Week 3 Takeaways: Steelers run out of gas, can’t finish the Browns

On a short week, following a loss to the New England Patriots at home, the Pittsburgh Steelers were on the road against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. While the first half of the game showed some spark from several players who seemed to have turned the criticism from fans into motivation for improvement, the second half saw the Steelers offense once again fizzle as the defense ran out of gas due to spending too much time on the field as the Browns offense fired on all cylinders. The result was an abysmal final play of the game that is sure to have fans talking even more after Thursday Night’s loss by a score of 29-17.

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Steelers offense improved, but inconsistent

After days of near-nonstop debates on social media between fans about who was responsible for the anemic offense for the Steelers – Matt Canada and Mitchell Trubisky the main targets – the debate is sure to continue during a mini-bye as Pittsburgh won’t play again until October 2. The Steelers were slow to get started, improved enough to look like they could stay in the game, only to fall apart in the fourth quarter.

The Week 3 loss can’t all be placed on the shoulders of Trubisky or Canada, though.

While Jaylen Warren was giving fellow running back Najee Harris a breather, he had a nice run but then later lost the ball for a fumble that was recovered by Diontae Johnson. Warren wasn’t seen for the remainder of the game.

Johnson had some nice catches but was frustrated on other plays where the ball was off-target, as did Chase Claypool. Trubisky seemingly could not see tight end Pat Freiermuth at all until very late in the game, despite No. 88 being wide open several times during the game.

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A backward-diving catch by rookie receiver George Pickens may go down in history as one of the greatest catches by an NFL receiver.

Unfortunately, it may be overshadowed by a near-interception in the end zone that was only averted because defender Martin Emerson Jr. stepped out of bounds as he took the ball away.

A penalty on the onside kick that may have allowed the Steelers to make one last real shot on offense showed that Pickens needs to find a little discipline in handling emotion and maturity in order to be counted on in big-game situations moving forward.

The most improved squad on offense this week had to be the offensive line. Minus a few mistakes, the offensive front did well protecting Trubisky – even when the quarterback rolled out to make a passing play. They received a heavy dose of criticism prior to the game but looked like they’d spent the necessary time together to elevate their play as a unit on Thursday night.

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Trubisky, who’s been under fire since training camp, came out looking like he had a chip on his shoulder and nothing but intentions to prove everyone wrong.

With a mix of up-tempo plays in both the run game and passing situations, Trubisky and the offense were able to post 247 yards through the first three quarters. Trubisky even ran into the end zone for a touchdown, having called his own number on the play.

The offense struggled to convert third downs and in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh had back-to-back possessions where they were unable to convert and had to punt the ball away. Unfortunately, that put the Browns in a solid position to let Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt punish a Steelers defense that had to, once again, spend too much time on the field.

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Defense unable to stop Cleveland’s offense

There was a post-game quote from Minkah Fitzpatrick that may have perfectly summed up what happened to the Steelers defense:

“They did what they wanted to and we could not do anything to stop them.”

That included the safety who’d posted interceptions in back-to-back games in Weeks One and Two of the 2022 NFL regular season. Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett was a capable game manager and the game plan Cleveland drew up to keep the Steelers’ “D” off balance was executed well.

The Browns mixed their runs and passes with different tempos that created some big mismatches for Pittsburgh.

Short yardage was where Cleveland hurt the Steelers the most, though, with Brissett able to pick up two different first-and-short gains on a simple quarterback sneak. Brissett completed 21-of-31 passes for 22o yards and two touchdowns while feeding both his rushers and the receivers.

“If you can’t slow down Chubb, you can’t beat this group,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said following the game. “We kind of knew that and we didn’t get it done.”

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The sealed deal and final thoughts

The Steelers may have opted for one of the most ridiculous plays I’ve ever witnessed from Pittsburgh in a very long time with under ten seconds left in the final quarter of the game and needing 96 yards to get to the end zone for a score.

Granted, the Steelers needed ten points to tie the Browns, but the play was outrageous and had a zero shot of getting Pittsburgh anything positive. Zero.

Whoever thought that a bizarre tossing of the ball and then a collegiate-like lateral session pinned that far into enemy territory was an idea worth executing deserves to be scrutinized. The final straw on a dead-end play was when one Steelers ball-handlers looked to have attempted to lateral to an offensive lineman who was trying to block.

The resulting fumble – which may or may not have been pushed forward illegally by the Browns (a review never occurred) – was subsequently recovered by Denzel Ward for a Cleveland touchdown!

If there were any questions about trust in the Steelers locker room, there should be after this game. Why did Trubisky not simply throw a “Hail Mary” pass and let those final seconds end down the field? Who called the play? What was the purpose of giving Cleveland a chance to score on a turnover when a run would have finished the game without putting anyone in danger of getting hurt, except morale-wise (which was inevitable considering the loss)?

I’d never suggest that Pittsburgh stop fighting for a win. In this case, though, handing the Browns an undeserved touchdown due to pure insanity on a horribly executed… well, whatever it was meant to be, play was a complete failure by the Steelers and an embarrassing exclamation point to a game that showed moments of promise until it became apparent they would not, could not, finish the Browns.

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