Steelers @ Browns: The Acceptable, the Unacceptable, and the Appalling
A punter’s worst nightmare—Dirty Red… Photo via Steelers.com
It seems entirely appropriate to stay with this format for the first regular season game, because despite the fact the Steelers won it, 21-18, there was a lot not to like about the way they did it.
For one thing, let’s look at that score. As usual the pre-season hype machine has been busily declaring the Steelers offense to be practically unstoppable with Ben, Brown, Bell, and Bryant. 30 points per game should be a minimum expectation with those four on the field!
Except guess what. All four were on the field, two of them looked like they had scarcely practiced, (guess which two—not surprisingly, the two who had scarcely practiced), and to make matters worse, seven of those 21 points were thanks to a blocked punt by special teams, right at the beginning of the game.Which is to say that the “unstoppable” Steelers offense, the 30+ points per game juggernaut, put up exactly 14 points. Both touchdown passes were to—Antonio Brown? Le’Veon Bell? Martavis Bryant? Guess again. They were to Jesse James, the guy the coaching staff deemed sub-par enough to pick up a free agent tight end towards the end of training camp.
It gets worse, though. The much-vaunted Steelers offense had as many negative penalty yards as positive offensive yards at one point. A win is a win, and I’m much happier about it than this rather grumpy post sounds, but I have a feeling there is going to be a fair bit of sturm und drang in the offensive meeting room tomorrow.
Fortunately things looked a good bit better on the defensive side of the ball. Which is ironic but, frankly, welcome. If it is going to take the offense a few weeks to get into sync (which, despite all my moaning, seems to be pretty much the problem), it’s just as well the defense is prepared to make sure the games aren’t completely lopsided before the offense gets its collective act together.
Not but what the defense also took a number of penalties, several of which were of the less-than-optimal personal foul variety. And while they kept things within a reasonable limit, it seems hard to believe a rookie quarterback should put together better drives than—well, never mind. I’ve whined about the offense enough.
So let’s go to Momma’s (non-patented because nobody would want to steal it) grading scale, the Acceptable, the Unacceptable, and the Appalling:
The game beginning with a 7-0 Pittsburgh lead before they ever had the ball. My man Tyler Matakevich blocked the first punt, and Anthony Chickillo alertly grabbed it before it bounced out of the end zone. Just like that, touchdown. They would, alas, apparently get much more difficult to come by as the game went on.
And speaking of Chickillo, he had two sacks (out of the total of seven, which is something else that is more than acceptable.)
As long as I’m on the subject of the defense (a much pleasanter one than the offense,) one certainly must make note of the game T.J. Watt played. He had two sacks, an interception, and a personal foul for a late hit on the quarterback. Oops. If they clean up that little matter of jumping on a pile long after the QB is down, life will be good. And it would appear it wasn’t necessary to send in the Mounties (aka James Harrison)—insofar as I can tell, Harrison didn’t play a single snap.
And in fact I’m in great danger of rhapsodizing, thus completely overriding the British understatement feeling here, because T.J. Watt didn’t just have himself a good game, he had a historically great one—according to Steelers.com, he was the first Steelers player with two sacks in his NFL debut since 1982 (when sacks became an official statistic.) Add to that the interception, two quarterback hits, two tackles for loss, a defensed pass, and his team-high six solo tackles (seven total tackles, tied with Ryan Shazier). Ben Baskin of SI.compredicted Watt would be the defensive rookie of the year (most of the others were picking Myles Garrett) and Baskin must be feeling pretty smug tonight. Bob Labriola, when declaring Watt the “Digest Player of the Week,” noted that his older brother (you may have heard of him) has actually never had two sacks and an interception in a game.
I just have one thing to say to the people who thought Watt was over-drafted in the first round, and/or that the Steelers should have taken (fill in player of choice here) instead—go ahead, admit you were wrong. Crow tastes best if you eat it quickly…
All in all, it was pretty acceptable that the Steelers were able to get pressure despite being without both Bud Dupree and Stephon Tuitt. Would they have fared this well against Tom Brady? Probably not, although Brady looked pretty mortal on Thursday night, I gather. Perhaps not Joe Flacco either. But it is a promising start.
