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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: Pittsburgh Needs Mr. Right

PRELUDE TO STEELERS VERSUS BROWNS GAME

It seems like it was just yesterday that the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Los Angeles Rams. But it’s already Thursday and they play again tonight. The day after Sunday’s game, players got a day of recovery time. Coaches could use this time reviewing film and drawing up game plans. Tuesday was the only opportunity to practice and install the game plans. Wednesday the team traveled to Cleveland. A short week but the Cleveland Browns are at the same disadvantage sans travel.

James Conner and Ramon Foster should return. Roosevelt Nix and Benny Snell will not. So, Steelers ground attack still not running on all cylinders. Ryan Switzer is also out; He took hard hits in the past two games. Who will be taking up the kick and punt return duties he was handling?

THE STEELERS FORECAST

Steelers Depot gives us specific things we should look for during the game. I always read these articles prior to kickoff:

Matthew Marczi described what we should watch for in the game against the Browns: James Conner’s return & impact on running game. Offensive line’s play. Joe Haden & Steve Nelson coverage of Odell Beckham, Jr. & Jarvis Landry. Steelers front seven defending the Browns running tandem of Nick Chubb & Kareem Hunt. OLB’s T.J. Watt & Bud Dupree trying to get through tackles Chris Hubbard & Greg Robinson. Will Steelers streak of turnovers continue or end?

Tom Mead identified the key matchup to watch Thursday night. Tom focused our attention on the Steelers tackles versus Myles Garrett. He sacked quarterbacks 10 times in 9 games this season. Tom sees a group effort to stop Garrett. The Steelers could run the ball more, use play-action, quick passes, or and/or seek tight end help to chip him. The Steelers have not been strong in all these areas. We will see.

Alex Kozora forecast what would happen in his Steelers versus Browns prediction. Alex foresaw a Steelers win if their run game is much improved, they defend perimeter runs, & make fewer mistakes than the Browns. On other hand, the Steelers lose if Beckham completes a pass, they can’t handle Browns pony package, & Steelers commit too many penalties. Alex predicted Steelers winning 21-16.

Dave Bryan identified the 7 keys to a Steelers victory against the Browns. First the offense needs a good initial drive and limit false starts. Second, the offense needs at least 50% of plays on first downs to be successful. Third, the defense must limit Chubb & Hunt. Fourth, force Browns into 2nd/3rd & 6 or more downs to pressure Mayfield. Fifth, James Conner runs 10 or more yards 3-4 times. Sixth, target Greedy Williams when he is one on one with Steelers receivers. Finally, Steelers must neutralize Myles Garrett’s pass rush.

You can compare these pregame guides to Alex Kozora’s analysis of the game’s winners and losers which came out within minutes of the final whistle. How does his analysis compare with your view of the game?

STEELERS OFFENSE

First half

The Steelers had no running game and the Browns pushed the offensive line around. By the time Pittsburgh took the field they had already lost Ola Adeniyi to injury during the kickoff. The Steelers seven first half possessions resulted in 4 punts, a missed field goal, a turnover on downs and an interception.

Opening drives have been a bane for the Steelers. The streak continues as the Steelers go three and out. James Conner runs twice for a net gain of 0 yards and Mason Rudolph throws an incompletion.

The Browns show the Steelers how to exploit an opening drive and score. Down by seven, JuJu Smith-Schuster gave Steelers fans something to cheer about briefly. Mason sees him coming across the field and JuJu goes 16 yards for a first down. Alejandro Villanueva then puts the Steelers in a hole with a holding penalty. Cleveland penalties are the biggest contributor to the Steelers offense. On 3rd & 13, referees call Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams for separate penalties giving the Steelers 33 additional yards. Conner’s 7-yard run is his longest of the game placing the Steelers at the 26-yard line. Chris Boswell’s 44-yard field goal attempt is no good.

