David Todd: Quick Thoughts On Week 1: Steelers Versus Browns

The Pittsburgh Steelers opened their 2017 campaign Sunday on a beautiful late summer afternoon at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland against the Browns. The weather was about the only thing that was beautiful as the Steelers struggled mightily on offense, were heavily penalized on both sides of the ball and gave up a late touchdown, but still came away with a 21-18 victory. Antonio Brown was the star, catching all 11 passes thrown his way for 182 yards. A blocked punt for a touchdown on the fifth play of the game and two short touchdown catches by Jesse James accounted for the 21 points. Defensively the Steelers were able to get consistent pressure on Browns rookie QB DeShone Kizer, sacking him seven times and limiting Cleveland to 237 total yards. But the Browns were able to stay in it until the end. They drove 73 yards in seven plays, scoring on a fourth down and converting the ensuing two-point play, to get within a field goal late in the fourth quarter, but the Steelers were able to run out the last 3:36 to secure the win.

In one of the more remarkable stats you will see, with the win Ben Roethlisberger became the winningest QB in First Energy Stadium history. It was his 11th win since the stadium opened in 1999. No Browns starter has won more than 10 games at home during that time. Roethlisberger raised his career regular season record to 21-2 vs Cleveland. While the Browns do look like an improved team, they dropped their 13th consecutive opener. Ouch.

Injuries:

*Stephon Tuitt left with an injury to his left biceps during the Steelers first series and did not return. A torn biceps would likely be a season-ending injury for the Steelers defensive end who signed a 6-year, $61 million contract the day before the game.

UPDATE: Indications Monday afternoon are that the injury is not severe and Tuitt will not be out for the season, though he will miss time.

The inactive list was relatively straight forward. Bud Dupree did not practice on Friday and wasn’t active. He was joined by quarterback Joshua Dobbs, wide receiver Justin Hunter, offensive linemen Jerald Hawkins and Matt Feiler, defensive lineman Daniel McCullers and cornerback Brian Allen.

Offense:

It was not an impressive offensive performance. The Steelers struggled with their execution and repeatedly found themselves playing behind the chains because of penalties. On their first four possessions the Steelers ran 18 plays gaining a total of 50 yards while being penalized three times for 25 yards. They didn’t register their first first down until the first play of the second quarter. They did have touchdown drives of 91 and 75 yards and converted both opportunities in the red zone, but it was not a strong start to the season. Since Martavis Bryant was drafted in 2014, Sunday’s game was just the 12th of a possible 55 games that he, Ben, Bell and Brown have played together. In the first 11 games they averaged more than 29 points and 400+ total yards of offense. Needless to say, on this day, they weren’t anywhere close to those numbers.

The Good:

*Of course, you can exclude Antonio Brown when talking about not living up to expectations. He was fantastic. Of his 11 catches, three were varying levels of spectacular and they were all different which defines the brilliance of AB. Late in the second quarter, the offense faced a 2nd-and-8 from its own 11, having done nothing to that point. AB was able to catch a tipped ball and turn it into a 50-yard gain up the middle of the field to set up the first touchdown. For me, his most impressive catch occurred early in the fourth quarter on a 2nd-and-6. Brown ran a quick slant from the right side. The Cleveland corner grabbed his left arm as Roethlisberger delivered a bullet right on the numbers. Brown caught the ball one-handed, in-stride, shook free of the defender and gained 16 yards. It all happened so fast the refs didn’t even throw a flag. It was a catch I’ve watched Brown spend countless hours practicing with the Juggs machine during training camp. He made it look simple. The third occurred with under three minutes to go with the offense facing a 2nd-and-12 from its own 18—behind the chains once again. Brown was flanked right. Roethlisberger scrambled as AB crossed the field and basically lofted a pass into a crowd of AB and three Browns defenders who obviously just need to deflect the ball to get an incompletion. Instead Brown, all 5’11” of him, went up and made the play. First down. Game over. Is 150 catches and 2,000 yards receiving a possibility? Unlikely, but…

Just to finish the numbers on Brown, his 182 receiving yards included 95 yards after the catch. He also had a 15-yard catch nullified due to a penalty and drew a 41-yard pass interference penalty. Quite a day.

