How many of you honestly expected the Steelers to beat the Browns in Cleveland? A Halloween game played in a city known for a “disproportionately high number of serial killers and psychopaths…” The Vegas line favored the Browns by 4.5 points. The Steelers offense struggling for an identity. The defense runover by back-up running backs in consecutive games. That same defense now facing the feared Nick Chubb and the Browns league leading rushing attack. Besides, Cleveland’s orange and brown color scheme fit perfectly with the holiday. Complete with Myles Garrett arriving at the stadium clad as the Grim Reaper with the lengthy list of every quarterback he’s sacked. The Browns had the Steelers set up for slaughter.
Do you think I’m kidding about Cleveland? The Baltimore Sun reported that Ravens linebacker Malik Harrison shot while in Cleveland on Sunday. It is also interesting how different outlets cover the news. The Baltimore media notes the shooting occurred at a nightclub after a melee broke out and security were clearing out the club. The Browns Wire just says Harrison attending a family function and shot outside a restaurant. Both accounts say he was not targeted.
I enjoy the pleasure of administering the Steelers Depot Friday Night Five Questions each week. In week eight, 69.4% of the respondents picked the Steelers to win. At least that small group of Black and Gold fans were in synchronicity with the Pittsburgh Steelers team. The power of positive thinking prevailed. I watched this game from the vantage of the Alley Cat Restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia with a group of Steelers fans.
FIRST HALF OFFENSE
The Steelers put up just three first half points. But squandered a scoring opportunity at the end of the half.
STEELERS SETTLE FOR THREE
The Browns held to a field goal after a 6:51 minute opening drive. The Steelers offense picked up two first downs on their first possession. Pat Freiermuth caught an 11-yard pass on second down. Then two plays later second and seven, Najee Harris burst for nine yards just over midfield. On third and nine, Chuks Okorafor penalized for not setting the line of scrimmage pushing the Steelers back into their own territory. Harvin punts after Ben throws an incompletion intended for Freiermuth.
The Steelers next possession started at the beginning of the second quarter. Still down 3-0 but with good field position at the 40 after the defense stopped Cleveland on fourth down. Najee takes the first pass six yards. Then runs for two to set up third and two. Chase Claypool snags a pass out of the air for 12 yards and a Pittsburgh Steelers first down. Najee runs right for five. Then Ben hits Diontae Johnson for 17. Ray-Ray McCloud goes around right end for ten for what should be a first and goal. But James Washington caught with an arm around a defender who does a good acting job to draw the official’s attention.
Cleveland intent on intimidating the Steelers. Ronnie Harrison knocked Najee down out of bounds drawing a 15-yard unnecessary roughness call. But the penalty negated by Kendrick Green caught holding for a ten-yard penalty. I don’t agree that personal fouls should be negated by regular penalties. After Ben takes a sack. Then Freiermuth only reaches the 13 on a short pass. The Steelers settle for a Chris Boswell field goal to tie up the game. It’s 3-3.
STEELERS OFFENSE MIXING IT UP
The Browns force Steelers three and out on next drive. Ben’s deep pass to Diontae Johnson on first down incomplete. Then Najee stopped for three-yard loss. Ben throws three-yard pass to Claypool on third and 13. Okorafor called for another penalty but declined. Harvin booms a 56-yard punt. Tomlin playing it safe deep in their own territory.
Defense forces a three and out of their own. Steelers winning field position battle start at their own 37. Najee reaches Brown territory on an 11-yard run on second down. Myles Garrett pushes ball back across midfield tackling Kelvin Ballage for a three-yard loss and stoving his ribs. On third and nine, Diontae just reaches the first down marker on a Roethlisberger pass. Then Claypool runs around the right end for 16. Matt Canada is mixing it up. Najee runs six yards on consecutive plays to set up first and 10 at the 11-yard line. But Myles Garrett sacks Ben Roethlisberger. I thought Ben held onto ball too long. But maybe it was just seeing Garrett running loose on the blindside. On third and 17 Najee runs eight yards to force another Cleveland timeout and kill some clock.
