After much anticipation, things fell flat early, and the Pittsburgh Steelers dominated the Cleveland Browns from start to finish by a final score of 38-7. The Browns’ four-game winning streak was snapped, and they are now 4-2 on the season, but also have two decisive losses within the division. Let’s get to the recap of the game.
The Steelers received the ball first, and on the second play of the game, CB Terrance Mitchell nearly had an interception. On 3rd-and-5, though, Roethlisberger found WR James Washington up the left sideline for a 27-yard gain. Pittsburgh’s running game found some early traction, but down in the red zone, Cleveland utilized the blitz to force some high incompletions from Roethlisberger. Chris Boswell kicked a 35-yard field goal to give Pittsburgh the early 3-0 lead.
When the Browns set up their first third down situation, it didn’t go well at all. QB Baker Mayfield tried to get rid of the ball quickly on 3rd-and-3, and he put it right in the hands of S Minkah Fitzpatrick, who ran untouched to the end zone for a 33-yard pick six to give the Steelers a 10-0 lead.
Upon getting the ball back, Cleveland’s second drive didn’t go well either, as Mayfield’s second down pass was tipped away at the line of scrimmage, and then he was sacked on third down, leading to a punt. The Browns’ defense responded strong on three straight plays — a pass knocked away, stuffing the run, and then S Sheldrick Redwine and LB B.J. Goodson combining for a third down sack to force a punt.
Cleveland had several nice plays to begin their next drive — a bootleg completion, and back-to-back runs from Hunt for good gains to put them on the border of field goal range. On 2nd-and-2, though, Mayfield was sacked for a loss of 8 yards, and then his third down pass to WR Odell Beckham was caught out of bounds, forcing another punt.
The Browns’ defense forced a three-and-out for the second straight drive, again with a tipped pass on third down. After the punt, Cleveland took over near midfield. A completion to RB Kareem Hunt moved the chains heading to the second quarter.
Once again, Cleveland got on the verge of field goal range, but Mayfield faced pressure on second and third down, leading to incomplete passes. The Browns were going to go for it on 4th-and-4 from the 37 yard line, but a false start by LT Jedrick Wills brought Gillan onto the field for a punt.
Despite starting back at the 12 yard line, Pittsburgh made quick work of driving this time. It started with a 14-yard run by RB James Conner, and then a 15-yard facemask penalty on the next play by Redwine. A few plays later, Roethlisberger found rookie WR Chase Claypool for a perfectly-timed 36-yard pass down the left sideline, beating Mitchell. On 1st-and-goal from the 3 yard line, Conner punched it in to give Pittsburgh a 17-0 lead.
Things continued to get bad on the Browns’ next drive, as Cleveland’s tackles were getting beat off the snap and Mayfield continued to have no sense of calmness. On a 3rd-and-12 pass, he threw a ball while floating backward up for grabs, and it was picked off by CB Cameron Sutton at midfield.
Then it was the defenses’ time to be bad. CB Denzel Ward tried to take a chance on jumping a route, and instead, the receiver ran by him for a wide open 28-yard touchdown to put Pittsburgh up 24-0.
On their next offensive drive, Cleveland finally got a big play when Mayfield found TE Austin Hooper wide open and uncovered off of a playaction fake for a 36-yard gain. Cleveland continued to grind out plays inside of two minutes, and then with 1:01 left in the half, Mayfield found WR Rashard Higgins wide open in the right corner of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown to make it a 24-7 game.
Cleveland’s defense forced a quick three-and-out, including a sack by DE Myles Garrett on second down. The Browns had a chance to try to squeeze a field goal out, but had a penalty and Mayfield took a shot on a 3rd-and-1. Head coach Kevin Stefanski decided it wasn’t worth going for it on 4th-and-1 and giving Pittsburgh their own shot at a Hail Mary, so he punted to go into the half.