The next drive starts at the 20 but only nets 23 yards and one first down. Mason cannot connect with JuJu on 3rd & 1. Steelers punt from their own 43-yard line. Conner’s last run came at the end of the first quarter. He gained six yards and was out of the game. Villanueva holds again. Rudolph throws an incompletion on third down again. Steelers punt again.

The Browns score again putting the Steelers behind 0-14 early in the 2nd quarter. Jaylen Samuels and Trey Edmunds alternate running the ball in this drive. Unfortunately, on 3rd & 4 Rudolph attempts a pass to JuJu. Rudolph takes a helmet to helmet shot drawing a flag. JuJu sustains helmet to helmet hits, and he drops to the ground. The referees do not flag the high hits to JuJu’s helmet. The Steelers get 15 penalty yards but have now lost their star receiver. Nick Vannett runs a patter just short of the sticks setting up a 3rd & 1. Cleveland stuffs Trey Edmunds and the offensive line for a one-yard loss. On 4th & 2 Mason Rudolph throws an incompletion vaguely intended for Vance McDonald while under pressure.

It looks like the Steelers might move the ball then disaster. Rudolph complete a 16-yard pass that sets up 3rd & 1. Taking a page from the Browns first touchdown, Rudolph sneaks ahead for a first down. The very next play, Rudolph throws deep for Tevin Jones with Denzel Ward defending. The ball bounces off a player and before Jones can reach it, former Steeler Morgan Burnett snatches the ball at the 27-yard line and returns it 43 yards.

The Browns miss the field goal attempt giving the Steelers their best field position of the half at the 35-yard line with 2:31 to go. McDonald’s 22-yard catch places the Steelers in Cleveland territory. Diontae Johnson gets 13 yards to the 28-yard line and a first down. Should be at least a field goal with a chance to get a touchdown. But Juston Burris strip-sacks Rudolph. An alert Matt Feiler recovers the fumble but now they are back to the 42. Mason Rudolph misses on a deep pass to Johnson and then Browns sack him back across the midfield line. The Steelers punt Instead of getting some points.

The Browns thoroughly dominate Steelers. Pittsburgh’s star running back, and number one receiver are out of the game with injuries along with a couple defenders. It feels like they should be down by 3 or 4 scores but it is only 14-0 at the half.

Second Half

Seven more Steelers drives in the second half. Even though they score a touchdown this half is worse than the first. A punt, two drives turned over on downs and three interceptions. A putrid output even with back-up players trying to step up at the skill positions.

Mason Rudolph threw an interception on the Steelers first possession of the second half. He intended to connect with Tevin Jones, but Joe Schobert intercepted instead. It was an unbelievably bad pass that as so far behind Jones he had no chance to catch it.

The defense forces the Browns to punt and the offense has the ball again. On the first play, Damarious Randall nearly decapitates Diontae Johnson knocking him out of the game, clearly concussed with blood flowing from his ear. Officials eject Randall but he accomplished his job. Another Steelers player injured by a vicious headshot. The referees’ step in at this point. James Washington has a 22-yard reception as referees call Larry Ogunjobi for hands in the face on the line which the Steelers decline. On 3rd & 6, McDonald misses a catch, but referees call Juston Burris for illegal contact. I think most times refs would not call it. A sympathy flag. But it is a first down. Then referees call Greedy Williams for defensive pass interference on Johnny Holton. 38 penalty yards put the ball at the 3-yard line. Mason Rudolph checks down to Jaylen Samuels who sprints left for the touchdown.

The Steelers start the fourth quarter with the ball and only down 14-7. They have their best starting position of the game at their own 40-yard line. The Steelers enter Cleveland territory on James Washington’s 19-yard reception. Trey Edmunds gains nine yards after a Johnny Holton misses a deep pass to set up 3rd & 1. Rudolph throws another deep left pass to Holton and it looks like the defender pushed from behind and never recovers enough to catch the ball. On 4th & 1 the Steelers call timeout. I’m just an average fan, and don’t understand why Mike Tomlin did not go ahead and challenge the no call if he was going to use a timeout anyway. The push looked evident to me. In any case Rudolph targets Holton again who keeps his streak of missed targets intact. Browns ball.

