2022 Steelers Season Recall: Thursday Night Football sets up Steelers for failure in Cleveland
Steel City Underground presents our 2022 Steelers Recall: a look back at Pittsburgh Steelers games and storylines from last season.
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, 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.
Finger pointing would begin following this game, which was played on a short week and on the road, the usual recipes for disaster on an NFL team’s schedule. The scapegoats were offensive coordinator Matt Canada and starting veteran quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky was 20 of 32 for 207 yards during the game, but failed to throw a touchdown pass – or an interception. Yet, his yards-per-attempt were a paltry 6.5 and if not for a crazy one-handed catch by George Pickens, things may have been worse.
Unfortunately, it may have been 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.
However, the Week 3 loss can’t all be placed on the shoulders of Trubisky or Canada. 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.
Yet, 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. Yet, for the missed field goal attempt early on and the back-to-back touchdown drives, the Steelers would punt on four consecutive second half drives and muster only another three points off of Chris Boswell‘s foot to finish the game.
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. 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. 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.
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.”
Out of desperation, and down 23-17 with nine seconds remaining in the game, the Steelers attempted a bizarre tossing of the ball and then a collegiate-like lateral session which ended with an attempted lateral to one of the offensive linemen, that was subsequently recovered by Denzel Ward for a Cleveland touchdown.
As noted earlier, the loss would send the Steelers to 1-2 on the season by a final score of 29-17, and opened the conversation of whether or not Trubisky would be benched during the “mini bye week” in favor of starting rookie Kenny Pickett against the New York Jets. Of course, we know what happens next and will cover that in our next Season Recall feature.