Fans don’t typically look for surprises from their favorite teams 10 games into an NFL season. Going into the 127th match up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns, there were certain things that Steelers Nation knew…
- Landry Jones would need to up big in his second start
- DeAngelo Williams would bulldoze the Browns weak run defense
- The Steelers needed avoid “finding ways to lose at” vs. yet another AFC North rival
All seemed to be reasonable assumptions before the ball was kicked off at 1:00 pm at Heinz Field. But if 2015 has taught Steelers Nation anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. Unexpected struck early against the Steelers vs. the Browns, but once again the men in Black and Gold responded as the Steelers defeated the Browns 30-9.
Ben Steps Out from the Bullpen…
Let’s set something straight for the record. Steel Curtain Rising was firmly on the record that Ben Roethlisberger should not play vs. the Browns under any circumstances – and that’s not because anyone here owns Landry Jones Fantasy Football stock. Rather it was a fear that playing Roethlisberger, coming off his second injury of the season, was simply too great of a long-term risk.
- This is one of the times when I’m very glad to step forward and say “I was wrong.”
And so it was that on the game’s third series, with Landry Jones spraining his ankle and Michael Vick in street clothes, that Ben Roethlisberger needed to take the field as a backup quarterback, even though he had not been through a full practice.
- That didn’t seem to matter much, as the Steelers offensive game plan figured to be “When in doubt, run”
After all, just one week ago the Oakland Raiders brought one of the NFL’s best running defenses to Heinz Field, and DeAngelo Williams shredded them for over 170. The Steelers did indeed try to rush Williams, but the Browns knew it was coming Williams way and for 3 quarters stopped the Steelers running game cold.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were going to need to win this one through the air, and fortunately Ben Roethlisberger was prepared to do just that. While there’s no doubt that the Brown’s ailing secondary helped, today the Steelers offense flashed the form that so many expected when the season started:
- Ben Roethilsberger hooking up for explosive down-field bombs to Martavis Bryant
- Antonio Brown catching everything that comes his way and making teams pay after the catch
- Heath Miller making catches that count in the middle.
The key phrase above is the Steelers offense “Flashed” the form expected of them. The truth is that the Steelers offense left a lot of plays on the field. They turned over on downs late in the first half (although they rebounded for a score), Ben Roethlisberger threw a rather ugly interception, and Martavis Bryant fumbled the ball way in a play that at least should have set up another score.
But 30 points and 402 yards of offense is a respectable effort in today’s NFL, and it was more than sufficient thanks in no small part to the Steelers defense.
As the Pass Rush Goes, So Goes the Steelers Defense
Last week Derek Carr completed 22 passes for 301 yards and forced the Steelers to a photo finish. This week Johnny Manziel completed 33 passes for 372 yards and looked very sharp for much of the second half, yet the Cleveland Browns never really threatened the Steelers lead. The question is why?
Ten games into the season it is clear that this Steelers secondary isn’t going to give many offensive coordinators sleepless nights.
- Michael Mitchell is indeed playing good football
- Ross Cockrell has also shown himself to be an opportunistic ball hawk
- Will Allen and William Gay are playing solid football
But, as a unit, the Steelers secondary isn’t going to scare anyone, and has given up enough yards to undoubtedly make innumerable Fantasy Football owners happy. Today’s game vs. the Browns was no different.
But against the Browns, the Steelers front seven also confirmed something important. A week ago, the Steelers defense failed to get any pressure on Derek Carr at any point in the game. This week the Steelers defense got in Johnny Football’s face early and often.
- Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones all got to Johnny Manziel.
Looking beyond the pass rush, the Pittsburgh Steelers front seven thoroughly dominated the line of scrimmage, limiting the Browns to 15 yard rushing. On no fewer than 9 occasions did Steelers defenders stop Browns ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage.
The lesson is clear: For the Steelers defense to keep the team competitive, they must gain penetration into the opponents backfield.
That’s hardly an observation that qualifies as “football genius” and the Browns certainly do not qualify as elite competition, but the Steelers defense got penetration, and limited the Browns to 9 points.
Steelers Head Into Bye Week, Then the Home Stretch
On Friday, ESPN declared the Pittsburgh Steelers to be the NFL team most impacted by injuries. Almost on cue, the Steelers lost their starting quarterback and then couldn’t get their running game going.
- But adversity is nothing new to the 2015 Steelers.
Mike Tomlin’s team answered the challenge on both sides of the ball and improved their record to 6-4. The bye week comes at a welcome moment, giving the Steelers time to rest and regroup.
A 6-4 record is far from stellar, but it give the Steelers an opportunity to make the brutal homestreach they face after the bye week meaningful. Then they’ll be tested by the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, in addition to playing each rival AFC North team on the road.
It is in those contests that the Pittsburgh Steelers will define the success or failure of the 2015 season.