*Jesse James tied a career-high with six catches and had his first-ever two touchdown game. The second TD catch was impressive as Ben delivered the ball into a very tight window and James was able to hold on with a defender immediately all over him. However my favorite James play occurred on 1st-and-10 with 3:33 remaining and the Steelers looking to close things out. Ben hit James with a short pass in the right flat. He had a linebacker right in front of him. James took a hard step inside. The linebacker followed and James stopped and cut back out for and 8-yard gain as the LB stumbled to the ground. Le’Veon Bell eat your heart out. I’m guessing that will be the first and last time James jukes a defender out of his shoes.

*Last year, at 54.2%, the Steelers were 16th in the NFL converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns. They went 2-for-2 on Sunday.

The Bad:

*With the 30-points-a-game marker still hanging out there, the offense only putting up 14 is a huge disappointment.

*Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant were non-factors Sunday. Bell finished with 10 carries for 32 yards and 3 catches for 15 yards. I wouldn’t be surprised if those are his season-lows in all four categories. Bryant had 2 catches for 14 yards and a drop.

*The offensive line did a decent job protecting Ben, but had trouble opening up holes for the run game. This unit is viewed as one of the the 5 best in the game. More is expected.

*Not the way Steelers second-round pick Juju Smith-Schuster wanted to start his career. He wasn’t targeted in the passing game and was called for two holding penalties. Newly-acquired TE Vance McDonald also got flagged for holding (more like tackling) and couldn’t hold onto his only target.

Defense:

The defense was solid overall, but allowing a rookie QB to drive his team 73 yards for a TD with under seven minutes to go is a bit disconcerting. The seven sacks certainly stand out, but it is worth noting that a more-experienced quarterback probably gets rid of the ball on at least four or five of those plays.

The Good:

*First-round pick T.J. Watt had quite the debut with two sacks and a tremendously-athletic interception. Watt is the rare player who has been able to come in and start for the Steelers on defense on day one. Watt only raised already sky-high expectations with his showing. In fact, Steelers coaches thought so much of Watt that James Harrison only saw the field for four plays.

*Javon Hargrave looked dominant on the defensive line, although he only played 25 of a possible 66 snaps. It will be interesting to see if he gets more time with Stephon Tuitt expected to miss at least a couple weeks.

*Anthony Chickillo made the most of his opportunity with Bud Dupree out, registering two sacks and looking like the guy we have seen during his three preseasons.

*The defense held the Browns to 3-for-12 on 3rd down. Last year, opponents converted 42% of third downs against the Steelers which ranked a lowly 24th in the league. A better start yesterday.

The Bad:

*The Steelers defense committed four 15-yard personal foul penalties which is unacceptable. Along with a pass interference call on Sean Davis and a defensive holding call on Artie Burns, the fouls accounted for 6 of the Browns 20 first downs. Ryan Shazier was flagged for a late hit on Kizer. I have serious concerns for Shazier and the way he continually leads with his helmet. We saw it last year with his hit on Gio Bernard and again yesterday. It’s always difficult for a defensive player to know if and when a QB is going to slide, so I don’t fault Shazier much for that. My concern is that he is going to seriously injury himself with the way he uses his helmet. Something to watch going forward. I expect all four players, Shazier, Watt, Gay and Wilcox to be fined.

*The defense has to come up with a stop on that last TD drive. Poor tackling was an issue there.

Special Teams:

A special teams touchdown is always a big deal and to get one five plays into the season was a great way to start.

The Good:

*Excellent play design by Danny Smith and a very good job by Tyler Matakevich to squeeze through the line and perfectly lay out for the block. The Steelers seemed to be more aggressive with their punt-block approach in the preseason (or maybe I’m just imagining it) and it paid off right away. Also a nice job by Chickillo to fall down next to the ball and cradle it in the end zone rather than falling on top if it and risk having it squirt out the back for a safety. (Rosie Nix just missed a second block on the Browns next punt.)

*In a bit of a surprise Eli Rogers was the return man for all five Browns’ punts, returning 3 for 32 yards. I like Rogers in that role, but was surprised Antonio Brown was not used at all. Something to watch.

*Jordan Berry and Chris Boswell did their typical excellent work.

