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Steelers vs. Browns: 5 Winners and 5 Losers after the tie in Cleveland

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After a game, we take note of certain players who performed well, and others who didn’t. This is where the Winners and Losers column comes in.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns kicked off the regular season alongside Lake Erie, and in horrible playing conditions the teams finished Week 1 with a big, fat, ugly tie. The 21-21 stink-fest was nothing to write home about, yet there were some good aspects to glean from this performance.

During the game, some perform well while others fall short of the standard. This is where the Winners and Losers column comes in. After the game, when the dust (or mud) settles, we decipher who falls into which category.

As always, feel free to comment on the list in the comment section below. Be part of the conversation!

Winners

James Conner

Stat Line:
Rushing: 31 carries, 135 yards, 4.4 ypc, 2 TDs, 1 Fumble
Receiving: 5 receptions, 57 yards

If you take away the fumble, Conner didn’t merely play a tremendous game — he likely would have considered it one of his best considering the circumstances. Conner showed he’s more than capable of shouldering the load and doing many of the things Le’Veon Bell does for the Steelers when he’s on the field. A tremendous effort and a huge confidence booster for the young back moving forward.

T.J. Watt

Stat Line:
11 Tackles, 8 solo, 4 sacks, 5.5 Tackles for Loss, 4 QB Hits, Blocked FG

If Watt’s performance in Week 1 was any indication of what he’s going to be doing rushing from the left side this year — watch out. Watt was nearly unblockable and took up permanent residence in the Browns’ backfield next to Tyrod Taylor. It wasn’t only promising to see Watt collecting what would be a season’s worth of sacks for some players in a single game, but it was also a plus to see him do this without suffering any setback from the hamstring injury which kept him off the field for the entire preseason. Watt also played well last year in Week 1, but I think we can all agree this performance was night-and-day better than the 2017 version.

Ryan Switzer

Stat Line:
Kick Returns: 3 for 69 yards, long of 28, 23-yard average
Punt Returns: 5 for 56 yards, long of 22, 11-yard average

No, Switzer didn’t take a kick back to the house, but man is it nice having an experienced and exciting return-man running back kicks. Switzer did a nice job managing space and making something out of nothing each time he touched the football. Although small in stature, Switzer will improve the Steelers’ field position if he continues what he was doing on Sunday throughout the regular season.

Pass Rush

Stat Line:
7 sacks, 11 QB Hits, 1 Forced Fumble

Some will suggest it was against Cleveland, as if that doesn’t count, but the Steelers’ pass rush was all over the Browns’ offensive front. It made it seem as if the 56 sacks from a year ago was no fluke, but a sign of things to come for this defense. Cameron Heyward, Bud Dupree and Jon Bostic all registered sacks alongside Watt, but the defensive front, including Stephon Tuitt, was dominant for the majority of the game.

QB Sneak

I still can’t believe we witnessed the Steelers running a quarterback sneak — and it was successful.

Losers

Ben Roethlisberger

Stat Line:
Passing: 23/41, 335 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT, QBR: 22.8, RATING: 60.5, 2 Fumbles Lost
Rushing: 3 for 16 yards

Should fans just start expecting an early-season dud from Roethlisberger every year? Last year in Week 1 he wasn’t as bad as he was this year, but we all remember the start he had to the 2017 season. While the three interceptions he threw in the first half (a new record for Roethlisberger) weren’t all his fault, the rust and lack of rhythm with the passing attack was glaring. At a time when the Steelers were running the ball at ridiculous clips, the passing attack seemed disjointed the entire game. The offensive line didn’t play its best in pass protection, but even when Roethlisberger was awarded sufficient time, it very rarely ended in anything positive. If the Steelers are going to win this year, they’ll need better play from their most important offensive player.

Chris Boswell

Stat Line:
3/3 XP, 0/1 FGs, Missed 42-yard game-winner

Maybe it’s a bit harsh putting Boswell in this category, but that game-winning field goal just has to be made. Yes, it was a 42-yard attempt — not a gimme my any stretch — but Boswell has made his money, figuratively and literally, by cashing in on those opportunities. It was disappointing to see the kick sail wide left, and now a tiny bit of doubt creeps into my mind whenever Boswell lines up for another big field goal.

Officiating

Stat Line:
These guys suck

This isn’t me crying over spilled milk. This is me venting about how poor the officiating was on both sides. There were a combined 23 accepted penalties, but there were far more than 30 flags thrown in the game. At a time when the NFL wants to improve its officiating, it seems across the league they’re moving in the wrong direction. The one play which bothers me the most was the missed call on the punt which clearly hit Nick Chubb’s facemask and was recovered by Sean Davis. There’s no way of knowing for sure, but if that call is reversed, the outcome of this game likely is far different. Buckle up fans, this is going to be a long season with the zebras.

Joe Haden

Stat Line:
3 tackles, 2 solo

Haden didn’t play poorly, but after leaving with a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter it looks as if he might be on the shelf for some time. Hamstring injuries don’t just recover in one week, and it’s sad considering how the secondary was looking with him on the field compared to with him on the sidelines. It just seems as though Haden continues to struggle to stay on the football field.

Antonio Brown’s targets

Stat Line:
9 receptions, 93 yards, 1 TD, 16 targets

I love Antonio Brown. He’s a tremendous player, but Roethlisberger’s infatuation with forcing him the football can be a bit much at times. The connection between the two is typically uncanny, but it was far from that on Sunday in Cleveland. The two could never find their rhythm and, throughout the process, other wide receivers’ targets diminished.

Here’s the breakdown of the receivers, based on targets:

Antonio Brown — 16
JuJu Smith-Schuster — 8
James Conner — 6
Justin Hunter — 5
Jesse James — 5
Ryan Switzer — 1