Sunday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns was the first meeting between the two teams since their divisional-round matchup in last year’s playoffs. After a chaotic start (five turnovers), the Steelers were unable to turn it around and lost 48-37 in a very embarrassing game. But that game no longer mattered to the Steelers, and they proved that on Sunday with a statement win in Cleveland. They snapped a two-game losing streak to the Browns, as they beat them 15-10 on the road.
Pittsburgh Steelers Move to 4-3 After Narrow Road Win over the Cleveland Browns
The Browns started the game with an impressive-looking drive, as they went all the way down to the red zone. But a third-down sack shared by T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward stalled the Browns’ drive and forced them to kick a field goal. The Browns led 3-0 until the Steelers had their second possession. A 47-yard drive ended in a field goal for the Steelers and tied the game at 3-3. The Steelers had a chance to kick another field goal, but they ran a fake and it failed. The fake field goal attempt resulted in Pittsburgh’s kicker Chris Boswell being sidelined for the rest of the game and created more problems later. Neither team scored again until after halftime.
The Steelers punted on their first drive out of the half, but the Browns scored their only touchdown of the day on their first drive. Capped by a ten-yard rushing touchdown by D’Ernest Johnson, the Browns put together a nice drive consisting of some good passes by Baker Mayfield. But the Steelers immediately answered with a touchdown of their own. Pittsburgh had a few nice plays that got them into the red zone, and Najee Harris punched it in from ten yards out to make the score 10-9. Given that the Steelers were kicker-less, they lined up and went for two, and, at first, got the conversion on a Roethlisberger two-yard run. However, the play was called back on an offensive holding call. They went for two yet again, this time from the twelve-yard line, but failed to get it.
The next Browns’ drive resulted in a three-and-out, and the Steelers were able to capitalize. They went on an 83-yard touchdown drive that put them up 15-10 (failed two-point conversion). The rookie tight end, Pat Freiermuth, caught a pass from two yards out on a fourth and goal to give the Steelers the lead. The catch that Freiermuth made was amazing; he juggled the ball while being covered and still managed to get both feet down.
The ensuing Browns’ drive looked promising before Pittsburgh linebacker Joe Schobert forced Cleveland Jarvis Landry to fumble. T.J. Watt recovered Landry’s fumble, and the turnover set the Steelers up at their own twenty. The Steelers tried to run the clock out but punted with 4:30 left in the game. The Browns easily drove into Pittsburgh territory but needed to complete a 4th and 12 to keep the drive (and the game) alive. Luckily, for the Steelers, Minkah Fitzpatrick was there to cover Landry on his route and knocked the ball away. This heroic play essentially ended the game and solidified the Steelers 15-10 win.
The Offense Looks Better
Ben Roethlisberger Continues To Improve
After having a slow start to the season, veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger showed once again why he is the starter. He completed about 65% of his passes (22 for 34) and collected 266 yards and a touchdown. Roethlisberger had his third-highest passing yard total this season through seven games. With Roethlisberger’s touchdown pass to Pat Freiermuth, he collected his eighth passing score of the year and has recorded at least one in each game this season.
Najee Harris With Another Impressive Game
Rookie running back Najee Harris had yet another impressive game on Sunday. He rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown on twenty-six carries. Harris also added three receptions for twenty-nine yards. Harris had his second-best rushing game of the season; his 91-yard effort falls short of his 122-yard game against the Broncos earlier this season. He has become the cornerstone of Pittsburgh’s offense, and the offense’s increased dependability on Harris could create some booming games for the rookie.
Receivers, Tight Ends Vital in Win
Big plays were the name of the game for the Steelers pass catchers on Sunday. Receiver #1 Diontae Johnson had a decent game going (five receptions, 48 yards) before his game-sealing 50-yard reception on the final drive. Johnson’s catch-and-run play got the Steelers their game-winning first down. He finished with six receptions for 98 yards. Second-year wideout Chase Claypool also added four catches for 45 yards and added sixteen yards on the ground. Claypool’s role has decreased significantly since last season, where he posted thirteen total touchdowns in his rookie season. This year, Claypool has only one touchdown. But the impact he makes on his long receptions and carries outweighs the impact he’d make with a few more touchdowns but on fewer touches.