The Bad:

*Jabril Peppers returned one punt for 25 yards. You never like to see that.

Coaching:

Steelers fans reflexively reach for the undisciplined, unprepared meme any time anything goes wrong for the Steelers. There are times when that is a legitimate line of questioning to pursue and this week is one of those. 13 penalties for 144 yards is ridiculous.

The Good:

*I don’t think there is a lot of praise to be handed out to the coaching staff on this one. They got a win on the road. Ok.

The Bad:

*Regular readers know I pay close attention to clock management. With 1:53 left in the first half the Steelers had a first down at the Browns 28 and all three timeouts left. That is a ton of time. On the next play Ben completed a 19-yard pass to AB to the Cleveland 9. The Steelers called their first timeout. That was absolutely the wrong decision. Yes, these are minor details, but there is no reason to call timeout there. After an incompletion used eight seconds, Le’Veon Bell ran the ball down to the 4-yard line. The Steelers took their time, lined up and Ben then found Jesse James for the touchdown. They left 45 seconds on the clock. Kizer was unlikely to do much with 45 seconds, but that is plenty of time for Tom Brady or Aaron Rogers who the Steelers will face later in the season. The Steelers repeatedly make these types of mistakes and sooner or later it’s going to hurt them.

Big Officiating Calls:

*I think the officials generally had a pretty good day and didn’t have an impact on the outcome.

Up Next: The Steelers will take on the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, September 17, the home opener at Heinz Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 EST.

Reminder: You can follow me on twitter @DavidMTodd.

 

 

 

  • SteelPierogie

    David it’s nice to read your input on the game. Just wanted to say that I thourghly enjoyed your radio show. It was,in my opinion, the best show on 970. Keep up the good work, and please keep us updated on your next endeavor.

  • CP72

    Told David on Twitter that if Dupree had Chickillo’s game we would say he has a chance of being DPOY.

  • David Todd

    Thanks!

  • hoptown

    Love you pointing out the clock mismanagement. Tomlin and crew make at least one significant clock mistake every game.

    Don’t get me started on spiking the ball and wasting a down when you have timeouts left…

  • falconsaftey43

    I second those feelings. Loved David’s show and perspective in general

  • M Ohia

    Same

  • Michael Conrad

    On to next week.

    The Vikings are good and the QB is real good .Time to shake off the rust. Time for a better game planning and step it up. The Viking are not push overs on Offense or Defense.

  • JohnB

    Dave I’m with you 100% on this writeup of the game. My only question is why do you never seem to harp on Haley? I thought he dropped the ball big time in this game and in the past but i rarely see you call him out like you do Tomlin.

  • Phil Brenneman II

    Nice recap David and I am specifically excited you had the same feelings I did about a few things during the game.

    1. You are absolutely right about the most impressive catch from AB being the 1 handed grab with a DB grabbing his arm. Was yelling for a flag as it happened. The crazy part isn’t even the catch so much as just how casual AB made it look. Like it is just another day at the office for him….and it is.

    2. LOVE that you give Jesse James props for that juke move. I think my jaw hit the floor watching it in real time and my family and I had a good laugh watching Jesse James actually get more than 1 YAC and actually showing some fancy footwork.

    Lastly I want to tell you again DT (at least I think I have told you before) that I love the idea of you harping on the clock management and more specifically the reason why you do it. Process is important in the things we do and often times people let the results wash away flaws in the process and that is a bad habit. I am not one who has many teachers or people in their past when I think “man, I really learned something of great value from that person” but that is one I picked up from you and I appreciate you talking about it so often. A lot of value in it if people are willing to listen.

  • Phil Brenneman II

    I am not answering for David but I would think the general idea is that we can be 100% certain Tomlin is making the clock decisions whereas with Haley we don’t necessarily know how much is on him vs Ben making his own calls or changes at the line.

    And then of course there is the execution aspect. I HATED all of those screens to start the game but might it have looked better if our WR’s on the outside had blocked better?

  • David Todd

    Largely agree with this. Clock management is mostly black and white. Play calling is every shade in between. That is the gameplan that is put in all week. So many variables and moving parts on a group effort.

  • David Todd

    Thanks, Phil!

