The Pittsburgh Steelers did just enough to get the 15-10 win in Cleveland in a low scoring game and improve to 4-3 coming off the bye week! In this article I will provide data from Pro Football Focus and takeaways from watching the film.
Let’s start with the offense:
Steelers tight end Zach Gentry tops the PFF offensive grades on a good receiving and blocking performance with an 85 grade and very encouraging seeing several names on the top right of the graph, namely guard Trai Turner, tight end Pat Freiermuth, wide receivers Diontae Johnson, and tackle Chukwuma Okorafor. Tackle Dan Moore had the worst grade of 28.7!
The Steelers came on for the first time with 8:09 left in the first quarter, opening with an under-center handoff to running back Najee Harris for a three-yard gain where Gentry allowed Browns defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney around his block to nearly make the play, but Harris was able to follow good blocks by Turner and Okorafor on the three-yard gain. On second and seven Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found Freiermuth on a hesitation move then breaking inside for the 11-yard completion and first down despite Browns defensive lineman Myles Garrett pushing Moore back. The Steelers ran to the right on the following first down and thought Harris could have made a cutback move inside against one defender but instead ran into traffic on the gain of three. Harris followed that up with a successful nine-yard run and first down, with good collective blocking by the offensive line and Gentry but Freiermuth missing a low attempt on Garrett.
First down now, and the Steelers went pass to Freiermuth again with a good throw by Roethlisberger while under pressure allowed by Moore and Okorafor but fell off his hands incomplete on his out route against tight contested coverage. On second and ten the Steelers faked a jet sweep to Diontae Johnson then tossed to running back Anthony McFarland who returned from injured reserve for this game, but guard Kevin Dotson was unable to land his block in space which limited the two-yard run. This set up third and nine, and the Steelers were penalized for illegal formation on Okorafor for lining up off the line of scrimmage that negated a Freiermuth catch close to the sticks. Third and 14 now, and the Browns pass rush was able to get pressure against both Steelers tackles again with Moore allowing the hit on Roethlisberger forcing an off target throw to Freiermuth short of the sticks leading to a punt. Big third down penalty, Steelers down by three.
Pittsburgh got their third offensive opportunity early in the second quarter still down by three. Roethlisberger faked to Harris then threw the screen to him with some space from decent overall blocking on the successful play of six yards. On second and four Harris got the handoff with Dotson pulling along with Derek Watt, the later working from tight end around Moore getting pushed back and colliding with Harris who was able to create a positive gain of two. This set up third and two where Roethlisberger found wide receiver Chase Claypool in between zone defenders going down for a nice 11-yard catch and first down! Harris provided another successful play on a five-yard run where Turner and center Kendrick Green had good interior blocks and Dotson unable to connect on his pulling block. Second and five now, Roethlisberger faked a toss which fooled their defensive front allowing a rollout to the right finding Diontae Johnson for the wide-open short catch and run for 17-yards on the sideline!
With the Steelers now in the red zone, a holding penalty on Steelers wide receiver James Washington unfortunately negated a long run by wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud. Roethlisberger then targeted Gentry with good overall pass protection in the end zone but was high above his head and incomplete. On second and 10 there were offsetting penalties, Green for holding and Cleveland hitting Harris out of bounds resulting in a replay of the down. Unfortunately, the next play seemed to be a good coverage with Dotson getting pushed back allowing the sack. This set up third and 14 where Roethlisberger threw short to Freiermuth and made one defender miss but tackled short of the sticks on the nine-yard gain. Kicker Chris Boswell came on to make the 31-yard field goal to get the Steelers on the board. A drive that began well followed by penalties and a sack, but Steelers tie the game.
