PITTSBURGH, PA — The Pittsburgh Steelers dropped a disappointing divisional game to the Cleveland Browns, 29-17 to fall to 1-2. Nick Chubb didn’t just control the clock, he manhandled it, running right at a Steelers defense that really didn’t even have a hope of bringing him down.
The Steelers showed flashes of improvement on offense but their defense, which has already been burdened with carrying this flawed team, was simply not good enough to win.
As a result, the offense earns some praise while the defense takes the bulk of the blame in this week’s winners and losers.
This may ring hollow in the face of a loss in which the offense scored just 14 points, but Canada called a good game. Maybe some of the criticism he’s been hearing hit home or it’s as simple as the Steelers evolving like he had promised (although that seems unlikely, especially given the short week, but there was a clear uptick in aggressiveness and creativity.
Canada opened up the game for Mitch Trubisky, who was impressive using his legs, letting the ball fly early and often, and getting many different weapons involved. They were undoubtedly shut down in the second half, but one good half of offense is better than none and the lack of offense came because they weren’t completing aggressive plays, instead of getting stopped short on passive ones, which is an improvement, even if only a marginal one.
Harris did not look particularly quick but was physical and nonetheless dynamic in the run game. He played like a bruiser and it resulted in his best rushing game of the season – 56 yards and a touchdown on 15 attempts. If he can figure out how to turn some of those five and six-yard gains into 10 or more, he’ll return to form as one of the best in the NFL at his position.
Warren provided an excellent change of pace from Harris. He used his speed more than his strength against the Browns. He averaged 7.5 yards per carry as the backup to Harris and the undrafted rookie could be playing his way into a more vital role for the Steelers. The offense was at its best when it could be balanced and if Warren can provide some relief for Harris, that should help the steelers get there.
It’s no coincidence that the entire offensive line was outstanding on the same night that the offense looked as sharp as they have all season. Daniels was particularly stout against an immensely talented Browns front seven. Sure, their opponents were without Jadaveon Clowny and lost multiple starting linebackers, but this is the third straight game that has caused you to look up and reconsider whether or not the line is truly a weak link in the offense.
Freiermuth didn’t get a target until the waning minutes of the fourth quarter after being one of Trubisky’s favorite pass-catchers through Weeks 1 and 2. His pair of 20-yard catches, which came on the same drive, made one wish Trubisky had been able to find him more often in the second half, when the Steelers were struggling to even collect first downs.
Witherspoon faced a tough matchup but did not make the most of his chance to faceoff against the Browns’ number one wideout. Amari Cooper burned Witherspoon over and over to the tune of six receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers were unable to send help over with Nick Chubb gashing them in the run game and Witherspoon paid the price before exiting early with a hamstring injury.
Steelers Run Defense
For the second straight game, the Steelers defense got worn down by a powerful, run-first opponent. Nick Chubb is perhaps the most difficult running back in the NFL to tackle this side of Derrick Henry, but it really doesn’t matter when you are looking to win football games. Mike Tomlin said so himself.
“If you can’t slow down Chubb, you can’t beat this group.”
The reality is that this defense needs to be tougher against the run if this team hopes to win. They’ve allowed opponents to drain the clock with a lead late in consecutive close fourth quarters. Whether it’s fair or not to ask for so much is irrelevant. No other part of this team is more important to overall success than the ability to play well against the run for four quarters.