The next three drives are pathetic. First a three and out. Then Schobert intercepts Rudolph’s pass intended for Washington returning it to the 4-yard line. Browns score. Holton gains 18 yards on his first reception of the game on the seventh pass targeting him. Rudolph throws his fourth interception on the next play.

The final drive led to the ignominious ending. Playing without timeouts, Rudolph completed a couple short passes, but a fearsome rush sacked him twice in a row. You’ve seen the video clips of Myles Garrett ripping the helmet off Rudolph’s head then clubbing him with it.

Mayfield clearly outperformed Rudolph. Avoiding sacks and making plays when it seemed there were none. Rudolph was under a lot of pressure as the Browns punctured his offensive line at will. He threw some bad passes and had to rely on back-up receivers and running backs. Many fans concluding that Rudolph is not NFL caliber much less a franchise quarterback. Quack. The Steelers are going to continue with Rudolph as the starting quarterback. Let’s see how he responds in the next game. That said, quack, quack.

STEELERS DEFENSE

First half

The Steelers defense played much better than the offense. However, they allowed Cleveland to score twice giving up a 65-yard opening touchdown drive and a 71-yard touchdown drive to start the second quarter.

On 3rd & 8, Kareem Hunt catches a short pass then stretches it into a 20-yard gain. Odell Beckham then gets behind the Steelers defense for a 42-yard reception to the 1-yard line. The Browns had no qualms with Mayfield quarterback sneaking in for the touchdown.

Chubb gained 10 yards on a run & Hunt gained 11 on another on the next drive. The Browns reached the Pittsburgh 43 but punted. Cleveland got the ball back near the end of the first quarter, but Steelers force a three and out.

The offense cannot move the ball and give it right back to Cleveland at the start of the second quarter. After Vince Williams stopped Chubb for no gain, Mayfield threw long to KhaDarel Hodge for 41 yards. It would have been much more, but Tomlin challenged that he was down by contact and the review overturns the original call. Jarvis Landry goes 25 yards to set up 1st and goal from the 9-yard line. On 3rd & 7 Mayfield scrambling and throws for endzone. Haden grabs the receiver and draws the interference penalty. Instead of forcing a field goal the defense leaves Landry all alone in the end zone for a 14-0 lead.

The defense holds the Browns to consecutive three and outs. The first forces a punt. The second results in a missed field goal. Cleveland started at the 30 after Burnett’s interception. On 3rd & 7 Steve Nelson defended a pass to stop the Browns. The front seven pressured Mayfield but he eluded them. Cleveland does not score again this half. However, the damage has been done.

Second Half

The defense faced seven Browns drives in the second half. The Browns scored a touchdown and missed a field goal. A very solid half by the Steelers defense although they could not force a turnover and sacked Mayfield only once.

The first two Cleveland drives ended with punts. T.J. Watt sacked Mayfield on the second drive which eventually led to a three and out. The Steelers score and on the next drive, the defense lets up a little bit. Cleveland convert two 3rd downs before Pittsburgh finally stops them at the 31-yard line on 3rd & 9. The Browns miss the 50-yard field goal attempt.

It’s the 4th quarter and Steelers are down just 14-7 though badly outplayed and outhit by the Browns. Just one big turnover could determine the game. Chubb and Hunt find no room. The Browns punt. But then the Steelers must punt it right back. The Browns move the ball to midfield, but the defense stiffens. The Browns punt again to Pittsburgh. This time, Rudolph throws an interception that the Browns return to the 4-yard line. Tyson Alualu tackles Chubb for a 4-yard loss. On 3rd & 8 Mayfield completes a touchdown pass to Stephen Carlson. Mark Barron is right there. It looks like if he just turned a little, he could have intercepted the ball. Instead it flies right by him. 21-7.

Rudolph throws another interception and the Steelers defend from midfield. The Steelers stop them, but the Browns have been content to run the ball draining time off the clock and forcing Pittsburgh to burn their remaining timeouts. Just the melee remains in this game.

