A tale of two teams: One on the upswing, the other in the middle of a free fall. This time, the Browns are getting hot, while the Steelers were exposed for a 4th time this season (exceptions at Carolina and -barely- Jacksonville).
If you show anybody the game stats without showing the scoreboard, their guess would be that it was a close game. That close, really? Key Stats show just that: (PIT-CLE): Total yards: 359 / 368, turnovers: 1 / 1, sacks: 1 / 2, Time of possession: 33:05 / 26:55, Penalties: 6 for 42 yards / 6 for 60 yards, 3rd down conversions: 37% / 36%.
This loss was on offense, defense and special teams. No unit was able to prevail, compete or shine this week. During the first game against the Browns this season we had no idea on what to expect from Hoyer. This time around, the Browns played most of the game without one of their key RBs, their star WR, center and had only three healthy defensive linemen. And we took no advantage on offense or defense from it.
Situational execution, lack of concentration. 3rd and short rushes for a loss, 3rd down incompletions (where receivers seemed to be out of place, running a couple of steps more than what Ben expected, or him throwing too early), LBs and DBs not reacting to bootlegs and play action passes, failing to hurry Hoyer, letting their receivers get behind our DBs. Most of that is poor execution and lack of concentration, attributable mostly to the players.
Adjustments and game planning gave the Browns too much advantage. First game vs Browns, the Steelers outscored them 27-3 in the first half. After that, we were outscored 24-3 in the 2nd half. This game, the Steelers were outscored 31-10. That makes a total of 55-13 the last six quarters or football against them. Their defense knew what to expect, and their offense was able to move the football and score on us. It’s not just execution (which is an issue). Clearly, they had the edge on adjustments for the 2nd half of the first game, and a better game plan for the 2nd game, and that goes directly to our coaching staff. You can have talented players and compete, and can compete to win if you put your most talented players in position to take advantage and make a play, which the Browns did and the Steelers didn’t.
Offense: multiple personalities = lack of identity?
- Roethlisberger, Bell, Brown, Pouncey and DeCastro will have multiple Pro Bowl appearances when retired. Wheaton and Blount could be starters on some teams. So, this team has talent and weapons, but hasn’t defined what kind of attack they want to establish? If you are Coach Haley, running into Mr Rooney at the Steelers facilities is not on your bucket list.
- After being criticized for not running the football enough, Coach Haley decided that he would approach most 1st and 2nd downs running the football, mixing his horses (Bell, Blount, Archer). Of our first 24 plays, only 3 were pass attempts. On 3rd down, it has become a tendency to find an open receiver and manage to fail the conversion. Is anyone on this roster able to catch 3rd down passes in a consistent basis? Why were the Steelers approaching 3rd and short with their passing game, to their 2nd receiver (not Brown, nor Miller, who have been much more effective on critical situations)? Isn’t this called the best RB tandem in the league, behind an All Pro Center and a Pro Bowler at guard? Why isn’t it working so far?
- Bell, Blount & Archer combined for 133 rushing yards on 29 attempts (4.6 yds/attempt). Still, they couldn’t break one for more than 15 yards, with 2 rushes for a loss (both of them on 3rd and short).
- Looking for drive killers? With Ben and his receivers out of sync, we missed six 3rd down completions due to incompletions, with most of them having an open receiver, who was either overthrown, thrown to too quickly, or managed to drop the football. Off-tempo = Lack of reps? After 6 weeks, and playing with the same core group of receivers –with the lone exception of Moore-, can it really be a lack of reps situation?
- Our failed 3rd down conversions: Bell run for -1, on 3rd & 1. Blount for 1, on 3rd& 3. Incompletions to Wheaton on 3rd & 3, 3rd & 6 and 3rd & 1. Completion to Bell for 1 yard on 3rd & 10. Incompletion to Moore on 3rd and 17. Interception (Really?). Incompletion to Brown, 3rd & 4. Completion to J.Brown for 7 yards on 3rd & 16 (Incompletion to Wheaton on 4th down).