BIZARRE PLAY OF THE GAME
Now comes the bizarre play of the game. There is 1:45 in half and Cleveland holds just one timeout. Instead of allowing a chip shot to take a 6-3 lead, Pittsburgh fakes the field goal. Boswell drifts right looking for a receiver. I don’t see any and neither does Boswell who lofts the ball as he runs out of room on the field. Boswell hit well after passing the ball. The Brown defender hits him helmet to helmet. An NFL official is in the backfield just 10 feet away watching the cheap shot unfold. Boswell writhing on the ground knocked out of bounds but no flag.
Instead of a 6-3 lead, the score remains tied and the Steelers kicker going off the field obviously wobbly.
SECOND HALF OFFENSE
The Steelers offense sandwiched two touchdowns between two punts. They finish the game controlling their destiny with ball in hand.
OFFENSE ANSWERS BROWNS TOUCHDOWN
The offense starts the second half with the ball. Najee runs five yards. Then the drive peters out on two incomplete passes. Harvin punts. Cleveland takes the lead 10-3. Pittsburgh answers. On third and five, Ben connects with Diontae Johnson for 12 yards and a Pittsburgh Steelers first down. Another third down but Benny Snell a yard short after a seven-yard completion. The ball still in Pittsburgh territory at the 48. On fourth and one, Najee only gains one yard but that is all Pittsburgh needs for a first down. Ben wastes no time. He hits Claypool for 16 and Pittsburgh knocking at the door.
Clearly, they will be playing four downs regardless of how close to field goal range they are without Boswell’s services. Ben to Freiermuth for 22 yards. Then a short pass to Diontae and its second and six from the eight. Najee runs off right guard for the touchdown! Ben back for the two-point conversion then lumbers in for two! Wait a second. Where did that flag come from? Officials from 30 feet away can see Kendrick Green holding in the middle of the line of scrimmage. But they couldn’t see the Browns helmet to helmet shot on Boswell when the two players isolated on the sideline with an official just a few feet away? Yes, I am still frosty. But the Steelers just down 10-9.
STEELERS TAKE THE LEAD
The defense forces a Cleveland punt. McCloud allows the ball to bounce, and it rolls to the 17 before the Browns down it. Steelers surprise the Browns with a 13-yard pass to Zach Gentry. Najee for three on the ground. Then 20 more in air for Najee. Najee runs five yards on the final play of the third quarter. A bit of razzle dazzle has Chase Claypool stopped for no gain. On third and five, Najee gets the call and makes the first down. Then the NFL crew calls their second defensive holding penalty on a run play.
On the next play, Kevin Dotson called for offensive holding on another run. An announcer opines that it is a “make-up call” as if that is somehow normal and acceptable. That does not build my confidence in the credibility of NFL officiating. Pittsburgh goes to the air. Ben back to Gentry for 24. Then 14 yards to Claypool. First and goal at the two. A minute later it is fourth and goal. Ben to Freiermuth who juggles the ball, grips it with two feet in. Touchdown! Ben passes incomplete on the two-point attempt. Still the Steelers now lead 15-10.
A 50-YARD BACKBREAKER
The defense forces a turnover deep in Pittsburgh territory. Greedy Williams wears Diontae Johnson like a cheap suit to defend a second down pass. Ben throws short of the sticks to Diontae who gains six of the eight yards needed to continue the drive. Pittsburgh takes a delay of game in punt formation. Then Harvin shanks it. The offense gets the ball a final time after Cleveland turns the ball over on downs with 1:53 to play. Ben’s 50-yard pass to Diontae Johnson a backbreaker. Claypool trailing him, reminds Diontae to go down in bounds. Cleveland must call their second timeout. Najee runs off tackle for a loss but forces the Browns to use their final timeout.
Two more Najee runs and just six seconds left. Ball snapped but Diontae false starts. An anticlimactic passing play with Ben throwing incomplete to Claypool in the end zone as time expires. And it’s a Pittsburgh Steelers victory.
FIRST HALF DEFENSE
The Browns score on their opening drive then the Steelers defense shut them down.
CLEVELAND LOOKS UNSTOPPABLE OPENING DRIVE
Cleveland looked unstoppable on their opening drive with just two third downs. Baker Mayfield hit tight end Austin Hooper for six yards. Then Nick Chubb ran 14. On third and six, Mayfield completed pass to Rashard Higgins for 16. Mayfield untouched as he took quick snaps preventing the defense from getting set. Harrison Bryant’s 12-yard reception goes to the 21. Then back to Hooper for eight yards. Jarvis Landry runs five to create a first and goal from the eight. Devin Bush stops Chubb for a one-yard gain and it’s third and seven. Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt combine to bring Mayfield down. On fourth and 12 Chase McLaughlin kicks a 30-yard field goal for a 3-0 Browns lead.