Pittsburgh’s only receiving touchdown on the day came from rookie tight end, Pat Freiermuth. He totaled 44 yards on four catches. His difficult but amazing touchdown catch gave the Steelers the boost they needed to win the game. Freiermuth continues to post good games throughout the season and has likely solidified his role as TE #1 for years to come. Another tight end whose impact is not going unnoticed is Zach Gentry. Gentry had three catches for 39 yards on Sunday, including a 24-yarder that put the Steelers into the red zone. His role will likely increase in coming games with Eric Ebron sidelined with a hamstring injury until further notice.
Offensive Line Continues To Gel
While the offensive line was far from perfect, the unit continues to come together and produce positive results every game. They did allow two sacks, but that’s certainly an improvement from earlier in the season. Also, they’ve been able to open up more holes for Najee Harris, as his yards-per-carry average has shot up over Pittsburgh’s three-game winning streak. With the return of trusted tackle Zach Banner soon, the young line will continue to gel and could help the offense greatly in the back half of the season.
Defense Stands Strong
Defensive Line Plays Well
The defensive line once again played exceptionally well. They only allowed 96 total rushing yards, including just 61 to top-tier running back Nick Chubb. The defensive line’s ability to stop the run made the game so much harder for the Browns, who have a limited passing attack. The line also attacked the Browns’ passing game; the Steelers laid siege with four sacks on the afternoon, including 1.5 sacks from edge rusher T.J. Watt. Defensive end Cameron Heyward also had 0.5 sacks, while Chris Wormley and Isaiahh Loudermilk each tallied a sack of their own. The defensive front continues to win the battles in the trenches and has proven itself as a top line in the NFL.
Linebackers, Secondary Crucial In Pass Coverage
The secondary played well and allowed just 225 yards to Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield. While yet again there were no “splash” plays, there were three instances in which some plays made a big difference. The first two instances were pass deflections (one each) from Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick’s deflection was especially important; he knocked away a potential first-down catch from Jarvis Landry on the final Browns’ drive. The third play that defined the Steelers’ defensive day was Joe Schobert’s forced fumble. Schobert’s fumble turned the game around and gave the Steelers momentum for a difficult victory.
Chaos With Special Teams
Chris Boswell’s Injury
Kicker Chris Boswell was injured when he was hit (as a passer) during a fake-field goal attempt. Boswell rolled out to pass but was hit hard in the head area and fell down after the big hit. It was determined that he had suffered a concussion. He obviously did not return to the game, and his status is questionable for Monday’s game. Because Boswell is questionable to play, the Steelers signed veteran free-agent Josh Lambo (long-time Jacksonville Jaguars kicker) to assume emergency duties.
Ramifications of Fake-Field Goal
Do you know how much easier the game would have been for the Steelers had Boswell not gotten hurt? If Pittsburgh had simply taken the field goal, it likely would have been made (an extra three points). Therefore, Boswell likely would have remained in the game for the rest of the time and would likely have made his two extra points (hasn’t missed an XP). This would have left the final score at 20-10, which is much more relaxing than the stressful 15-10 victory the Steelers pulled off.
Instead of the game working out in an ideal way, the special teams game completely fell off after Boswell’s injury. Punter Pressley Harvin had to assume kickoff duties (he didn’t do too well) and was never sent out for an extra point or field goal attempt. Instead, the Steelers just chose to go for two each time (missed both attempts) and kept the game way closer than it should have been. Maybe Pittsburgh has learned their lesson after taking a big risk that could have cost them a crucial game.
Upcoming Weeks: Chances For Strengthening
After their statement win over Cleveland, the Steelers head home for two matchups that are very winnable. They play the 3-4 Chicago Bears (with a struggling offense) on Monday Night Football in Week 9 before playing the winless Detroit Lions in Week 10. These are two great chances for the Steelers to prove their status as a good team. And with two wins from these games, they’d put themselves at 6-3 (a good spot to be in before Week 11).
Recent Free Agent Moves/Trades
This year’s NFL Trade Deadline was rather boring if asked any football fan. Only one big blockbuster trade broke out (Von Miller to the Rams), and not many other transactions were made. However, the Steelers did make one trade Tuesday morning. They announced that they had traded linebacker Melvin Ingram to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for a sixth-round pick in next year’s draft. Ingram had requested a trade out of Pittsburgh due to his role being significantly lower than he had wished. Ingram recorded just one sack and ten tackles in the time he was a Steeler.
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