  • JohnB

    I agree…Screens were bad yes, I dont think Juju should have been out there. Ive said before the game he should be earning his keep on S/Ts first. and it showed. But it wasnt all on him. But we were in the RZ again. with a top 5 o-line and the best RB in the league, missed preseason or not, and we go empty set?!?! yeah we scored but it was a VERY narrow window.

  • MK

    Good stuff DT! Hopefully this is a weekly thing now.

    P.S. I’m going to have to get used to the new intro on the podcast.

  • Craig M

    Just out of curiosity, what is your position an a 2Back Off. on 1st and 2nd downs? Seems to me it gives Ben way better protection, gives better blocking for the run game, offers more options in the short pass/ run game options. And if used properly sets up the middle/ long pass game through influence on the Def.. P.S. Agree totally w/ your write up on all parts.

  • JohnB

    I’ve been wanting this since Haley got here because he used it well in KC. But I rarely see him use it here and never to its potential even when we had Bell and Williams. One of my many criticisms I have with how he runs the O side.

  • Buccos9

    Ben also showed sloppiness in time management. In the last Steelers possession of the game, before the catch by Antonio Brown to clinch the win, Ben snapped the ball with about 11 seconds left on the play clock. A veteran QB like Ben should know better.

    Thankfully, Hue Jackson made questionable use of his team’s timeouts near the end of the game. After Antonio Brown made that catch, Jackson took his team’s second timeout to give his staff time to review replays. Then he challenged the catch unsuccessfully and lost the Browns’ third timeout. Yes, it was an important play, but either challenge it right away and save your last timeout, or don’t challenge the play at all given that there were still more than two minutes left to play. If Jackson had saved his two timeouts, the Browns could have forced the Steelers to make another first down or try a field goal with close to two minutes left in the game. The Cleveland fan I watched the game with was not a happy camper.

  • Scunge

    I can’t really get upset with the use of the timeout at the end of the half. Sure, we can look at it in hindsight and say, hey, they scored the TD and left 45 seconds for the Browns but at the time what were Haley/Tomlin really thinking?

    They were probably thinking, it is important to score a TD here and we are going to use these timeouts to make it happen. They just watched this offense shoot itself in the foot with holding penalties multiple times, JuJu and McDonald playing in their first game ever as Steelers. They watched Bell not being his usual self. They were watching the offense being out of sync and “off”.

    So, should we be critical that they used a timeout too early, or left time on the clock? I don’t really think you can, these things are not scripted. You can’t just know how things would turn out. With the new players we had out there on offense, with some old players that hadn’t played in a while like Bryant, and even with Bell who the team hadn’t played with since the NE playoff game, maybe that timeout was crucial to take to settle things down and make the resulting touchdown possible. Just my take.

  • David Todd

    Problem is it means Eli Rogers probably comes off the field. I’m a big Rogers fan. Using it occasionally is fine, but I wouldn’t have it be a staple.

  • David Todd

    Yes. I should have included that. I was watching closely. He snapped the ball with 8 seconds left on the play clock. Have to take that down to 1 or 2. As we saw in the SB.

  • David Todd

    This wasn’t second guessing or hindsight. I don’t do that. I said it at the time. We can agree to disagree. There were 95 seconds left and they were on the 9 yard line. You can run 7 or 8 plays easily in that amount of time if you want to. The incompletion took 8 seconds. Very clear to me they made a mistake. Just huddle up and get to the line and run another play just like the did the entire drive.

  • The Tony

    Dave I really miss listening to you at 4 pm. I truly hope you get back on the air soon!

  • pcantidote

    “I have serious concerns for Shazier and the way he continually leads with his helmet.”

    Please show me one tackle, ever, in the history of the NFL, where a player tackled without leading with his helmet. Ok, not including back when they didn’t wear helmets.

  • Phil Brenneman II

    Shazier specifically has a tendency to spear with the top of his helmet. Proper tackling form is lead with the shoulder, face up. So no matter what you do your helmet and head are involved but your eyes should always be up. Shazier goes in like a ram.

  • pcantidote

    You say spear, I say he plays with insane speed and reckless disregard and sometimes things get in the way of his helmet.

  • Phil Brenneman II

    Key word there is reckless no?

