Takeaways from the Steelers’ win over the Browns in Week 2
Steel City Underground presents post-game takeaways from every Pittsburgh Steelers game of the 2023 NFL regular season.
Last week, I got a bit of feedback that I might have been “hard” on Pittsburgh Steelers fans in my post-game takeaways because I saw so many that were ready to cash out after a Week 1 loss. Anyone betting on football would’ve noticed that the Steelers were home underdogs by two points heading into this matchup.
This week, I’ll admit that – as a fan, myself – some complaints were legitimate… and one major grievance really stood out in Week 2 of the 2023 NFL regular season as the Cleveland Browns visited Acrisure Stadium.
Yes, the Steelers grabbed the 26-22 win with the help of final-minute plays from T.J. Watt and Joey Porter Jr. If it hadn’t been for the defense putting points on the board very early and then late in the game getting a pass defense that resulted in the Browns having no shot at a comeback, Pittsburgh may have fallen to 0-2 on the season.
So, let’s jump into the top takeaways, in my opinion, from the Monday Night Football matchup between the AFC North division rivals.
Top complaint: The offensive line is not 100% fixed
While I wholly expected that the Steelers’ offensive front would take time to become a consistently solid unit, it was frustrating to witness another week where the opponent’s defense was so easily allowed to impact how the rest of Pittsburgh’s offense performed. No wonder Kenny Pickett had a less than stellar passing performance and the run game took forever to find any success.
Pickett was pressured relentlessly, which is a credit in large part to how the Browns defensive line and backfield has developed into a legitimately solid unit.
Pickett did have some throws that could have been timed much better, or thrown to a better spot; there’s no denying that. Pickett needs to find his rhythm. He hit a perfectly-thrown ball to George Pickens that shows the talent is there. He needs to get better in mental aspects of the game.
That Pickett had his own offensive linemen tripping him up – due to collapsing under the defense’s attack and being on the turf – shows that the Steelers need to focus, strongly, on improving technique in both pass and run blocking.
As one fan said in a quick message they shot me during the game, “This O line is folding like a wet paper bag. Pickett is struggling and scrambling every play.”
On a short goal-line play, they couldn’t even get enough push to get Najee Harris over it for what should have been an easy conversion. That can’t continue. It’s time for that high “standard” that’s talked about so often to become a key focus for the offense on an upcoming condensed week.
Defense wins championships, one game at a time
Bear Bryant wholeheartedly believed those words when he uttered them and Art Rooney bought into it and wanted his teams to embrace playing tough defense when he created and led the Pittsburgh team. The Steelers have since had a long tradition of fielding defenses that opposing teams respected on the field of play.
Against the Browns, it was the defense that put points on the scoreboard right away with a tipped pass that Alex Highsmith grabbed and ran into the end zone for his first career pick-six per Pro Football Reference.
Highsmith later stripped the ball on a sack of Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson that T.J. Watt was able to scoop up to score what would be the game-winning touchdown.
The defense is comprised of more than just two outside linebackers, however, and it was forced to stay on the field far too long and often. At times, it was because the Steelers offense stalled. At other times, it was because someone didn’t quite get on the same page with their teammates on defense to prevent a big play.
There are still more positives about the Steelers, defensively, than negatives – a lot more – and I think that their overall performance as a unit will continue to improve and keep opponents on their toes.
There were some good personal performances, especially in creating turnovers, that made this defense enjoyable to see. They’ll have to continually improve in order to prove they’re top tier one week at a time, though, if they want to get to championship caliber.
The run game isn’t the same for Harris and Warren. Why?
It’s been a discussion that keeps popping up. Fans see it and wonder. Analysts, too. Why does it appear that the line can create lanes for Jaylen Warren but can’t get leverage to open holes for Harris?
The answer can’t be that Harris is incapable of effectively making plays in the ground game. In fact, later in the game, Harris had two very nice rushing gains.
The issue appears to be linked more to how Harris is being put into north-south running situations by Matt Canada‘s playcalling where Warren has been given more options to get outside. I think that, unless there are changes made and consistency offered in plays called that benefits both players, the run game will become more difficult to kick-start.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 19, 2023
Watt’s franchise records aren’t what he’s focused on
Yes, Watt secured the Steelers franchise record for career sack totals on Monday night, surpassing James Harrison. He got to that mark at an accelerated pace, too. But, as he stated in his post game Q&A, he’s not focused on individual records; he’s focused on team victories and successes.
That’s important to the overall mentality of this Pittsburgh team. To grow, it will take focused effort on improvement and determination to play better football.