The Pittsburgh Steelers dismantled the Cleveland Browns on both sides of the ball to move to a perfect 5-0 on the season. This game served as a measuring stick for both teams to separate a contender from a pretender. Pittsburgh has emerged as a contender and will be the biggest obstacle standing in the Ravens’ way of repeating as AFC North champions. Truth be told, there weren’t a whole lot of negatives to talk about in this game at all from the Steelers side.
On offense, the Steelers continued their mojo from last week by putting together five scoring drives on ten possessions. James Conner churned out tough yards on the ground to wear out the Browns’ defensive line. He finished with 101 yards, 1 touchdown, and over 5 yards per carry. The strategy worked as the Browns generated 3 QB hits in the first half and none for the rest of the game.
With David DeCastro out for another week, the offensive line stepped up once again both in run and pass blocking. With the exception of a couple of bad holding penalties, the line paved the way for the productive run game. Kevin Dotson in particular keeps proving his worth as a 4th round pick with an impressive pull to the left side to free Conner for a first down run.
Chuks Okorafor continues to fill in beautifully for the injured Zack Banner at right tackle. He took on the assignment of limiting Myles Garret and for a guy that was seen as a backup before the season, he did a fantastic job. Garrett beat him once on the inside during a blitz but that was the only time the announcers called his name all game long.
In the passing game, Ben didn’t have an eye-popping stat line but he made key throws that punished the Browns secondary for being fooled at his pump fakes. Ben completed two deep passes with one right on the money to Claypool and the other to a wide-open Washington. He was perfect on passes for over 20 yards which shows improvement from the last couple of weeks as that was one of the only faults he’s shown this year.
While Ben isn’t throwing for his usual high yardage games, he’s also not turning the ball over as he’s thrown one pick all year. Even more impressive, the Steelers offense keeps moving without maybe their most dangerous weapon in Dionte Johnson. The next man up mentality was on full display as James Washington stepped up to the challenge and delivered his first big game of the season.
As previously mentioned, the walk-in touchdown was easy because Washington broke Denzel Ward off his trail with a double move that sprung the score. He also had a nice looking over the shoulder grab from Ben on the first drive of the game which led to points at the start.
Another key contributor was Chase Claypool who followed up his standout performance a week ago with an efficient afternoon. Claypool caught all four of his targets for over 70 yards and had one rushing touchdown. One aspect of Claypool’s game that isn’t being highlighted enough is his versatility. He has become a weapon in any situation the Steelers put him in and reaped the reward by scoring six total TD’s this year. He also nearly had two more touchdowns as two of his receptions set up the Steelers inside the 3-yard line. Back to back 30 point or more performances from the offense is an extremely welcome sight to see for the Steelers.
The top tier defense from the Steelers returned to beat up on Baker Mayfield and the Browns run game. In every aspect, Pittsburgh’s defense dominated this side of the ball. To start, Cleveland mustered up just one scoring drive out of 12 total possessions. The Browns converted 1/12 third downs and were stopped on 4th down three times. Even though Nick Chubb was out, Kareem Hunt showed he can present problems for opposing defenses, but not against Pittsburgh, as he finished with 40 yards and a mere 3 yards per carry.
Mayfield had a rough outing, throwing two picks in the first half, and was flustered into a lot of constant bad decisions. One of which came in the form of a pick-six via Minkah Fitzpatrick. While many have pointed out Fitzpatrick’s lack of splash plays through four games, I give you this stat. Prior to the Browns game, teams threw a grand total of 4 times in Fitzpatrick’s area of the field against the Steelers. Minkah has been locking down a portion of the field and when they do throw to him, this is the result.
Pass coverage was very sharp across the board and the secondary’s communication vastly improved this week. Haden and Nelson played a lot more aggressive and held the vaunted duo of Beckham Jr and Landry to 5 catches for 65 yards and no scores. Haden had three pass deflections and one smartly timed push out on Beckham that forced the Browns to punt. Furthermore, Cam Sutton showed his ball-hawking skills with an interception off a back-foot throw from Mayfield due to heavy pressure in his face.
Speaking of pressure, the front seven collapsed both inside and out to generate 7 QB hits and 4 total sacks. Bud Dupree was simply too fast on the outside and forced Mayfield to step up into the swarm of bodies at the line. Dupree got himself 2 sacks on the day and was the player of the day on the defense.
Heyward and Tuitt were terrors on the line, combining for 3 QB hits and 13 total tackles. In every area, the Steelers stepped up and shut down a hot Browns offense that came into the game scoring over 30 points in four straight games. There were takeaways, there were straps on the outside, there were no holes up front, and there was nowhere for Mayfield to hide. This performance is proof that the Steelers previous defensive miscues were more mental than anything.
Unfortunately, not every man made it out unscathed as Devin Bush suffered a non-contact injury while trying to make a tackle on the sideline. This injury has been reported officially as a torn ACL for the lead linebacker and will require season-ending surgery. Losing Bush is without a doubt a massive blow for the Steelers. Not only is he their best linebacker but he is also one of their leading tacklers and a preferred blitzer coming through the middle.
In terms of what’s next at that position, Vince Williams must step up as the lead linebacker and Robert Spillane will be the replacement in the starting lineup. Spillane had 6 tackles and one for a loss against the Browns. Bush’s injury is a major hit in more ways than one, as not only will it force unproven depth to step up but it will also hurt the Steelers in their run defense which has been the best in football so far this season.
All in all, this was a statement win as this game was pegged as one of the best games of the week yet the Steelers wiped the floor with the Browns for 60 minutes. A much-needed statement win at that, the Steelers had shown the inability to completely finish lesser teams before this game but there was no letup here.
Next week, the Steelers run defense will be tested against Derrick Henry and the 5-0 Titans in Tennessee.