By Ray Porter Jr.
CLEVELAND, OH–As they prepared for their game against the Cleveland Browns, the objective for the Pittsburgh Steelers was to find ways for the offense to stretch the field and score more touchdowns after only scoring 2 in the first two games. And remarkably, the strategy worked.
For one half anyway.
Unfortunately, the 2nd half was a different story as the Browns overcame a 14-13 lead en route to a 29-17 victory over the Steelers at First Energy Stadium and in front of a Thursday Night Football national audience.
“I’d like to compliment Cleveland. They did what was required for victory, and you have to acknowledge that,” said Tomlin. “I thought they controlled the line of scrimmage, particularly in the second half. If you can’t slow down (Browns RB Nick) Chubb, you can’t beat this group. We kind of knew that and we didn’t get it done.”
The Browns running back had a field day against the Steelers as he racked up 113 yards on 23 carries, and his 1-yard TD gave the Browns the winning points in the 4th quarter. Backup RB Kareem Hunt added 47 yards on 12 carries as the Browns finished with 171 yards as a team. QB Jacob Brissett also had a good game as he proved that he was doing more than just keeping the seat warm for the suspended DeShaun Watson. Brissett passed for 220 yards (21/31) and 2 TDs, one to WR Amari Cooper (who they acquired from Dallas in the offseason), who finished with 7 catches for 101 yards.
“They made the plays. They did,” said Tomlin. “In the significant moments, they made it. They were in manageable possession downs. A lot of third down and short. That is usually a high probability for conversions when you’re that short, and really that is kind of the story of how it unfolded over the last 30 minutes.”
Steelers QB Mitch Trubisky said all week that he had to find ways to get the ball to his talented wide receivers, and in the first half, he was able to get it done as he led the Steelers to two scoring drives that not only resulted in 14 points, but the Steelers led 14-13 at halftime. The first score came as a result of a 5-yard TD run by RB Najee Harris (15 carries, 56 yards) and a 1-yard TD run but Trubisky. The offensive line looked stronger, and Trubisky (20/32, 207 yards) displayed more patience with completing passes. Backup RB Jaylen Warren also added 30 yards, including a spectacular run that was nullified due to a penalty.
WR Diontae Johnson finished with 8 catches for 84 yards, and rookie WR George Pickens with 3 catches for 39 yards, including an incredible one-handed sideline catch.
“I thought he made some plays, but we all collectively came up short,” Tomlin said of his quarterback. “That’s how we measure performance. Winning is our business, and we didn’t handle business. We don’t break that apart and look for the feel-good.”
The second half was a challenging one for the Steelers, as the offense appeared to revert to the conservative play-calling by Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada which only produced 3 points in the half. And the defense was unable to stop Chubb and Brissett who pounded their way to victory.
“I thought they controlled the game, man,” said Tomlin. “They possessed the ball. Nick Chubb controlled the game.”
When asked if Tomlin will consider any changes coming into next week, he replied, “I’m not in that mindset. I’m interested in reviewing this tape and looking at the totality of it, and figuring out how we collectively get better. I will answer that question definitely no.”
The Steelers (1-2) will now get 10 days off as they travel back to Pittsburgh to prepare for their next game against the NY Jets. Tomlin didn’t publicly show any desperation, but he, like the rest of the team, knows that they must do whatever it takes to get back to winning.
“We have to own the outcome, and we will, so there’s not really a lot to talk about. We’ll look at this tape and learn, get better, and get better very fast,” Tomlin responded.
Notes: Tomlin addressed the injuries: “No significant injuries other than CB Ahkello Witherspoon. It looks like a hamstring. I’m sure I’ll update you on some of that stuff the next time we get together.”
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