MAYFIELD FORCED TO MOVE AND THROW
Pittsburgh’s offense fails to score so Cleveland has ball again at the 15 after a 38-yard Harvin punt. Mayfield goes to a new weapon in Demetric Felton who gains 14. Jarvis Landry false starts for first and 15. Mayfield to Odell Beckham for six yards. Mayfield then hits Jarvis Landry on third and six for 19. Just inside Pittsburgh territory, Chubb catches short pass for eight. On second and two, Isaiahh Loudermilk chases Mayfield out of bounds for no gain. Cleveland tries a direct snap to D’Ernest Johnson but Cam Heyward there to stop him from the first down. Stefanski goes to his bell cow Chubb on fourth and one. Bush and Watt tackle him for a yard loss. Turnover on downs!
The Steelers exploit the stop to tie the game 3-3. Cleveland starts at their 25 after the kickoff but no success this time. Heyward stops Chubb for no gain. And Cleveland offensive lineman Jack Conklin hurt. Mayfield having to move and throw. Two incompletions. The harness on his left arm must impact his motion. Regardless, Browns punt ball away.
Harvin trades punts with Jamie Gillan. Chris Wormley sacks Mayfield for a five-yard loss. I spot Taco Charlton in the backfield too. Two more Mayfield incompletions. Cleveland almost extends their drive when Ray-Ray fumbles returning Gillan’s punt. But an alert Justin Layne recovers the ball for Pittsburgh.
WATT ASSERTS HIMSELF
The Browns got the ball back one more time after the Steelers fake field goal attempt. Mayfield connected on two passes starting at the 10. The second 11 yards to Higgins for a first down. T.J. Watt asserted himself, sacking Mayfield, the beleaguered Cleveland quarterback threw another incompletion. So, on third and 15 a surrender of sorts. D’Ernest Johnson runs for 11 yards then tackled by Loudermilk. Browns punt with 32 seconds left in half.
The Steelers figured out the formula after the first drive. Stop Chubb and pressure Mayfield forcing him to try and throw on the run. Good defensive first half performance other than the opening drive. Even then, the defense held Cleveland to a field goal.
SECOND HALF DEFENSE
A near repeat of the first half. Browns successful opening drive. Then the Steelers defense shuts them down.
BROWNS SCORE EARLY
Pittsburgh punts away their opening possession. Cleveland starts on the 14 following an illegal block in the back on the short punt return. Chubb runs for 21 yards on first down. Officials call Isiah Buggs for defensive holding on a run play. Was Buggs really holding a blocker and wasn’t their any offensive holding on a 21-run play? Mayfield complete a 15-yard first down to Landry with Watt tackling him. Mayfield passes to Bryant for 21. Suddenly, the Browns on the Steelers 22. Chubb brings the Browns into the red zone with a four-yard run. Hooper makes it first and goal on an eight-yard reception.
D’Ernest Johnson runs left then cuts up the middle of the field for a ten-yard touchdown run. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Devin Bush both forced the play up field. But, I place most of blame on Bush since he was closest defender to attempt a tackle. However, you slice it, the Browns now lead 10-3.
DEFENSE TAKEAWAY PREVENTS ANOTHER BROWNS SCORE
Pittsburgh answers with their own touchdown. But with no kicker, the two-point conversion negated by officials penalizing Kendrick Green for holding. Harvin botches the kickoff, and the Browns have great field position at the 40. Cam Sutton tackles Chubb for a two-yard loss. Joe Haden breaks up a pass intended for Higgins. Mayfield connects with Landry who gains 11 yards before Tre Norwood brings him down a year short of a first down. Mayfield tries to draw the defense offsides on fourth and one but draws a delay of game penalty instead. Browns punt.
