The Pittsburgh Steelers just completed their most convincing win of the season to date, by far, and perhaps since they defeated the Carolina Panthers in week 10 of the 2018 season by a score of 52-21, this time sitting down the division-rival Cleveland Browns, in fact by the same 31-point margin, this time 38-7.
What was the key to that domination from the opening drive to the final drive? It came down to one thing first and foremost, according to head coach Mike Tomlin in his post-game assessment: “our bigs”. The bigs meaning, of course, the offensive and defensive linemen, the men in the trenches..
“This game was gonna be defined by the bigs”, he said. “Our bigs’ ability to stop the run, our bigs’ ability to protect Ben, and win the line of scrimmage for us in the run game—we talk openly about it all week. A synopsis of this game in a nutshell is our bigs, our big people on both sides of the ball, really answered the challenge and played A football”.
The Steelers’ bigs did play quite well, and that’s particularly notable on the offensive side of the ball considering the fact that 40 percent of their current offensive line was not meant to be starting at the beginning of the season, with Zach Banner at right tackle done for the year and David DeCastro missing his third game of the season for a second separate injury.
The Browns did manage to sack Ben Roethlisberger twice on 24 dropbacks, but only allowed one additional hit outside of that. Once you remove the quarterback kneeldowns, you also get a respectable yards-per-rush figure of about four yards.
The lead runner, of course, was James Conner, who rushed for 101 yards on the day on 20 carries with one touchdown, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, though his longest run went for just 14 yards. Benny Snell’s day looks inefficient at 17 yards on six carries, but he had several short-yardage carries, and did have one tackle for loss when the Browns got the Steelers on a run blitz.
Of course, the play of the bigs in the running game is most important in those short-yardage situations, and they helped the Steelers punch it in in goal-to-go situations three times with three different players, including, for the second week in a row, wide receiver Chase Claypool.
While the Browns give up points in volume, they are also playmakers, and the Steelers prevented them from making any. For the second time in three weeks, Pittsburgh didn’t even turn the ball over, and Cleveland came into the game leading the league in takeaways.
It’s always good when a matchup comes down to bigs on bigs and your big people win. Of course, it helps when your bigs include the likes of Maurkice Pouncey and Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt and Alejandro Villanueva.