The offense returned quickly off the Steelers defense providing a three and out stand, Roethlisberger took a shot deep to Diontae Johnson who seemed to get pressed at the line and the pass just out of his reach. The following play was a toss on second down where Freiermuth lost his block to Clowney that Harris broke away from, but the Browns rallied to make the tackle for a loss of three. Third and 13 now, Roethlisberger looks to quick pass to Diontae Johnson then progresses and noted odd footwork before the short throw to Claypool that was tipped and caught for no gain. Okorafor was also flagged for ineligible man downfield, but the penalty was declined. Three and out, -3 yards on the drive, still tie game.
Pittsburgh’s offense got the ball back quick again off another three and out stop by the defense, running an interesting double playaction and pass to Harris for a gain of three with Green getting a good block downfield. Harris got the next touch as well, this time a successful run for ten yards behind a great combo block by Moore. On first down, running back Kalen Ballage got the carry but was hesitant and stopped for a loss of three with Garrett unblocked cutting off the outside. Roethlisberger found Washington on the short quick pass and run for three yards on second and 13 setting up third and ten. Roethlisberger made a great throw on a nice out route by Diontae Johnson just past the sticks despite the tackles allowing the pass rush around the edges.
First down now, Roethlisberger hands the jet sweep to McCloud who gets it to Claypool on the reverse with Harris, Okorafor, and Diontae Johnson with good blocks out in front for a successful 16-yard gain and enjoyed offensive coordinator Matt Canada playing off this look in different ways in the first half. Pittsburgh then went to Harris on two straight successful run plays, the first for five yards with good collective blocking from the offensive line and Gentry. The second was a six-yard gain on second and five where he slithered between Green and Moore’s blocks for the first down into the red zone and reaching the two-minute warning.
Roethlisberger dropped back on first and ten and didn’t see a wide open Diontae Johnson over the middle but threw to him late and off target for the incompletion instead of a possible touchdown. Moore was then beat bad by Garrett allowing the sack on Roethlisberger forcing third and 17. Pittsburgh went with Harris run here, seemingly content with kicking the field goal and a lead before halftime. Instead the Steelers direct snapped to Boswell on the fake field goal but Cleveland was not fooled, covering well as Boswell rolled to his right and took a big hit on the sideline hitting his head hard on the ground as he threw high to Gentry incomplete. Still a tie game.
The offense came back out with 21 seconds left in the half and decided to kneel and head into halftime with the game tied considering Boswell was injured.
To open the second half, the Steelers came out running with Harris on a successful gain of 5-yards with good blocks from Turner, Okorafor, but Green unable to connect on the second level allowing the tackle. On second and five Diontae Johnson ran a stop route at the sticks, but the throw was low and incomplete. Third and five now, and Roethlisberger made a bad decision on the throw to Johnson with three defenders in the area and luckily was not intercepted but forces a three and out. Game still tied.
The second drive began with 9:31 in the third quarter down by seven, and the Steelers went play action which drew the Browns defensive line upfield on a Gentry screen but Moore was unable to connect on a second level block on the two yard gain. Harris got the carry on second and eight for the three-yard gain with Green getting pushed back on the tackle. Third and five now, and Green looked to help Turner to his right but there was no one to block which allowed a defender inside to hit Roethlisberger who was able to make a nice throw and catch by Diontae Johnson for the first down.
On first down, Harris got the carry for two yards where the Browns linebacker was unblocked on the tackle and noted Freiermuth with a good pulling block. Diontae Johnson was targeted on second and eight, but the defender had good coverage contesting the incomplete pass. Third and eight now, and the offensive line provides good overall pass protection for Roethlisberger who looked downfield but ended up passing short to running back Benny Snell who got yards after catch but tackled just short forcing fourth and one. The Steelers decided to go for it here and both lines battled hard on the Harris run but he was able to grind for just enough and a first down! Huge play by Harris to keep the drive going.