- How does gaining 359 yards, while giving up only 2 sacks and 1 turnover, end with only 10 points? We had 7 drives that ended inside Cleveland territory, and managed to score only 10 points. This is where and how those drives ended: FG from Cleveland 2 yardline, Failed FG from Cleveland 17 yardline, Punt from Cleveland 47 yardline, End of 1st half, Punt from Cleveland 37 yardline, turnover on downs at Cleveland 7 yardline, TD from Cleveland 26 yardline.
- Why give Haden so much respect? He wasn’t really tested during the 1st half, while AB has proven he can get some separation from him. Was it part of the gameplan, or Ben was showing respect (or fear) to look at his side? AB was double-teamed frequently, particularly on 3rd downs, but still wasn’t targeted enough when left on single coverage.
- Why is Heyward-Bey not used to stretch the field? Any difference, besides special teams, holding Bryant back?
- Where is Heath Miller on 3rd downs? Is it lack of confidence from Coach Haley, or they just liked Wheaton’s chances too much?
- The game was over when, at the beginning of the 3rd quarter we approached their 30 and took consecutive sacks getting out of FG range. After that, the Browns managed to score a FG to make it 24-3, mid 3rd quarter.
Defense: Where’s the pressure on their QB, part V?
- First series, sack by Heyward. Hoyer had just 18 dropbacks, and was pressured by Kiesel and Polamalu (once each). After that, pressure was close to non-existent, particularly lost were our defensive linemen and linebackers on bootleg plays, giving Hoyer enough time to establish himself and throw to his always-open-target (you name it, they got it) crossing the field. Isn’t anyone responsible for making leverage? Our ILBs (Spence, Timmons) were fooled by the run fakes and gave a step, either to their receivers or their blockers, giving them enough advantage to make this play consistently.
- While the browns had 158 yard rushing, they got the most from their passing plays. Long completions and a key interception (which was, at best, a questionable call), set up 28 of their points. Browns scoring drives were: 5 plays, 68 yards, TD. Key play: Cameron 42 yd pass. 4 plays, 60 yards, TD. Key play: Cameron 51yd TD pass. 9 plays, 85 yards, TD. Key play, 3 & 9 conversion, pass to Austin for 17 yards. 6 plays, 52 yds, FG. Key Play: 31 yard pass to Dray.
- The Browns didn’t really need to test our pass-D frequently; while they were pretty effective (Hoyer completed 50% of his passes, but averaged more than 27 yards per completion).
- Our LBers are the first unit responsible for what happened on those bootleg and play actions that beat us: Either lack of leverage, misreading the play, or taking a step forward while trying to attack the line of scrimmage, this clearly was a result of Browns coaches watching enough tape of our LBers reaction tendencies.
- Why wasn’t Gay targeted like Allen? While it could look as if Gay had good coverage, it was mostly to do with a) Allen not being even close to his receivers, and struggling with Cameron, and b) the Browns having only 17 pass attempts all day.
- We have dropped 7 men into coverage frequently, and still manage to make opposing QBs look like proven heroes (Glennon, Hoyer). When blitzing with DBs, we got some pressure and forced bad throws. For sure, Coach LeBeau sees this issue too. Is his lack of confidence on our perimeter holding him from using exotic blitzes?
- Polamalu, out of spot frequently. He’s been relying on his old instincts, guessing too much and playing close to the line of scrimmage. That makes him vulnerable on bootleg crossing routes (as we saw), giving also an edge to opposing QBs while he turns around to run after a receiver, while losing notion of where the football is. Also, he becomes vulnerable while trying to stop the run if it’s handled as a misdirection, because he always seems to react to his 1st read, lying on his old ability to recover and get himself in position to make a play, even after misreading something. He has become an older, slower and mistake-prone version of his old self. Once a fan favorite, now being called by many to be part of our problem.
- Ok, so we got a taste of what Mike Mitchell can do for this defense, playing his best game as a Steeler so far. He needs to do this week in and week out, and find a consistent basis. A forced fumbled and a couple of broken passes (not deflecting them, but hitting the receivers while they attempted to make a catch) is what we expect from him. A shame if he misses time right now as he seems to be gaining momentum.