The Steelers take a 15-10 lead on the next series. Cleveland has 11 minutes to take the lead back. Harvin kicks to the 10-yard line. Excellent kick coverage limits Browns to a ten-yard return to the 20. Mayfield deep left for David Njoku for 24 yards. Back to Njoku for nine yards on a screen. On second and one, Chubb wins the battle with Heyward this time gaining two. Njoku catches his third pass of the drive for six. Then Mayfield scrambles for five and the first down. Hit him! Mayfield dancing like the game is over. Chubb stopped for two by Wormley and Henry Mondeaux. On second and eight from the 32, Mayfield finds Jarvis Landry for 11 yards. But Joe Schobert strips Landry of the ball and T.J. Watt recovers it at the 20.
DEFENSE THROTTLES BROWNS LAST GASP
The Browns get one more possession with 4:22 left to play. A touchdown wins it. Harvin’s final punt a poor one that goes out of bounds at the 39-yard line. Browns waste no time and cross midfield on a Chubb 12-yard run. Mayfield finds Landry on second and nine. Terrell Edmunds pushes him out of bounds at the 39 with just enough for a first down. Pittsburgh uses second timeout after Jarvis Landry drops a pass while wide open. Guess they want the right defense. Highsmith hits Mayfield as he releases pass. Officials call roughing the passer. Nothing comparable to the Boswell helmet to helmet shot.
But Cleveland has a fresh set of downs at the 24 with 2:52 left. Chubb loses one with Highsmith tackling him. Then a Cleveland false start. And its third and 16. Hooper gets four yards to set up a fourth and 12 after the two-minute warning. Minkah Fitzpatrick makes a game saving pass breakup preventing Landry from catching the ball.
The Pittsburgh offense keeps the ball for the remaining 1:53 of the game.
I believe special teams are an underappreciated facet of the game where one big play can shift momentum or even decide the game winner.
I break special teams play into three phases: Kickoffs, punting, and field goals including extra point attempts. Here is an overview of the special teams play during the game:
Chris Boswell kicked off twice. Both his kicks touched back in end zone. Pressley Harvin kicked off twice in the second half. The first travelled 46 yards before going out of bounds giving Cleveland the ball at the forty-yard line. Pressley’s second kick went 55 yards and the coverage team swarmed Anthony Schwartz who returned the kick just ten yards to the 20. Miles Killebrew credited with the tackle. Cleveland’s average starting position after kickoffs was their own 27.5-yard line.
Chase McLaughlin kicked off three times. His kick after the first half field goal touched back. In the second half he kicked short of the goal line to trap the Steelers. Ray-Ray McCloud returned the first 25 yards to the 27. Ray-Ray’s second return just gained 19 yards to the 22. The Steelers average starting position after kickoffs was just short their own 25-yard line.
Pittsburgh’s coverage team excelled to stifle the Brown’s last return. But Pressley Harvin’s kick out of bounds gave Cleveland good field position in a close game.
|Chris Boswell||2||0||2||0||0||CLE 25|
|Pressley Harvin III||2||1||0||1||1||CLE 30|
|Chase McLaughlin||3||2||1||0||1||PGH 25|
Pressley Harvin III punted four times averaging 44 yards per attempt. His first only went 38 yards. But fair caught at the Cleveland 15. Short but effective. Harvin’s next effort flipped the field. Punting from his own 23-yard line. The punt went 56 yards to the Cleveland 22. Demetric Felton got just one return yard before Miles Killebrew brought him down. In the second half, Harvin’s first 44-yard punt fielded by Felton, but Robert Spillane tackled him for no gain at the 24. An illegal block in the back pushed the ball back to the 14. Harvin’s worst boot came in the fourth quarter after Pittsburgh took a delay of game penalty. His 38-yard punt went out of bounds at the Cleveland 39 with Pittsburgh clinging to a five-point lead with 4:22 left to play. Overall Harvin netted 43.8 yards a punt.
ALERT JUSTIN LAYNE PREVENTS DISASTER
Jamie Gillan also punted four times averaging 49.3 yards per punt. His first 52-yard punt went out of bounds at the 23-yard line. A field flipper. Gillan nailed a 56 yarder from his 17 that McCloud returned ten yards before fumbling. Thankfully, an alert Justin Layne recovered the ball at the 37 avoiding a costly turnover. At the end of the first half, Gillan punted 50 yards with McCloud returning the ball 19 yards to the 35. Pittsburgh chose to kneel rather than take more risks after losing Boswell on the previous series. Gillan punted once in the second half for 39 yards.