The Steelers defense played well enough to win if the offense had any success. The defense was not good enough to take over the game through turnovers or sacks. A frustrating game.

SPECIAL TEAMS

I break special teams play into six phases: Kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts, punt returns, field goals & blocking field goals (I’m not counting extra point plays).

Kickoffs

Boswell kicked off twice. The Browns returned both kicks. Tavierre Thomas returned Boswell’s first kick to open the second half from one yard deep in the end zone. He ran 28 yards to the 27-yard line before Mike Hilton tackled him. Boswell’s second kick was fielded at the 4-yard line. Thomas returned it 22 yards with Robert Spillane tackling him at the 26-yard line. Not too bad, but both kicks had Cleveland starting just in front of their 25-yard line. Austin Seibert kicked off four times. Tony Brooks-James fielded the first two at the 6- and 5-yard lines respectively. He returned both 16 yards to put the Steelers starting position a few yards behind the 25-yard line. Seibert’s next two kicks were touchbacks. Notably, a Browns players hits Ola Adeniyi hard on the opening kickoff and Ola is out for the game. I did not see the hit, but it set the tone for the game. Advantage Browns.

Punting

Jordan Berry punted five times averaging 49.6 yards a punt. Dontrelle Hilliard returned three punts for 16 yards. His best return was 11 yards following Boswells 54-yard punt after the first possession. Only one punt ended up behind the 20. However, Boswell netted 46.4 yards per punt. Jamie Gillan punted eight times averaging 45.8 yards a punt. Diontae Johnson returned his second punt 10 yards to the 22-yard line. Cam Sutton returned another 8 yards but had fielded it at the 4-yard line. Three were touchbacks, two were fair caught and one downed at the 9-yard line. Three Gillan punts put Pittsburgh behind the 20-yard line. The Browns commit two penalties twice on punts. Five of Gillan’s 8 punts were from Pittsburgh territory so he netted just 36 yards a punt. Boswell had longer fields to work with and the coverage was able to limit returns.  Slight Advantage Steelers.

Field Goals

Chris Boswell missed a 44-yard field goal attempt. Would have made it 7-3 early in the game but not sure it made any difference.  Seibert was 0 for 2. He missed a 2nd quarter 45-yarder that would have made it 17-0. He also missed from 50 yards after the Steelers had made it a 14-7 game in the third quarter. That kept Steelers hopes alive for a bit. Advantage No one.

Your Hot Takes During the Game

First Half Reader Comments

Steelers Depot readers commented 1732 times on the game’s first half Live Update and Discussion Thread. Above the standard 1000 comments per half. Astounded respondents say their piece about the Steelers poor play and frustration with play calling.

“Fichtner ran that EXACT same play 2 times last week on 3/4th and short. I wonder if the Browns expected it. He is a BUM. BUM!” Reader783 expressed at inexplicable play calling on short yardage plays.

Reader783 identified the difference in a tight game; “Baker is making the plays tonight evading the rush. Difference in the game.”

Tom White concerned with the lack of WR depth and the coach’s unconcern for the dearth. “What the heck did Eli Rogers do to make our coaches hate him? Surely he can offer SOMETHING.”

Nelsonator762 another who is confused by the play calling; “Fichtner truly is terrible. No crossing routes over the middle on that 3rd down is ridiculous. You need 3 yards so instead of a quick hitter you run a comeback on the extreme bottom of the field”

El Sweet Lee (A Jam Up Guy) observed a problem on the offensive line. “AV can’t handle Garrett.”

Ddrews 1914 has no confidence in Randy Fichtner, “Can we get a real OC.”

This game did not get better in the second half. Multiple injuries forced the Steelers to play the bottom of the depth chart at the skill positions.

Second Half Reader Comments

A strong showing of 1686 comments in the 2nd half live discussion. Anger and frustration at the Steelers deficient performance and a woeful end to the game.

