hand up.
On the next play, from the Steelers’ 43, it was Watt again threatening around the edge as Mayfield stepped up in the pocket, just a bit, to find Odell Beckham getting past Steven Nelson. That was one of two long pass plays the Browns hit, which Tomlin chalked up to “Baker out of the pocket”.
He was asked about the challenge of covering Beckham and Jarvis Landry at the same time, but he didn’t see that as the issue. “I don’t know that they were tough to stay close to”, he said. “I thought the quarterback mobility and the extension of plays were the difference, and it wasn’t about coverage”.
I would tend to agree. A lot of the successful throws that the Browns had on the night were several seconds after the snap and after Mayfield had been forced to move off of his spot. The Steelers did well in pressuring him, but not in keeping him contained.
He did have to throw the ball away several times, and was hit multiple times—Watt was the only one who actually managed to sack him—but it clearly wasn’t enough. The Steelers had better have a better plan for him two weeks from Sunday, because that’s when they’ll be playing him again.