McCloud allowed the ball to bounce and roll to the 17-yard line. Thankfully, the ball did not touch any Steelers. I prefer that McCloud calls for a fair catch rather than letting balls bounce around. However, Danny Smith may have cautioned McCloud after the earlier fumble at the end of his return. Gillan netted 42.0 yards per punt.
Holding Demetric Felton to one return yard when he came into the game one of the leading punt returners is an excellent job.
FIELD GOALS and EXTRA POINTS
Chris Boswell kicked one field goal. Boswell did not play in second half. So, Steelers attempted two two-point conversions after their touchdowns. Ben Roethlisberger dove into the end zone for an apparent conversion. But the zebras said Kendrick Green held on the play. Ben threw incomplete on the replay from the 12. Ben threw another incomplete pass following the second touchdown. Either conversion would create a seven-point game. Make both and it’s a two-score lead.
Myers made his only field goal and point after touchdown attempt.
Ironically, the Browns gain an advantage in field goals and extra points, but the Steelers win the game. The Steelers need to sharpen up the two-point plays. I’d also like a closer look at Kendrick Green’s hold to see if it was egregious.
|FGs and PATs||XPM||XPA||FGM||FGA||Long||2PTM||2PTA|
DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST
Dave Bryan provided five keys for a Steelers victory. Here is how the Steelers performed them:
- Limit Myles Garrett to less than two sacks. Garrett hit Ben Roethlisberger twice. But recorded only one sack. Mission accomplished.
- Browns running backs less than 28 carries. Or if 52% or better success rate less than 20 carries. The Browns ran eight of 23 successful plays for a 34.8% success rate. Mission accomplished.
- Najee runs at least 22 times. Najee 26 carries for 91 yards. Mission accomplished.
- Hit and sack Mayfield multiple times. Steelers hit Mayfield six times including four sacks. Mission accomplished.
- Win TOX (turnovers + explosive plays) differential by two or more. Steelers four explosive plays plus one takeaway beat the Browns three explosive plays for a plus two TOX differential. Mission accomplished.
Steelers achieved all five keys. Dan Moore had his hands full with Myles Garrett. But he only had one sack. Steelers shut down Chubb and pressured Mayfield at key moments. Najee ran effectively if not always explosively. The turnover loomed large.
YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME
FIRST HALF READER COMMENTS
Yet another slow start for Steelers Depot respondents. Only 883 comments on the game’s first half Live Update and Discussion Thread. Steelers Depot respondents did not meet the standard even in a tight game. Thank you, Ross McCorkle, for keeping us up to date with the latest tweets and updates as the game progressed.
Thomas Johnson identified a key to the Steelers running success in the first half when the Steelers gained 74 of the team’s 115 rushing yards. “The run blocking by the OL is light years away from the first 3 weeks.” The “best” comment of the half.
Either Cam Heyward sacking Baker Mayfield to force a field goal or his solo tackle to prevent a first down on third and two that set up a turnover on downs on the next play got Lambert58 exclaiming, “HUGE play by Cam!”
Chad Weiss appreciated an alert player recovering Ray-Ray McCloud’s fumble preventing a Browns takeaway in Steelers territory. “Justin Layne with a career highlight. Good job”
Alevin16 elicited some chuckles after a bad Browns possession, “Did Canada call their series also?”
Jason Dock Dudley did not like how the first half ended. Many agreed with his assessment: “I would have kicked the FG. I’m not a fan of the call but it wasn’t a bad call in itself. No way the kicker is supposed to hold the ball that long. Also, he took a head shot.”
Steelers should be up 6-3. Instead, the score knotted at 3-3 and Steelers left with no kicker at the midway point.
SECOND HALF READER COMMENTS
Once again, Depot respondents made up for the paltry first half with 1445 second comments during the second half live discussion. Again, I say, can’t yinz put together a full game of 1000 comments per half?
Doc Ellis D submitted the top comment of the second half, “Refs have full commercial break to come up with a way to screw us!” Steelers took a timeout with 2:57 to play and just up 15-10. Officials penalize Alex Highsmith for roughing the passer giving the Browns a first down at the 24-yard line. Alevin16 notes officials speaking to Cleveland players. “They are telling the Browns to throw to the endzone, and all will be well wink wink.”