Can we get something special from our special teams? Again, it seems like Brad Wing (remember TB?) chose a bad moment to make a mistake, while the Steelers had 3 punt returns for a total of 6 yards, and returned 3 kickoffs for an average of 21.
- If your Pro Bowl center is carted off, you’ve got two options: Cry foul and use it as an excuse for your offensive miscues for, let’s say, 4 weeks. Or manage to get more than 150 rushing yards and keep your QB clean. Steelers opted for the first option last season. The Browns did the opposite this Sunday.
- Is Hoyer that good or is our Defense that bad?
- Wondering what a Pro Bowl QB or RB could do to this defense? Well, lucky you that the answer will be revealed during the next two weeks, since Arian Foster and Andrew Luck are next in line.
- That tackle by Keisel on the first long pass showed his spirit. And showed also that neither a DB, nor a LB were even close to Cameron.
- If this is the last stop on Polamalu’s way to Canton, he’s only hurting his chances.
- Next man up: Martavis Bryant, Stephon Tuitt, your time has come. Can’t be any worse and should be getting real game reps.
- Was Shazier, Taylor and J Jones presence underrated?
- First game vs Cleveland, we had Shazier and Jones. Second game, Spence and Moats started. Same result, while giving up more than 150 rushing yards. Are our LBs weak and soft, or just a consequence of a dominated DL? Try both.
- Is Harrison doing enough to be kept on the active roster after J Jones returns? For sure, this wasn’t what he had in mind while walking away from retirement to get a last stint with the team. And his time is running out.
- Our Defense could be without 5 Defensive starters for next week’s game (Taylor, Shazier, J Jones, McLendon, Mitchell).
- Which one is the real Cortez Allen? The one that made plays vs Jacksonville, or the one who struggled to cover a TE against Cleveland? He isn’t proving to be worth a contract extension.
- How can you have 5 pro bowl caliber players on offense, and still manage to score 19 total points in 8 quarters?
- Coach Tomlin says Cowher’s and Ward’s criticisms are like “music on the elevator” (who called the defense “soft” and the offense “finesse”). Free advice to Coach T: Better get out of the elevator quickly, before that music starts annoying your bosses.
- Is our Coaching Staff paying too much attention to stats? If so: Are they lobbying for themselves at the Steelers Front Office?
- Memo to whoever evaluates stats: 91 of our 221 passing yards came on garbage time, either at the end of the 1st half, without an opportunity to score, or at the end of the game (with a 31-3 score).
- Memo #2 to whoever evaluates stats: A total offense that gains 731 yards and produces 19 points is nowhere close to being called effective.
Next 3 weeks, Cleveland has the softest schedule, visiting Jacksonville, and then receive Oakland and Tampa Bay (opponents: 1-16 combined) Baltimore plays against Atlanta at home, visits the Steelers and visits Cincinnati (8-8-1 combined). Cincy will play at Indy, then receive both Baltimore and Jacksonville (8-10 combined).
Steelers next 3 games are at home, against Texans, Colts and Ravens (Combined 11-7). Managing to get out of that stretch with 2 wins will keep our chances of having a winning season (and a possibility of playoffs) alive. Lose two of them, and probably someone who works at the Steelers facilities –not named Tomlin- will be unleashing hell.
By the numbers:
1st time the opponent doesn’t score on the opening drive. (As if it really mattered).
3 Steelers drives ending inside Cleveland’s 20 yardline, getting 1 Field Goal, 1 missed attempt and a turnover on downs.
6 Straight games with more than 100 yards from scrimmage for Le’veon Bell
7 Steelers drives ending inside Cleveland territory, for net 10 points.
15 sacks given up by the Steelers, projecting 48 for the season.
19 points scored by Steelers offense the last 8 quarters.
22 Antonio Brown consecutive games with at least 5 receptions-50 yard games, NFL record & counting.
27 yards per completion for Browns QB Hoyer.
57 Penalties for the Steelers this season, leading the NFL.
59 Points allowed to the Browns this season.
731 offensive yards for the Steelers last 2 games, good for 19 points.