Flavell's Five Thoughts: Steelers Show NFL They're Real
Ben Roethlisberger against the Cleveland Browns has been laughable over the course of his career. Ben Roethlisberger at Heinz Field against the Cleveland Browns has been virtually untouchable. Today's 38-7 romping of the Browns was in no way surprising when those things are considered. It's been a long time, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are 5-0.
Heading into the game, Cleveland sat at 4-1 and starting to look like a legitimate playoff contender. Following their annual road loss to the Steelers, it seems the Browns of old are back.
I have a lot of thoughts on this game. Let's discuss what transpired in the blowout.
Steelers secondary got the last laugh on Sunday
If you've been following the Steelers through their first four games, you've probably scratched your head a few times, wondering if last year's version of itself was left in 2019. If Sunday is any indication, the Steelers would like this version to stay.
The front seven did their usual job of getting after Baker Mayfield and his eventual replacement, Case Keenum. Mayfield has proven to panic under pressure, and Sunday's result was no different. This seemed to make the secondary's job rather easy.
Minkah Fitzpatrick under-cut a route on Cleveland's opening drive and took it back to the house for a pick-six and an early 10-0 lead. Mayfield seemed to lock onto his target, and Fitzpatrick read it like a book. Later on in the game, Cameron Sutton picked off a Mayfield lob pass on a questionable throw that didn't have much of a chance at being completed.
With the early 10-0 lead, the Browns were forced to abandon their run-game, something they would've liked to stick with if the game script didn't force them to go away from it. That gave the Steelers secondary the opportunity to step on the Browns' throat.
With all of Mayfield's weapons in the passing game, there is no excuse for his lack of success to this point. Good on the Steelers secondary for limiting big plays and swinging the momentum into their favor.
James Conner embraced the bell-cow workload today
Conner was used in a true bell cow role Sunday afternoon, taking the ball 20 times and gaining 101 yards. He averaged 5.0 yards a carry and had a score on the ground.
Conner ran with a purpose in this game. On multiple occasions, Conner looked to be stopped in the backfield. He turned many of those gains into positive runs. He ran hard and made a lot of would-be tacklers miss. Any doubters Conner has are slowly being quieted.
If Conner can stay healthy all season, it would be a huge plus for the Steelers. The game was far enough out of reach that Benny Snell Jr. had an opportunity to get some totes late in the game. He added a touchdown of his own on six carries.
Keeping Conner fresh and healthy is certainly a priority, so holding him out for the majority of the fourth quarter was a good idea. They're facing two very good defenses in the next two weeks, so they'll need him.
Mike Tomlin gave Conner his unequivocal support after a rough first game by the running back. Since then, Conner has rewarded Tomlin's faith with multiple 100-yard performances. Tomlin has a track record of winning, so trusting a decision by him is probably wise going forward.
Steelers' inflicted punishment' as Heyward said they would
Never give the Steelers bulletin board material. Kareem Hunt learned that the hard way when he said the Browns were "doing it for Myles." Of course, he was referring to the incident from last season between Garrett and Steelers backup quarterback Mason Rudolph.
When asked, Heyward said he wasn't going to get into the chaos. He instead wanted to inflict punishment on the Browns and Mayfield.
Mayfield went into the game, banged up with a rib injury. The Steelers were unrelenting in their pursuit of Mayfield with four sacks and seven QB hits. Almost all of the hits were rather rough and brutal hits as well.
The pass rush didn't stop when Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski pulled the plug on Mayfield and went with Keenum.
The front seven has been nearly unstoppable in the first five games. They've led the league in sacks in four straight seasons and are looking to make it five this time around. As long as Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt stay healthy coming off the edge, the Steelers will be fine rushing the quarterback.
As for the Browns potent run game, the Steelers shut down the Browns. Cleveland rushed for 75 yards on 22 carries. Hunt averaged 3.1 yards per carry on his 13 chances.
Hunt has been one of the better runners in the league in the early going. Taking over for Nick Chubb following his injury, Hunt has largely succeeded. His lack of success today was part of the long list of reasons that the Browns were beaten so handily.
Roethlisberger's efficiency key to Steelers success so far
If your team's defense can force turnovers and your team's offense limits them, that is one of the biggest keys to success. Luckily for the Steelers, they're doing well in both departments currently.
Roethlisberger tossed another game without throwing an interception. He still has thrown only one on the year so far. If the pace continues, Roethlisberger will throw the least amount of picks in his career.
Through five games, Roethlisberger is not posting eye-popping MVP numbers in the yardage department. However, by taking what the defense is giving him, the Steelers are 5-0 and averaging over 30 points per game. He is getting the ball into the hands of his playmakers and letting them do the work.
Roethlisberger has been throwing the deep ball a bit more accurately over the past two games as well. He found Chase Claypool on a 36-yard dime that led to a touchdown. His lone touchdown pass of the game was to James Washington on a 28-yard score. Washington was ten yards ahead of the nearest defender but Roethlisberger's pass was right on the money nonetheless.
At 38-years old, asking Roethlisberger to throw for 5,000 yards isn't realistic. Father time limits some of the things Big Ben could do five years ago. However, maybe this version of Roethlisberger is going to be the best we've seen in years. The stats won't be gaudy but his efficiency and ability to maintain possession of the ball is key to the Steelers' continued success.
They are who we thought they were
I think that one speaks for itself.
The famous Dennis Green quote applied to the Browns heading into the game at 4-1, thinking they were for real. In typical Browns fashion, they came apart at the seams.
Mayfield absolutely shrunk under the greatest of pressure. The Browns' run game was non-existent. Defensively, the Browns couldn't handle the plethora of weapons offensively for Pittsburgh.
Even Myles Garrett, the only real threat to T.J. Watt's early-season Defensive Player of the Year award, was neutralized by Chukwuma Okorafor. I really thought the Browns would find every opportunity to match Garrett up against Alejandro Villanueva. They didn't. He did sack Roethlisberger on a play where he was chipped by a few players and then totally forgotten about and finished off Roethlisberger as he was wrapped up. But in the grand scheme of things, Garrett was a non-factor. Credit to Pittsburgh's offensive line.
Honorable Mention to Robert Spillane
I wanted to throw this in there to give credit where it is due.
The Steelers defense took a crushing blow losing their defensive signal-caller Devin Bush. It looks as though his ACL is torn, and he'll be lost for the season. In such a big win, the Steelers also suffered a moral loss in Bush's injury.
Spillane filled in admirably for the remainder of the game. The second-year linebacker out of Western Michigan is now the incumbent starter following Bush's injury.
Can he produce over the course of the season? Maybe. The Steelers may want to get some insurance in case Spillane doesn't quite look like he did today.
Spillane looked quick and explosive today. He made six tackles, including one for a loss. He was all over the field and looked like someone who wanted to continue to earn playing time.
No one is going to give you what Bush does. He has blossomed into one of the better coverage linebackers in the league. Bush looked ready to become one of the best interior linebackers in the league. Now, in year two, he'll serve the remainder of the season on the injured reserve.
That is a shame, but if Spillane can provide even a fraction of the energy and passion he did today, maybe the loss won't be as problematic as it seems on paper.