We can be forgiven if we’ve forgotten, but there was actually a football game in Cleveland Thursday night that saw the Browns defeat the Steelers 21-7. Had the game ended at the 59:52 mark, Thursday night’s contest already was one of the ugliest football games on record.
- Just how ugly was the game?
To put it into perspective, even before the WWE style shoot weapons match that marred the final 8 seconds, you could already call it the Steelers “Body Bag Game.” Here we’ll focus first on the X’s and O’s before taking a look at the infamous final 8 seconds.
Slow Start by Steelers Defense
Its no secret that the Steelers defense had led the way, and then some, during the four game winning streak that Pittsburgh took into Cleveland. Yet the Cleveland Browns scored on their first drive almost effortlessly.
Keith Butler’s defense forced a few punts, but on the Brown’s first possession of the 2nd quarter, Cleveland scored again. When asked where the breakdown had occurred, Mike Tomlin was succinct:
- “Baker out of the pocket.”
That’s accurate, but only to a point. The Steelers pass rush indeed pressured Baker Mayfield, only for Baker to elude the rush time and time again, and early in the game Baker made the Steelers pay. Something was clearly off with the Steelers defense early in the game.
Two plays before the Browns first touchdown, the Steelers barely got their 11th man over the line of scrimmage before the snap to avoid an off sides penalty. Joe Haden appeared to come out of the game, then went back in and when Mayfield connected with Jarvis Landry in the end zone there wasn’t a Steeler in sight.
- But what’s largely forgotten is that the Steelers defense settled down and played qualify football after that.
No, there were no Minkah Fitzpatrick fireworks, and while T.J. Watt did get a sack, unlike previous weeks, it wasn’t a game changer. But after their second score, the Browns went 10 straight possessions without another score.
And while Baker Mayfield would continue to slip past would-be Steelers sackers, as the night wore on the Steelers secondary’s coverage was tight enough they forced Baker to throw the ball away on his extended roll outs.
Giving up 14 points in a game’s first 20 minutes is never something to applaud, but the Steelers defense’s performance wasn’t simply “Above the line” after that point, they kept Pittsburgh in the game.
Steelers Offense, Rudolph, Sputter Out of the Gate, Never Recover
While he’s only started seven games, one thing about Mason Rudolph stands in stark contrast to Ben Roethlisberger: Mason Rudolph doesn’t excel at the school yard style football that typified Roethlisberger early in his career.
Instead, Mason Rudolph is a student of the game. He’s got a voracious appetite for film study, and if anything he is perhaps too patient in working through his reads.
- But with each week, Mason Rudolph has been making progress.
With each game, he’s taking steps forward, and has made strides towards taking command of the Steelers offense. The question going into the Cleveland game, was could Mason Rudolph continue that progress on a short week?
- Alas, the answer against Cleveland was a resounding “No.”
Mason Rudolph did do some nice things. He’s beginning to transfer the college rapport he had with James Washington to the NFL. He did a masterful job on the Steelers lone touchdown drive, and showed some quick decision making on his touchdown pass to Jaylen Samuels.
It would be easy to look at how the game evolved and chalk up Mason Rudolph’s struggles to having to throw to Tevin Jones and Johnny Holton as his number 2 and number 3 wide outs. It would also be easy to point a finger at the Steelers offensive line, which failed to protect him.
- But as it so often is, the easy answers are the wrong answers.
The fact is that Mason Rudolph played poorly vs. the Cleveland Browns. He threw four interceptions, interceptions which got uglier as the night progressed. A lot of Steelers fans are ready to write of Mason Rudolph’s future based on that one night (never mind he’s looked far better his 1st 7 starts than Terry Bradshaw looked in his.)
The key takeaway from the Browns game as far as Mason Rudolph is concerned can’t be found by looking back, but rather by looking forward. It all depends on how Mason Rudolph reacts, and whether he can rebound.
Body Bags Mount for Pittsburgh
This was a particularly brutal trip to Cleveland for the Steelers. During the course of the game, the Steelers:
- Lost OlaTerry Adeniyi to a concussion
- Lost JuJu Smith-Schuster to a concussion
- Lost James Conner to a re-injured shoulder
- Lost Artie Burns to a knee injury
- Lost Diontae Johnson to a concussion
All of this occurred before the now infamous final 8 seconds of the game. The status of the players above remains unknown although one would have to expect that all 3 offensive players named above will not be playing next week in Cincinnati against the Bengals.
Unfortunately, if Mason Rudolph is to rebound from his worst game as a pro, he’ll likely need to do it on his own.
8 Seconds that Will Live in Infamy
It all could have been so simple. Mason Rudolph had just completed an 11 yard pass to Trey Edmunds with 14 second remaining. The Steelers could have run their final play, and then headed to the locker room to tend to their wounded.
- But Myles Garrett had other ideas.
He could have let up after Mason Rudolph released his pass. After making impact, he could have let it stand there. He could have been content with a late hit, but instead forced Mason Rudolph to the ground.
- The two men scuffled. David DeCastro tried to break things up.
Myles Garrett could have ignored Rudolph, but instead tore his helmet off and swung it viciously at his head. Mason Rudolph could have been seriously injured, or worse. Had this happened on the street, Myles Garrett could have, would have and should have faced criminal charges.
Regardless of what happens moving forward, this incident and how they respond to it will define the 2019 season for both teams.