Film Room: How the Steelers defense got things done against the Browns

For those looking for Josh (who usually does this weekly column) I have the pleasure of informing you that he “has his hands full”.


Please congratulate the Fitzers on their new baby girl (and member of Steelers Nation!).

With Josh predisposed for the time being, I’m taking the reigns on a rather odd defensive film room this week. Mike Tomlin and company decided to play just about everyone except James Harrison and Stephon Tuitt on defense, and they didn’t have their prettiest showing; though it got better as the game went on.

Still, the Steelers were the beneficiaries of a number of key mistakes by the Cleveland Browns; mistakes that cannot happen against a quality opponent in the playoffs. (Including several turnovers in scoring position.)

Bad tackling rounds out how Isaiah Crowell piled on over 100 rushing yards, and the Browns got themselves into these scoring opportunities via their own splash plays. Yet, a victory is a victory, and Pittsburgh’s defense had some good things appear on film this week.

We once again start with Sean Davis, who was clearly the defensive MVP of this game with 8 solo tackles (1 for loss) 2 QB hits, a fumble recovery, and this sack on Cleveland’s Robert Griffin III.

I was screaming at the defense at the start of this game, because they weren’t getting pressure early on. Jarvis Jones got the start in place of Harrison, and continues to have trouble getting pressure off of the edge.

This time, the Steelers stack Jones, but out to the left. Sean Davis, and off the screen, William Gay, will come off of Jones’ usual right side, and are able to beat the Browns linemen. Bud Dupree comes from the left, and contains RG3, who has nowhere to go.

Dupree would show up on the stat sheet later on in the third quarter, forcing a fumble in the process of adding another sack to his yearly total.

In their traditional 3-4 package, the Steelers once again drop Jarvis Jones into coverage, rushing only four: three defensive linemen upfront (Daniel McCullers, Javon Hargrave and Letterius Walton) plus Dupree. It’s Dupree all the way, beating his one-on-one for the sack/strip, but watch Hargrave in the middle, as he manhandles Browns Center Anthony Fabiano.

Hargrave and Fabiano are both highlighted in the next two clips. First, check out the awareness of Javon in this play:

79 once again lines up in the “A” gap between Fabiano and Browns RG Austin Pasztor, which draws a double-team from them. Bud Dupree works inside, but the misdirection play is intended for Browns FB Danny Vitale the entire way. Pasztor lets go of the double-team, and Hargrave, realizing the guard is pulling for a screen pass, muscles off Fabiano and drops Vitale for a 1-yard loss.

These are the type of situations that make Hargrave a special talent in the making. I often criticized Jarvis Jones for not being able to have the same awareness level (though in fairness, Jones had a fairly decent game on Sunday).

That leaves us with a line straight out of an infomercial: “but wait… there’s more!”

Unfortunately, it’s Fabiano again, who this time draws “Big” Daniel McCullers.

Pittsburgh brings five on a blitz, with each “hat on a hat”. This leaves McCullers one-on-one with Fabiano, who is 6-1, 303, but McCullers is 6-7, 352!

If you wanted to talk a literal mismatch, and if you wanted to see Big Dan get “angry”, than he certainly hulked up when needed on this sack. (Wow, what a mass of humanity falling on RG3… shocked he wasn’t injured, because I swear he’s made of glass!)

We really haven’t gotten into the meat of those turnovers discussed above, and most were beat to death on live TV, so I didn’t feel the need to rehash Shazier dropping into zone coverage (likely on a QB spy of Griffin) for an interception, or the various fumbles that were recovered, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the Browns beating themselves at the very end of the game.

In overtime, Cleveland has a 2nd and goal from the 2-yard line. A touchdown wins the game, but instead of testing the Steelers run defense, the Browns attempt a screen pass.

What’s the worst that can happen, right?

William Gay gets a gold star for instantly recognizing the screen, and fighting through his block. The effort is enough to disrupt WR Andrew Hawkins, who then doubles back in an unfortunate situation where every other Steeler knows what’s happening!

Among those in pursuit are:

  • Jarvis Jones, who nearly gets his fingertips on the pass and works off his block
  • L.T. Walton, who gets a second wind and almost makes the first tackle
  • Ryan Shazier, the fastest linebacker on the field, who finishes the play

The result was a loss of 14 yards on the play, and placing Cleveland in a much harder to convert 3rd and 16 with goal-to-go.

But wait, there’s more!

The Browns nearly get knocked into the fringe of field goal range on the very next play!

George Atkinson… thanks for coming!

You can tell the Browns are concerned with both McCullers and Walton on this play, as each draws a double-team. Bud Dupree is picked up by the left tackle, while Lawrence Timmons doesn’t even realize the running back, Atkinson, is even there!

RG3 is forced out of the pocket, pushed deeper by McCullers (who Griffin avoids) and pursued by none other than Walton! (Seriously, hit play again and watch the motor on this guy too.)

The outstanding play stops a series of third down conversions (two off of penalties) in the redzone, and Cleveland is forced to kick a 34-yard field goal into the open end of Heinz Field.

Honestly, if Timmons or McCullers bring down RG3 on this play, a field goal may have not happened either: Parkey missed a 49-yarder earlier, at the same end.

Regardless, these two defensive plays, along with the rest of the series, kept Cleveland from scoring the sudden death touchdown to win, and setup Landry Jones and the offense for the game-winning drive.

The defense wasn’t always pretty, but I believe it finally “clicked” at some point that this game wasn’t “meaningless” and the players finally got down to the business of football.

That didn’t work out too well for the Browns, who dropped to their 15th loss of the season… but it does work out well for the Steelers, who extend their winning streak to seven, heading into this week’s Wild Card game against the Miami Dolphins. Tackling will have to improve, but Pittsburgh could exploit many of the same holes with the Dolphins offensive line, as their center Mike Pouncey (brother of Steelers center Maurkice) out for this game.

His replacement, Kraig Urbik, is a more experienced player, but not to the level of the Pouncey twins.

That has me optimistic that the Steelers defense will once again rise to the occasion this Sunday.

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