Earlier in the half, Steel City Slim asks for his reward for calling for a takeaway. The Steelers oblige him. And Slim requests, “Turnover! I called it! Give me a bunch of likes!”
OFFICIATING CATCHES READER’S ATTENTION
The quality of officiating caught the attention of many. Danny Porter triggered this exchange: “Most lopsided the officiated game I have ever seen.” Kingribel replied, “This is getting ridiculous. We’ve had guys body slammed and late hits not called and not to mention one picked up.” Axel added, “They called the holding penalty on Green after Ben had already crossed the goal line.” Rob S stunned by “Just a two roughing-the-passers they missed are huge.” But Mrwirez explains, “They didn’t miss it. It’s the sweetheart Browns now.” RyanM concluded, “That roughing call was just wow. NFL officials are literally getting worse on a weekly basis I think.”
As the clock wound down, DirtDawg1964 looking for someone. “Where’s Zarbor? Because at the beginning of the year he said we’d win four this season. And I want to congratulate him because we now have four wins.”
RJMcReady sums it up. “We just beat these b***** in Cleveland!”
The Steelers hung in for a gutsy 15-10 win.
Pittsburgh won a gutsy hard-fought game. Cleveland players tried to intimidate players like Najee Harris with hits out of bounds. Despite losing their kicker, the Steelers showed resilience and stopped Cleveland when they had to.
The offense scored when needed to eventually win the game. They matched Cleveland’s field goal in the first half. When Cleveland scored on their first drive of second half. The offense answered with a touchdown of their own. Then took the lead for good in the fourth quarter. However, as Ted Webb said on our Monday night Steelers Town Hall. Pittsburgh can’t win many more games with the offense just scoring 15 or 17 points. In today’s NFL, an offense needs to consistently score in the twenties to remain competitive even with an incredibly good defense. The offensive line gaining confidence. Matt Canada mixing the ball between Najee, the tight ends, and the wide receivers. Now just score more points.
The defense corrected their tackling woes. Limiting Nick Chubb to 61 rushing yards and more importantly less than 40% successful plays a significant role in the victory. The pass rush gained steam especially after Jack Conklin left the game. Baker Mayfield clearly not as effective passing on the run with arm brace hindering his throwing motion. T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward produced big plays throughout the game. Joe Schobert stripping Jarvis Landry of the ball with Watt recovering it could have been the game winning play if the offense could score. But it came down to Minkah Fitzpatrick breaking up a pass to Landry on the next series on fourth down that sealed the deal. It would be nice to have a game that did not rely on such late game defensive heroics to preserve victories.
The fake field goal looked ugly. Cleveland reacted like they expected it. The helmet to helmet hit uglier. The officiating crew claiming after the game they saw nothing that constituted a foul on that play the ugliest.
Ray-Ray showed cracks in his return game. First, he fumbles a punt in the second quarter. Fortunately, an alert Justin Layne recovers the ball preventing a disastrous take away at the Pittsburgh 37. Second, allowing Jamie Gillan’s third quarter punt to hit the ground and roll to the 17. Bad field position plus the danger of the caroming ball touching another Steeler. Maybe Danny Smith instructed Ray-Ray to play it safe. But potentially costly mistake.
The coverage team performed outstandingly. Limiting a dangerous punt returner to one yard on two returns. Then on Harvin’s second kickoff to the ten-yard line, limiting the return to just ten yards helped in the field position battle. Pittsburgh’s average starting position at their own 27 while Cleveland started from their own 23 on average.
Will Chris Boswell be ready to play against the Bears? Will Melvin Ingram be out of a Steeler uniform by the time you read this? Why didn’t Zach Banner dress. Will Stephon Tuitt be activated anytime soon. No more bye weeks. Just a steady grind of games each week. Up next is Chicago on Monday night. Can Pittsburgh stack another win? Here we go.
YOUR MUSIC SELECTION
I always like to offer a music selection. The Steelers back in Pittsburgh soaking in ice tubes to ease their bumps and bruises. The biggest worry is Chris Boswell who took a late helmet to helmet shot that left him writhing on the ground. Just hoping it Boz wakes up saying, “I’m alright. Nobody worry ‘bout me.” Here is Kenny Loggins single, I’m Alright.