Roethlisberger took a high shotgun snap on first and ten and targeted Claypool in single coverage who made a good contested catch which is very refreshing on the 16-yard gain. Harris was stuffed on a one yard run where the Browns defensive line got good push overall. This set up second and nine where Roethlisberger found Freiermuth on the short catch with a good broken tackle and yards after catch for the big 22-yard gain and getting in the red zone! On first and ten Roethlisberger play actions then found Diontae Johnson on the quick out route for four yards. Harris got the handoff on second and six with good pulling blocks from Dotson and Freiermuth along with Turner creating space in the middle for the run and impressive leaping effort and big touchdown! Without Boswell, the Steelers went for the two-point conversion in empty formation with four receivers left and Roethlisberger looks right then scrambles in for the score but unfortunately Green was penalized for holding negating the play. The second attempt was from the 12-yard line where Garrett beat Moore quickly to get the hit on Roethlisberger just having to get rid of it incomplete and failed two-point attempt. Steelers down by one.
The offense returned with 1:42 left in the third quarter using play action then finding Gentry open on a short pass behind the defensive line again with good yards after catch on the 12-yard gain. Pittsburgh then ran with Harris for a three-yard gain with good blocks from Moore and Turner. On second and seven the Steelers found Harris again, play actioning then Roethlisberger enjoyed better pass protection on the short throw to him and breaking a tackle for the extra yards and gain of 20! With one second left the Harris showed good vision and cut for a gain of five behind a good block from Turner and pancake from Okorafor to end the third quarter.
The drive continued to start the fourth quarter on second and five, running a reverse to Claypool with Freiermuth missing his block but he avoided the tackle behind the line to get back to the line of scrimmage. This set up third and five where Harris got the carry behind a good push from Dotson, Green, and Moore and fighting through tackles to get just enough yardage for the first down! The Steelers went with another Harris run on first down where a Browns linebacker shot into the hole quickly on the short gain of two, but Cleveland was penalized for defensive holding. Pittsburgh had a penalty of their own the following play on Dotson for holding setting up first and 20. Roethlisberger dropped back and found Gentry over the middle in the 10-12 air yard range and good yards after catch on a 24-yard gain into the red zone!
Claypool got the short target on first and ten with great effort breaking a tackle and yards after catch on the 14-yard gain to the two-yard line! First and goal now, and Harris is stuffed at the line of scrimmage for no gain by an unblocked Browns linebacker. Roethlisberger dropped back on second and goal looking for Freiermuth but coverage was tight and contested falling incomplete. Another third and goal pass from the two-yard line where Roethlisberger targeted Diontae Johnson but Cleveland’s coverage was tight again forcing the incompletion and fourth down. Pittsburgh went for it on fourth and goal without Boswell with a pass attempt where Moore got beat by Garrett but Harris helped just enough in pass protection for Roethlisberger to get the pass to Freiermuth out on the contested catch, gathering it on the second effort and keeping both feet inbounds in the back of the end zone for the impressive touchdown catch! The Steelers failed the two-point conversion on a high throw for Diontae Johnson, but good drive with big and successful plays and a fourth down conversion/touchdown. Steelers up by five.
Pittsburgh came back on offense with 6:04 left in the game with a Harris run with decent blocks but Cleveland linebackers working through to make the tackle for two yards. On second and eight Roethlisberger targeted Diontae Johnson but it was broken up by tight physical coverage forcing third and eight. Roethlisberger targeted Johnson again on a drag route short of the sticks, but the defensive back stayed close in trail and not getting picked by other routes to make the tackle short of the sticks on the six-yard gain. This forced fourth and a three and out where it would’ve been encouraging to have a longer drive to eat more of the clock. Steelers still up by five.
The offense came out for one last drive with 1:53 left in the game after a huge defensive stop on fourth down with a Harris run for two yards forcing Cleveland to start taking their timeouts. On second and eight the Steelers went pass on a slant to Diontae Johnson for great yards after catch and a huge 50-yard gain and another Cleveland timeout! Another run to Harris on first down forces their last timeout, then Harris ran on second and third down for short gains running the clock down. Diontae Johnson was called for a false start penalty with 6 seconds left, where the play clock would start on the next snap on the replay of fourth down. Roethlisberger had room to the right to scramble then chunked the ball up high to the back of the end zone, eating up the rest of the clock and inking the Steelers victory!