Nunya did see crossing patterns with Rudolph missing open receivers.  I will be interested in Dave & Alex’s analysis once they review the all-22 film. “Go back and watch that if you have DVR, the receiver running the crossing route was open forever. Mason didn’t see him.”

Tom White was supportive of Pouncey defending his quarterback as many were. “Not gonna lie I am cool with what Pouncey did. Protect your QB man.”

Reader783 told it, the way he saw it.  “It’s just all so bad. On any given play, Mason likely has a man driven right into his face by horrid blocking. When he has nobody, he usually makes a bad decision for a check down or inadvisable throw. When he DOES make a good throw, the WRs drop the ball. Then another portion of the time, Fichtner calls a flea flicker on 2nd and 2. Or a screen on 4th and 1. Every single phase of the offense failed tonight. ZERO positives.”

Sdale described the home crowd. “Cleveland fans don’t even know what they’re booing. They just boo every down and hope to be right.”

I even got a rated comment. Quack.  “The only ducks I saw tonight were Mason Rudolph’s passes.”

Greg Payne exploring all options.  “Can Ben throw with his other hand? Asking for a friend.”

CONCLUSION

The NFL must be decisive in addressing the end of this game. To start, the NFL must suspend Myles Garrett (Ed Note: Garrett has been suspended indefinitely). Not one game. It needs to be at least multiple games if not indefinitely. He ripped Rudolph’s helmet off and then clubbed Rudolph. I support Maurkice Pouncey coming to his quarterback’s defense. However, if the NFL decided to fine him or suspend him for one game, I could tolerate that. That said, Garrett instigated this fracas and the NFL needs to send a strong message.

Fines are not enough. The NFL already levied three fines totaling $52,639 on Garrett for dirty play this season. As for those saying Rudolph “started it” mitigating Garrett’s assault, I say that you are part of the problem with violence, not only in the NFL, but our society. You do not club someone on the head because they called you a name or shoved you after a late tackle. An actor I once respected jumped on the Garrett was a victim bandwagon.

Garrett’s thuggery overshadowed a couple other cheap shots. The Cleveland Browns did what the Cincinnati Bengals attempted to do with Vontaze Burfict and company. From the opening kickoff they outhit the Steelers. But then they started taking head shots. The helmet to helmet to JuJu was bad enough. But the headshot to Diontae Johnson was especially egregious. Blood was coming from Diontae Johnson’s ear. I expect the NFL to take forceful action. Otherwise they are rewarding players for targeting star players for serious injuries. The NFL should investigate whether the Browns were targeting headshots.

I hope that we have heard something from the NFL soon … UPDATE: just after writing this, the NFL released a statement announcing the league fined both the Steelers and Browns $250,000. Garrett suspended indefinitely at a minimum the remainder of this season. Pouncey suspended three games and Ogunjobi who attacked Rudolph from behind suspended one game. No news on the Cleveland player that knocked Diontae Johnson out but disciplining on other players may be forthcoming. We will see who appeals. I hope that Pouncey does, and the NFL reduces it to one game since he was responding to Garrett’s attack on Mason Rudolph.

I do not know how the team will respond to this loss. It was ugly. I expect that several of the injured players will not be available for some time. Now Pouncey, the starting center is out for three games. A little over a week for Mike Tomlin to figure out who is available and plan accordingly.

Yes, Mason Rudolph played a bad game. Quack. But he had little protection and back-up receivers to work with. We will see how he responds.

A lot of people called for the Steelers to give Devlin Hodges a chance at quarterback Thursday night. A growing portion of the Steelers fanbase may not believe Mason Rudolph is “Mr. Right” as the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise quarterback. But he is “Mr. Right Now” for this season.

YOUR MUSIC SELECTION

I always like to offer a music selection. Pittsburgh is not known as a country music hotbed. But political pundit James Carville once described Pennsylvania as “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between.”   Here is Mr. Right Now, by the Povertyneck Hillbillies. A country band from the Pittsburgh area that reformed as The Hillbilly Way in 2012.

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