While they did only end up allowing the Cleveland Browns to score 21 points, a more than acceptable number in today’s NFL, and that was even with the offense turning the ball over four times, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is unhappy with its showing on Thursday night.
There are reasons that they should be, but it’s not about the Browns suddenly dominating them. It’s what they feel they should have been able to do differently. They didn’t take the ball away, for one thing. They had at least two takeaways in every game since Week Two. They gave up two big plays after not allowing any since Week Three. These are the products of mistakes.
“Cleveland didn’t do anything spectacular” to get over them”, said safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who has produced six takeaways and two defensive touchdowns this season. “It was just us making mistakes. Baker Mayfield’s a professional quarterback. He sees an open man down the field, he’s gonna throw it”.
The most egregious error that the Steelers made in the game came on the Browns’ opening drive. After allowing Mayfield to extend the play on third and long to make a play and continue the drive, a miscue left Odell Beckham one-on-one with Steven Nelson with the cornerback expecting safety help he never got, which led to a 42-yard would-be touchdown (he would later be marked down at the one).
“We put a man on an island and didn’t put him in the best position”, the safety said of that play. “There was a man running open across the field so I had to come out of my middle-of-the-field spot, kinda left him on his own and put him in a bad position”.
But there was also the red-zone touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry in which the defense seemingly missed him, and let him slip free wide open for the easy touchdown. “We know what we did”, Fitzpatrick said. “It’s not like they outsmarted us or threw amazing passes or made great catches. It was the stuff that we did, stuff we know we can fix”.
Truth be told, I have somewhat mixed feelings about the safety’s remarks. While I like the mindset, and there is certainly some truth to what he said, it’s disingenuous to disregard the talent that proved to be the better on the night.
Unlike in other games in the past, this wasn’t an instance in which a clearly inferior team simply was more fortunate and won the game. The Browns beat them as much or more than the Steelers beat themselves, though a lot of that falls on Pittsburgh’s do-nothing offense.