Now let’s look at the defense:
Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt and defensive lineman Cameron Heyward led the Steelers to a stronger defensive performance with 80+ PFF grades along with linebacker Joe Schobert and cornerback Joe Haden with 70+ grades as well. Five Steelers defenders graded lower than 45 as well which I found surprising.
The Steelers defense came onto the field to start the game with the Browns passing on first down to tight end Austin Hooper for a gain of six with Steelers linebacker Devin Bush in coverage and with fellow linebacker Alex Highsmith dropping late in zone on the combined tackle. The Browns went to running back Nick Chubb on second and four, with a big run on his first attempt of 14-yards where Highsmith got inside his blocker but Chubb bounced the impressive run outside along the sideline where cornerback Cameron Sutton pushed him out.
On first down quarterback Baker Mayfield attempted a deep pass off play action to wide receiver Jarvis Landry who was open, but the pass was high and incomplete with Haden and cornerback Arthur Maulet near the play in zone coverage and Watt getting his hands up in the passing lane. The Browns offensive line got a good overall push inside on Chubb’s next run on second and ten, but Highsmith got inside the left tackle and tracked him down on the combined tackle with Schobert. Third and six now, Mayfield has enough time with a lack of Steelers pass rush to find the in route over the middle for the 12-yard conversion with cornerback James Pierre in coverage and safety Terrell Edmunds coming up from deep coverage on the tackle.
Edmunds got inside the blockers from the box on first down to stop Chubb for a short run of two yards setting up second and eight. The Browns got another first down conversion on a stop route just past the sticks where Haden continued to drop in coverage with Schobert and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick on the tackle. Another pass followed, this time to Hooper where I noted Schobert looking confused in coverage but Haden coming from outside coverage to make the tackle on the gain of eight which put the Browns in the red zone. Second and short, the Browns went run as expected, but had Landry as the running back and handed him the ball after pre snap motion and got around Watt’s move inside with Haden tripping him up and Schobert in on the tackle but allowing a big first down conversion.
On first and goal the Browns ran good play action, pulling Highsmith up allowing Hooper to get open but the Steelers caught a break here with the pass a little high and bouncing off his hands incomplete instead of a likely touchdown. Steelers defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs nearly made a play on the second and goal Chubb one-yard run, redirecting him and Bush doing a good job staying clean from blockers and getting there quickly for the tackle. Big third and goal here, and the Steelers defense provided good overall coverage allowing Highsmith the initial pressure and Heyward and Watt getting there for the combined sack! Great job limiting the long opening drive that marched down the field to a field goal, Steelers down by three.
The Steelers defense came back for their second drive with 4:19 left in the first quarter allowing a short screen behind Highsmiths’ rush to go for good yards after catch on the 14-yard gain with Watt making the tackle. The Browns were then penalized for a false start on Landry on the following first down, then on first and 15 Mayfield found wide receiver Odell Beckham on a slot screen where Maulet was blocked out of the play and Bush making the tackle on a gain of six. On second and nine the Browns went back to the run game where Highsmith set the edge well and defensive lineman Chris Wormley got good penetration and the tackle on the gain of three. This set up third and six where the Browns got a long gain of 19 yards to Landry with Steelers cornerback Tre Norwood beat in coverage allowing the first down.
Chubb then got involved in the passing game, a short pass with room to run with Fitzpatrick missing a tackle opportunity and Bush running him out of bounds for an eight-yard gain. On second and two Watt and linebacker Derreck Tuszka got good pressure on Mayfield forcing him to scramble, and unable to find anyone open had to run to the sideline where defensive lineman Isaiahh Loudermilk ran him out of bounds and getting credit for the sack. With eight seconds left in the quarter the Browns faced third and two and they direct snapped to D’Ernest Johnson who had a great game in week seven, but Heyward had an excellent run stop tracking the outside run for only a gain of one forcing fourth and one! Cleveland tried the run again with Chubb this time, but the Steelers defense did a great job clogging the intended run lane and stopping the play for a loss of one on the bounce outside by Bush and Watt! Great run defense and fourth down stop here, Steelers down by three.