  • pcantidote

    Exactly. When you say spear it denotes intent.

  • MC

    Cam Hewyard has flown under the radar this game. He looked great, got really good penetration and showed his motor. That run play for a loss where he drove the guard back 5 yards was a thing of beauty. We need him and Tuitt together for the whole season.

  • Phil Brenneman II

    Oh I see what you mean and I would disagree. I think there is some intent there with Shazier. Polamalu was what I would call reckless but he still had good technique most of the time. Shazier looks like he was never taught how to properly target or simply doesn’t care.

  • JT

    Missed you on the post game as well! You and Charlie made a great team.

  • pcantidote

    I don’t buy it. Nothing about him suggests dirty to me. He may not have the best technique but there is no intent there IMO.

  • Phil Brenneman II

    Well ignorance of proper technique is as or more dangerous than dirty intent. Something he needs to change regardless.

  • pcantidote

    somewhere in there I think we agree 😉

  • TheEE

    While we’re complaining about bad clock management, how about when Tomlin called time out on defense on second down with about 30 seconds left in the half? Even after the TO, the Browns could have run out the clock. As it was, if they convert the first down, we’ve given them more time.

  • Lambert58

    *Correction* Hargrave looked dominant on PASSING plays. Not so much on running plays.

  • Jordan James

    I’m a bigger fan of Nix. I think there are many more options for the offense when Nix replaces Rogers.

  • Lambert58

    Looked like Gay was feeding off of Haden’s swaggitude. Still a step slow at times but played with energy & physicality.

  • Rusted Out

    Maybe not DPOY, but I’d already be celebrating a double digit sack season.

  • Scunge

    Fair enough, I can see how some might have that view. Me? I have seen many times over the last few seasons where we did have 2 or more timeouts, had plenty of time and it all went to hell and we had to settle for a field goal. In this very game they complete a nice pass to Jesse James and then can’t get the next play in and get a delay of game? This offense is not a well oiled machine right now, if anything this game looked like a 5th preseason game. Under those circumstances of what I was seeing, to me it was probably necessary to call the timeout, to get everybody focused. We will have to agree to disagree.

  • Steeler Fanatic

    Agreed. We wasted s timeout with 1:30 left. WHYYYYYYYY? I would like Tomlin to use the following rules within 2 minutes: 1) Don’t call a timeout if you are on offense when you can use them on defense. 2) Run your plays in less than 10 seconds. It takes us forever to lineup and snap the ball.

  • ND_Steel

    To say Haley has options this year is an understatement! I like the two back offense too. But he has capable players for every option. He can go 4 wide, three TEs, add an extra tackle in Hubbard, FB lead w/ Nix, pony w/Bell and Conner. I hope he is flexible and can diagnose what will work.

  • DAWAARE

    Ben clearly is not GREAT anymore

  • DIRTY RED!

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    I wouldn’t say that, but he could definitely be better. I just think he needs to make better decisions. He can’t move around and play backyard ball like he used to.

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    There’s a difference between leading with your helmet and launching yourself into someone with your head down. That’s how you end up with a broken neck.

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    It’s not dirty, it’s just dangerous. Even more so for him than the ball carrier.

  • Dan

    You’ll miss him dearly when he’s gone.

  • NavyDoc

    Well done, DT!
    Seeing the Vikings’ defense bully the Saint’s offense last night, let’s hope for a steep learning curve for the Steelers’s offense next week because a performance like this won’t cut it. (we are home though!)

  • Jake

    You have to wait and see what the defense does

  • Joseph DeFazio

    We have been hearing the 30 point a game thing for about 3 years and it hasn’t happened yet – so no reason to thing it will happen this year. And you know what, who cares? As long as the D is better, they won’t need 30. The question is, is the D better?

  • Joseph DeFazio

    Certainly not on the road.

  • SJT63

    Fair enough call the timeout to get everyone focused if you like, but at least let some time run off the clock before you call it.

  • Willy Jojo

    No idea what Watt would get a fine for, he didn’t even touch Kizer. Sure he came in late, but doesn’t need to at least make contact with someone on the other team? Unless he is being penalized for hitting Shazier late…

  • Charlie Fry

    One game … He didn’t play much pre season..let’s give it some time before we judge..