Cleveland did not have a good start offensively to the second half. After a 2-yard run by Hunt, Stefanski tried calling a fake reverse that would lead to a screen pass, but Pittsburgh’s defense just attacked Mayfield the whole time and sacked him for a loss of 10 yards while his back was to the line of scrimmage. Then, there was a delay of game. On 3rd-and-23 from the 5 yard line, RB D’Ernest Johnson fumbled on a simple draw play — Cleveland somehow recovered back at the 2 yard line, but the punt afterward gave Pittsburgh the ball just 45 yards away from the end zone.
Pittsburgh converted a 4th-and-1 with a run play, putting them on the edge of field goal range. A holding penalty and an offensive pass interference flag pushed them out of field goal range, though, so they punted — the punt went to the end zone for a touchback to at least give Mayfield and company some breathing room.
Cleveland got close to a first down, and even won a challenge on a catch by Landry, but that set up 4th-and-inches at their own 29 yard line. Stefanski decided to go for it, given the score, but the call was a handoff to Hunt in which the offensive line was completely pushed back for a turnover on downs. Off of the short field, the Steelers faced their own 4th-and-inches inside the 5 yard line, and Roethlisberger sneaked it for the first down. On 1st-and-goal from the 3, the end around went to Claypool for a touchdown, extending the lead to 31-7 with 0:52 left in the third quarter.
QB Case Keenum was put in the game at that point to protect Mayfield the rest of the way, given the 24-point lead for Pittsburgh.
Keenum got the Browns to midfield with some completions into soft coverage, but he couldn’t connect on back-to-back short passes, leading to another turnover on downs for the offense.
The Steelers drained more clock with the running game, and then a catch-and-run by Claypool brought them to the 1 yard line. RB Benny Snell punched it in from 1 yard out to make it a 38-7 game with 8:08 to go.
Cleveland ran the ball on their next drive, but once again, on a 4th-and-short from midfield, even in garbage time, the Steelers’ defense stuffed the run for a turnover on downs again.
The Browns will play on the road next Sunday, October 25th, in their Week 7 match-up against the Cincinnati Bengals. The game will be at 1:00 PM ET.
Quick Hitter Stats
QB Baker Mayfield: 10-of-18 for 119 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT.
RB Kareem Hunt: 13 carries, 40 yards (). 2 catches, 17 yards (3 targets).
WR Odell Beckham: 2 catches, 25 yards (4 targets).
DE Myles Garrett: 4 tackles, 1 sack.
The Browns were 1-of-12 on third down conversions, and 0-of-3 on fourth down conversions.
Quick Hitter Notes
One of the most disappointing things to see in a Browns-Steelers game is when the intensity level is visibly different between the two teams, and that was the case all game long here. Pittsburgh hit way harder and with anticipation on every play. They owned the trenches on both sides of the ball. It wasn’t even close, either — in terms of intensity, Pittsburgh was playing at a 10/10, while Cleveland looked incapable, scared, or unwilling to even register a 2/10 on that scale.
The blame this week falls more on the offense. Yes, the defense wasn’t good either, but Mayfield turned the ball over twice early, and the offensive line couldn’t even handle four-man rushes. The Steelers were getting such great jumps off the snap that plays were over before they could even get started. I should have known better with my pick heading into the game. That is what my instincts told me would happen, especially with Mayfield’s ribs hurting. I tried to let the fan in me convince myself that Cleveland could still play a competent game, but that obviously didn’t pan out.
It wasn’t Stefanski’s best job. I think he put faith in his offensive line to handle the pressure, but they didn’t. A better formula would have been more max protection, more conservative plays, and taking shots on the outside with Beckham or other receivers.
The last time the Browns were blown out (Week 1 against the Ravens), we got to look toward facing the Bengals as our cure. Well, it’s a similar story this time, as the Browns face the Bengals next week. Cincinnati still has major offensive line issues, but the Browns had to re-focus and get back to their fundamentals. This Steelers team was an entirely different beast in the trenches than Cincinnati is.
By the way, there were multiple guilty parties, but Wyatt Teller needs to get healthy soon.
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