Pittsburgh’s defense returned with 9:18 left in the second quarter and provided good overall run fills with Heyward wrapping Chubb up and for no gain! On second down Mayfield stepped up feeling slight pressure from Highsmith throwing deep to Landry, but Fitzpatrick made the hit at the catch point on the incompletion. Third and ten now, Mayfield threw slightly behind the receiver between coverage from Norwood and Fitzpatrick on the third down stop, three and out, and zero yards on the drive! Still tie game.
The Steelers defense had to come right back out with 7:16 left and Buggs provided a push along with Steelers linebacker Taco Charlton forcing Mayfield to step up into the Wormley sack! Another pass on second and 15, a high throw with the pressure from Watt and Heyward falling incomplete. On third and 15 the Browns threw for the third time in a row, short to D’Ernest Johnson who dropped the pass with Bush closing in. Second three and out in a row provided by the defense! Game still tied.
With 1:38 left in the first half, the defense returned following the failed fake field goal playing the deep pass with the Browns starting at the ten-yard line. The first pass went for a screen and run for seven yards with Maulet on the tackle. Maulet made the following tackle as well on another completion for 11-yards. Watt seemed to have enough, making a great spin move inside for the sack! On second and 15 the Browns tried another screen but this one fell incomplete to D’Ernest Johnson again, setting up third and 15 with 42 seconds left in the half. The Browns went to Johnson again but on a run this time, where Fitzpatrick missed his angle and Loudermilk eventually making the tackle on the gain of 11 for the third down stop forcing the punt. Very good half with no touchdowns, good run defense against the NFL’s top running game, tie game into halftime.
The first drive of the second half started at 13:55 for the defense, and Chubb busted off a big run right away through a big hole sealing the edge and Wormley for 21 yards where Fitzpatrick ran him down for the tackle. Buggs was called for defensive holding on this play as well which was accepted. Buggs and Wormley combined to wrap Chubb up for a the 1-yard run the next first down though, good to see after the long gain on the previous play. On second and nine the Steelers dropped Watt in coverage on Landry who beat him to the middle for a big gain and first down. Mayfield got another long gain and early down success on the 21-yard pass off play action that fooled Bush in coverage with Fitzpatrick pushing him out.
On first and ten Chubb ran for a gain of four yards running through Tuszka who did pursue well on the tackle. This set the Browns up in the red zone on second and six where Hooper ran a good shimmy then out route short of the sticks but getting space on Schobert who made the tackle but allowed the yards after catch for the first and goal. Watt provided a great run stop here grabbing the runner with one arm for no gain, a flag was thrown on the play, but it was picked up. Second and goal and D’Ernest Johnson gets the handoff with Fitzpatrick and Bush getting outside angles which allowed a big cutback lane for the Browns touchdown. The Steelers defense allowing third quarter points in another game, now down by seven.
With 3:39 left in the third quarter cornerback Cameron Sutton had a great play against the run off the edge, making the tackle for a loss of two! This set up second and 12 where Haden had good coverage and timing to break up the pass forcing third and 12. Mayfield found Landry near the sticks with Norwood making the tackle and third down stop as he did well last game! On fourth and one the Browns offense came out with Mayfield trying to draw the Steelers offsides to no avail, resulting in Cleveland getting the delay of game penalty. Good three and out by the defense forcing the punt, Steelers down by one.
