Script flips on Steelers in second half as they stumble in Cleveland

Brian Batko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Football

CLEVELAND — These Thursday night affairs on the banks of Lake Erie are becoming quite the chore for the Steelers. Three years after a memorable late-week loss to the Browns in primetime, one that ended with an all-out brawl, Cleveland pushed over the Steelers legally this time in a 29-17 win that sent Pittsburgh to its second consecutive defeat.

Now 1-2 on the season and 1-1 in the division, the Steelers found a groove in the first half but fizzled in the second after taking a 14-13 lead into the locker room. They emerged either uninspired, unadjusted or both, and the Browns pulled away behind tough running from Nick Chubb, smash-mouth blocking from their oft-dominant offensive line and a sharp performance from journeyman quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

Chubb rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, but that’s to be expected from perhaps the NFL’s best bruiser. More surprising was Brissett dicing up the Steelers defense to the tune of 220 yards and two scores on 21 of 31 passing. It was more of the same for the Steelers in their second game without T.J. Watt, notching just two sacks, the first of which came in the first quarter and the other in the fourth when the game was all but out of reach.

Mitch Trubisky’s outing will be the subject of much scrutiny, again and of course. He finished with just 209 yards through the air on 19 of 31 passing and botched the final possession of the first half but looked much more effective scrambling and throwing on the run outside the pocket. He could’ve had a bigger game with a bit of help from his receivers, including the usually reliable Diontae Johnson, who failed to secure Trubisky’s best play of the day — a perfectly placed deep ball that dropped right over top of a defender and into Johnson’s chest.

It was over when: The Steelers settled for a 35-yard Chris Boswell field goal with 1:48 left, then couldn’t recover the ensuing onside kick. Mike Tomlin had just one timeout left, so Cleveland was able to run out the clock from there. The Browns added a garbage-time touchdown on a fumble recovery in the end zone as time expired.


Player of the game: Amari Cooper. It would be easy to pick Brissett or Chubb, but the Browns’ new target acquired this offseason to be the go-to guy in lieu of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry looked every bit of a No. 1 receiver. He put seemingly every Steelers defensive back in the blender at some point, from scoring an early touchdown on Terrell Edmunds in one-on-one coverage to crossing up Ahkello Witherspoon with his route-running to catching a 32-yard pass on Cam Sutton in the fourth quarter. He had a couple of drops, but he was a headache for the Steelers all night.

Trending up: Dan Moore Jr. Of all that went wrong for the Steelers in this one, kudos go to the second-year left tackle for his work against Browns superstar Myles Garrett. Often matched up with each other on the edge, Garrett finished with just two pressures against Trubisky and never hit or sacked him. Now, that’s due in large part to a Steelers game plan that consistently rolled or sprinted out Trubisky to his right, away from Garrett, but Moore held his own after looking like a turnstile at times in the preseason.

Trending down: Edmunds. After surrendering the first-quarter touchdown to Cooper, Edmunds found himself one on one again in the red zone later in the game against tight end David Njoku, who beat him for a 7-yard touchdown catch. Now, Njoku is a dynamic athlete, but Edmunds was a first-round pick himself and failed to close the gap in coverage or knock the ball loose. After being quiet the first two games (in a good way), it appeared = the Browns decided to target Edmunds on a short week of preparation.

Next up: A 10-day lay-off before returning home to Acrisure Stadium to face the 1-1 Jets, who stunned these same Browns for a 31-30 comeback victory in Week 2. Joe Flacco and the Jets play host to the Bengals at 1 p.m. Sunday.

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