And to continue the happy notes, I might add that at least one of the sacks, perhaps more, was a coverage sack.
Perhaps the only offensive player to make this list unreservedly is Antonio Brown. At the moment, he is the NFL leader in receiving yards, in a game where yards of any kind seemed difficult to come by. He continues to amaze, and managed not to be penalized for any sort of excessive celebration (although of course who’s to know what would have happened had he made it into the end zone?) I also note his 182 yards came on 11 receptions. His 11 receptions came on 11 targets, including one in which he was completely encircled by Browns defenders. I’m glad the Steelers paid the man. He deserves every penny.
Jesse James also deserves a mention, as he had the second-most receiving yards (41 on six receptions) and the only touchdowns (two.) As noted earlier, that must make him feel considerably better. He even got a few yards after the catch on one target, which is not really that typical for him.
I will also note that the only offensive line penalty was, I believe, on Maurkice Pouncey. No “illegal man downfield” penalties for DDC, which was a relief.
Special teams weren’t entirely stellar, but the blocked punt at the beginning was enough credit for the whole game. And Jabril Peppers is the real deal. To keep him more or less within bounds was, I thought, pretty good.
Stephon Tuitt heads this list, because it is entirely unacceptable to get yourself injured on just about your first play from scrimmage after signing an extremely large contract. What he did to get the injury (presumably it happened when he was taking down a runner nine yards in the backfield) was, on the other hand, most acceptable. So please get well soon.
The William Gay personal foul call. Mind you, my husband happened to be watching at that point (quite a rarity,) and he was outraged that a penalty would be called, because, as he said, “How was he supposed to stop?!!!!” An excellent question, but if you’re going to take head hits out of the game you’ve got to make somebody responsible to see they don’t happen. It also seemed a bit rough that J.J. Wilcox would be penalized for a hit that concussed him, but there you are.
Alright, enough with the kid gloves.
Offensive penalties—the newbies (Vance McDonald and JuJu S-S) swelled the already considerable penalty score. Le’Veon Bell got called for a penalty which was probably actually on Roosevelt Nix. It was difficult enough for the Steelers to make any headway without immediately giving it back.
Le’Veon Bell didn’t do himself any favors with the people who are mad at him for skipping the entire preseason. Between dropped passes and a rushing average of 3.2 yards per carry—one which was inflated by one long run late in the game—it really does look as if he could have used a bit more practice. When Mike Tomlin was asked to clarify his comment about “consequences” due to Bell not participating in any football activities prior to last week, he indicated that the consequences he meant were not team-imposed but karma-imposed, if you will. (Unfortunately said karma engulfs the rest of the team…) Let’s hope he figures it out before the next game.
I have more sympathy for Martavis Bryant, because he would have been practicing if he could. But it was disconcerting to see him dropping a lot of catchable balls.
Well, the Steelers won the game, so I guess I’m going to leave this one blank. Had they lost, I would have had a great deal to say.
But in fairness, Gregg Williams, (yes, THAT Gregg Williams), is the new defensive coordinator of the Browns, the one whose Wiki article says is “known for running aggressive, attacking 4-3 schemes that put heavy pressure on opposing quarterbacks.” It is to his credit that he managed to do so with a bunch of young—very young—players, and without the (almost) consensus SI pick for defensive rookie of the year, Myles Garrett.
Frankly, I think the Cleveland defense isn’t going to be a joke this year, and I also think the Cleveland offense is going to get over their growing pains rather more rapidly than we might like. Kizer looks like the real deal, the offensive line can’t really be blamed for most of the sacks, and I think Cleveland games are rapidly going to lose their “2 automatic ticks in the win column” status.
And just to take this a little farther, when did Cincinnati start their rather rapid and startling decline? That’s right, when Hue Jackson left to become head coach of the Browns. Chew on that for a minute.
And as long as I’m on the subject of the AFC North in general, the question we have to ask ourselves is, is Baltimore that good or is Cincinnati that bad? It’s going to be an interesting season, that’s for sure.