The Steelers defense returned with 10:58 left in the game with Schobert getting fooled by the Browns play action with late pressure by Heyward but wide-open throw to tight end David Njoku for the big 21-yard gain with Sutton on the tackle. Cleveland went right back to Njoku but on a screen this time for nine yards where Maulet made the stop. Second and one now, Chubb carries for two yards and the first down with Heyward making a good effort on the tackle but three early down successes in a row for the Browns. The Steelers got a nice run stop on Chubb by Highsmith for no gain. Mayfield went with a quick pass on second and ten to Njoku again where Schobert and Spillane combined for the tackle setting up third and four. Highsmith and Wormley forced Mayfield to scramble out of the pocket where he ran to the sidelines and took a big hit from Fitzpatrick but was able to pick up the first down. The Browns went to Chubb on the ground on first down for a gain of two where Wormley and defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux joined for the tackle. On second and eight Landry caught a pass after selling the play action and beating Sutton who missed a tackle but was stripped by Schobert after gaining first down yardage and Watt recovered the ball for the huge turnover with the lead late in the game! Steelers still up by five.
With 4:22 left in the game, the defense allowed a big run for Chubb right away through a big hole by the Browns offensive line with Edmunds eventually making the tackle on the 12-yard gain. The run defense tightened on the next play where Watt missed a tackle behind the line, but Haden was close behind allowing only one yard. Second and nine now, and Landry got the catch on Edmunds in coverage allowing yards after catch on the ten-yard gain and diving first down. Cleveland went back to Landry again this time with Haden in coverage who pressured the catch on the bobbled target and incompletion. Mayfield then targeted Beckham who was very quiet in this game but the throw was high and incomplete, then unfortunately Highsmith was called for a huge roughing the passer penalty setting up a fresh set of downs.
Mayfield went play action then rolled to the left where Wormley was waiting to pursue but he extends the play and tries to the sideline but incomplete with good coverage from Fitzpatrick. On second and ten Highsmith made a great play to stop the Chubb run for a loss of one, setting up third and 11. Cleveland then suffered a false start penalty setting them back to a third and long 16. Wormley got Mayfield to move up in the pocket where Watt nearly got the hit on the complete throw but good quick tackle by Schobert forcing a fourth and 12. With Pittsburgh up by five, the Browns go for the fourth down conversion, but Fitzpatrick had a huge pass break up on Landry for the turnover on downs! Great stop by the defense keeping the five-point lead intact in the clutch!
Lastly let’s look at special teams:
Steelers Miles Killebrew headlines the graph with an 85.2 PFF grade with Benny Snell and long snapper Christian Kuntz both below a 40 grade.
Punter Pressley Harvin attempted his first punt to close the Steelers first offensive drive, a 38 yarder that was fair caught at the 15-yard line. Boswell made his only field goal attempt early in the second quarter from 31-yards to tie the game. Harvin’s second punt was an impressive 56-yarder with Miles Killebrew making the tackle for only one yard on the return! McCloud returned a punt with 6:21 in the second quarter making some moves then fumbles and Justin Layne recovered the ball but was also penalized for running into the kicker, but the penalty was declined. Boswell came back out with 1:45 left in the first half and the Steelers ran the failed fake field goal that kept him out for the rest of the game. McCloud had a good 19-yard punt return to close the first half getting good overall blocks and making a guy miss.
McCloud returned the opening kickoff of the second half spinning out of a tackle for 25 yards. Harvin punted early in the second half when the offense went three and out on a short 44-yard punt to the 24-yard line where Spillane made the tackle, after James Pierre was blocked in the back on his opportunity which the Steelers accept. McCloud had a decent kickoff return to the 22-yard line early in the third quarter. Harvin had to kick off with Boswell injured and the attempt went short and out of bounds giving the Browns good field position. McCloud let a punt bounce at the end of the third quarter that nearly touched Layne and could have been a huge mistake but thankfully averted. Harvin kicked off again after the Freiermuth touchdown early in the fourth quarter to the ten-yard line, with Killebrew making the tackle after Layne missed on the ten-yard return. The punt team took a delay of game penalty late in the fourth quarter, then Harvin had a short 38-yard punt that went out of bounds at the 39-yard line.
STEELERS VS. BROWNS WEEK 8 SNAPS AND 2021 SEASON TOTALS:
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