2023 Steelers Season Recall: Pittsburgh defends home turf on Monday Night Football against Cleveland

Steel City Underground presents our 2023 Steelers Recall: a look back at Pittsburgh Steelers games and storylines from last season.

Following an embarrassing 30-7 home defeat in the first week of the 2023 NFL regular season, the Steelers were once again back to business at Acrisure Stadium in Week 2. Pittsburgh would have their first AFC North division game, hosting the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football.

Cleveland came into the game 1-0, following an impressive 23-3 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the Browns’ own home opener. In that game, the newly revamped Browns defense under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz harassed Bengals QB Joe Burrow. They would follow by doing the same against the Steelers, making second-year QB Kenny Pickett‘s life miserable.

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The good news for Steelers Nation is while the offense showed signs of playing as poorly as it did in 2022, the defense rose to the occasion after the whooping San Francisco laid on them!

The very first play from scrimmage set the tone. A Deshaun Watson pass intended for Harrison Bryant was picked off by Steelers LB Alex Highsmith, who took the football 30 yards to the house for a defensive touchdown.


However, the defense wasn’t all up to snuff. Minus Cameron Heyward (placed on injured reserve after Week 1) 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.

That was evident on Cleveland’s next drive, as they responded with an 11-play, 50-yard drive that consumed 6:05 off of the clock. That drive would culminate in a Dustin Hopkins 43-yard field goal, making the score 7-3 in favor of the black and gold.

Pickett was intercepted on a 3rd-and-3 from their own 16-yard line on the next drive, but Hopkins would miss a a 43-yarder this time as the Steelers defense forced a three-and-out.

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The Steelers would go three-and-out on offense on the next possession, giving the Browns the ball right back. Cleveland beyond midfield but would cough up the ball on a 4th down conversion attempt. In what was a comedy of errors, Pittsburgh would do the same thing two plays later as Gunner Olszewski fumbled and gave the Browns the ball back on the Steelers 23-yard-line.

This series featured the infamous Minkah Fitzpatrick hit on Browns RB Nick Chubb, who would sustain a season-ending injury. His replace Jerome Ford would find the endzone one play later, off of a short Watson pass. A Ford run would be good for a two-point conversion as the Browns took an 11-7 lead.

WR George Pickens was the largest beneficiary of Pickett’s targets on the evening, catching four passes for 127 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown strike before halftime. That would the final fireworks from the offensive side of the ball. However, on defense, the Steelers would force three consecutive three-and-outs from Cleveland, as each team added a field goal before halftime.

Steelers kicker Chris Boswell would add another field goal on the Steelers opening nine-play drive, but that would be the end of any semblance of offense for Pittsburgh the rest of the game as they’d punt four more times before entering victory formation.

Pittsburgh arrived at a win once again on defense, as T.J. Watt became the all-time Steelers sack leader as his running mate Alex Highsmith forced a late strip-sack that Watt would “scoop and score” for a touchdown, putting the Steelers ahead of the Browns 26-22. (Highsmith was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts.)

That would be the final score as the battle took its toll on both teams. Watson would finish having been sacked six times, throwing one touchdown and one interception. Steelers QB Kenny Pickett didn’t fare much better, completing only 50% of his passes with the same 1:1 touchdown-to-interception stat line: and no trips to the redzone.

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Maybe more concerning was that the Steelers gave up 198 rushing yards to Cleveland while having five offensive drives of three or fewer plays. The defense kept the Steelers in the game, but the consensus was that this was an unsustainable way to win games.

Climbing back to a 1-1 record, however, was paramount, as the team prepared for their first road trip of the season. Would the Steelers be able to build momentum going forward?

Join us next week as we look back at Week 3’s Sunday Night Football encounter between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Las Vegas Raiders.

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