There is a lot that Steelers have a right to be upset about following their ugly playoff loss to the Browns.
The Cleveland Browns beat the Steelers in Heinz Field for the first time in 17 games. The Steelers actually scored 37 points which normally would’ve been enough to win. If I hadn’t watched the game and you told me that the Steelers scored 37 I would have told immediately thought they had won the game.
Yet Pittsburgh through a terrible first half, and particularly the first quarter, still lost the game. There a multitude of things fans can point to and be upset about. You’re more than welcome to question the decision to punt on 4th and 1 down by two scores with almost a full quarter left, even though I felt the defense was hot and the ability to possibly give the Steelers offense a short field could have won the game for them.
You could take about Ben’s 4 interceptions. We could say the points Cleveland generated were off of the turnovers. We could talk about some of the missed throws in the first half or some of the drops. We could even talk about the penalties that Pittsburgh had committed stalling drives. To me, none of these actually cost the Steelers the game by themselves. I have narrowed it down to the 3 things that gave Cleveland the win for the Steelers.
First, the Steelers did not play the correct personnel.
I will start defensively. Avery Williamson should have started, and Spillane should have worked back in on a rotational basis. Spillane looked great before his injury, but to come back after missing 4 games and being expected to start against the best run team in football, while wearing the green dot is too much to ask from a man who was the backup at the start of the season. He was not playing fast at all in the first half, which could’ve just been rust, or maybe he wasn’t in football shape. He caught on to the game speed in the second half so I am leaning towards the former.
Next, Cassius Marsh should not have been the defacto replacement for Alex Highsmith when the latter suffered an ankle injury and was forced to leave the game. With the left side of the Browns offensive line in question, Ola Adeniyi should have been in for Highsmith and Marsh should have been used as the rotational piece to give Watt a break now and then when it was needed. Adeniyi has shown the ability to garner pressure throughout the season, and Marsh was a new signee who frankly showed zero ability to set the edge on the Browns stretch concepts, let alone any ability at all to generate pressure.
The last head-scratcher on the defensive side of the ball would be the extended playing time of James Pierre. The undersized corner failed to find the field at any point in the regular season and opting for him over Justin Layne, or a combination of Layne and Cam Sutton was very very confusing. I have no idea where the idea came from, but that choice will be questioned by me for several years.
Finally, the most obvious one was on offense and it was starting Matt Feiler over Kevin Dotson. Feiler had missed the last 3 games, and the rust was evident. Furthermore, there was not a moment in the season where Feiler gave me an inkling that he was better than Dotson after I saw Dotson play. For all of the mistakes the coaches made in this game, the personnel they used was the biggest, and truthfully starting Feiler in place of Dotson was the biggest mistake that Tomlin and company had made in the playoffs.