The Pittsburgh Steelers put together their most complete defensive effort of the season yesterday, holding the Cleveland Browns to just seven points on the day after they topped 30 points in four consecutive games.
They were able to sack Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum four times to bring their five-game total to 24 on the season, the most in the NFL. They were also able to intercept Mayfield twice, including one for a defensive touchdown. They forced a fumble as well, but did not recover.
The Steelers frustrated Cleveland all day, unable to get things moving either on the ground or in the air, after entering the game leading the league in rushing yards and averaging nearly 190 yards on the ground per game, with eight rushing scores.
“We definitely feed off of that, because as a defense we start thinking we can create an avalanche effect”, Cameron Heyward told Pro Football Talk after the game. “If it’s one thing after the next. As a defense you can keep rolling that way. Then it turns into a pick six. It gives us a chance to provide short fields for our offense and you’re fighting an uphill climb. For a defense if you can do that to an offense you’re gonna have a lot of success”.
That’s how the Steelers started off the game, limiting Kareem Hunt to just two yards on first down. After forcing Mayfield to scramble for just a five-yard gain on his first dropback, already under pressure, he threw a pick six to Minkah Fitzpatrick on his first pass, the third play of the game, which put the Steelers up 10-0, the closest the Browns would get for the rest of the game.
“We had to get off the bus stopping the run”, Heyward said, echoing Fitzpatrick in pointing to the run defense as the key to the game. “And if we felt like if we could stop the run then we could throw the kitchen sink at them and make sure we knew where they were gonna go when they passed the ball”.
“They were averaging like almost 200 yards rushing on the ground”, he continued. “For us, if we could put them in situations where they had to pass and they couldn’t rely on a good play-action, we felt like we could really take advantage of that”.
The Browns were never really able to get the play-action passing game going, and it showed. They only hit a couple of explosive plays all game, and that was effectively in extended garbage time, including managing to get tight end Austin Hooper free on one play for a big gain.
But the signs of life from Cleveland’s offense were few and far between. They looked like a defeated unit early on, and the defense made sure that they continued to play like it until the scoreboard read 0:00 in the fourth quarter.