The Steelers finally had a decent start on offense, but ultimately sputtered in a 29-17 defeat. Here are the studs and duds in the loss to the Browns.
The Steelers fell to 1-2 this season after a brutal loss to the Browns Thursday night 29-17. The offense got off to good start by their standards only to collapse in the second half. The defense did their best to hold their own for most of the game, but the Browns rushing attack wore them down.
There were still some bright spots on both sides of the ball, but once again the bad outweighed the good. Let’s start with the stud performances for Pittsburgh.
Steelers offensive line leads list of studs
Steelers O-line gave the offense a chance
The Steelers perceived top weakness going into the season was their rebuilt offensive line. Their preseason showing didn’t inspire much confidence either, but so far, they have performed above expectations. The run blocking has still been underwhelming, but they have been an above-average pass-blocking group.
That continued in Week 3, limiting the Browns’ pass rush to just one sack and two QB hits. They even opened up plenty of rush lanes for the running backs. Hopefully, they can build upon this moving forward.
Alex Highsmith gives his all in the loss
Without T.J. Watt, the Steelers pass rush has not looked like itself in the past two games. Browns QB Jacoby Brissett had an alarming amount of time in the pocket Thursday, and he used it to find his top targets all night. It was painful to watch the Steelers front get stonewalled outside of a few plays. The player who made the biggest impact as a rusher was Alex Highsmith, who finished with 1.5 sacks.
It also moved him to the top of the NFL sack leaderboard with 4.5 on the season. Sacks aren’t everything, but Highsmith also made plays in the run game from his edge spot. The other pass rushers need to step up big time until Watt gets back.
Steelers defensive backs lead list of duds
Terrell Emunds gives up two scores vs Browns
Terrell Edmunds has turned himself into a quality starting safety the past few seasons, and his first two games of 2022 were quite good. Thursday’s game against the Browns, unfortunately, showed that he can still be exploited in coverage, giving up two touchdown receptions and generally being unable to stick with his coverage assignment. The Steelers defensive game plan did him no favors, matching him up with Amari Cooper in the red zone and an athletic tight end in David Njoku. Still, you would love to see Edmunds hold his own at least against Njoku. Instead, the Browns tight end had a career day with nine catches for 89 yards and the score against Edmunds.
If the Steelers are going to survive on defense with TJ Watt still out, the back end of the defense needs to be able to step up and make plays without an elite pass rush. So far, they have failed miserably.
Ahkello Witherspoon leaves with an injury in brutal showing
I don’t want to talk too badly of a player who was injured, but Ahkello Witherspoon had an abysmal day against the Browns on Thursday. Browns top receiver Amari Cooper consistently left him in the dust, beating him in just about every way a corner can be beaten. Asking Witherspoon to match Cooper one-on-one was never going to be a good idea, but it was worse than I imagined. It didn’t make sense to continue not rolling coverage his way despite repeated evidence that Witherspoon was getting destroyed, but that’s exactly what happened for most of the game. Witherspoon ultimately left the game early with a hamstring injury.
Despite how poorly he played against the Browns, a lot of the blame falls on the coaching staff for not getting him help early on. The other Browns wide receivers had just two catches for 16 yards. Surely, they could have afforded to give Witherspoon some help.
The Steelers offense continues to disappoint
I thought of pointing out a few players in particular on the offense as duds, but the bottom line is this: they are poorly coached, lack discipline, and need a change at QB. Mitch Trubisky simply isn’t the guy to make this offense work. You could easily argue that no QB could (and I wouldn’t fault you for it), but Trubisky just isn’t equipped to make up for the lack of creativity and run game issues. Would Kenny Pickett be a huge upgrade? Maybe, maybe not. I think it’s time for the Steelers to find out for sure.
As for the rest of the offense, it was a mixed bag at best. Diontae Johnson was productive but had drop issues late in the game. George Pickens made an impossible catch early but was mostly invisible the rest of the way. Najee looked much better but still only averaged 3.7 yards per carry. Even with a few big plays sprinkled in, Jaylen Warren still fumbled and was lucky not to lose it. So many things need to improve that it feels impossible for the Steelers offense to figure things out. I hope they can prove me wrong.