The Steelers and Browns played to a 21-21 tie on Sunday which, without question, is the most cursed sentence I’ve ever written. The abridged version of the Stock Report is that everyone sucks and should be traded immediately. The longer version can be found below:
Stock down: You, the viewer
My least favorite thing about ties is that they don’t fully legitimize a fanbase’s vitriol. In the NFL, ties never occur because both teams played particularly awesomely, so when teams do find themselves deadlocked at the end of the overtime period, it’s usually because both sides have made a series of catastrophic errors. So if your favorite team commits, say, six turnovers and fails to protect the quarterback — as the Steelers did against Cleveland — it’s understandable that you’d be frustrated with a tie. BUT! If your favorite team ties its opponent, at least it isn’t, you know, a loss. Screw that. I want my blistering hot takes to be completely devoid of any “yeah, but at least...” qualifiers, dagnabbit!
Also, I realize it was the very first game of the NFL season and that a great deluge struck much of the Rust Belt over the weekend, rendering FirstEnergy Stadium’s field surface a veritable quagmire, but, my God, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more abysmally-played football game. Aside from the six turnovers committed by Pittsburgh, the Steelers had 12 penalties levied against them (note this staggering figure doesn’t even take penalties that were declined into consideration). They also surrendered four sacks and a handful of quarterback hits and dropping a number of passes.
Cleveland, meanwhile, surrendered seven sacks, committed 11 penalties, had a game-winning FG blocked, had a potential game-winning drive in the fourth quarter cut short by a horrifying interception, and was 5-for-18 on third-down attempts. Ben Roethlisberger and Tyrod Taylor both had dreadful performances, the former committing five turnovers alone (though, in his defense, you could argue that only one or two of them were truly his fault) and the latter woefully inefficient, completing 15 of 40 passes for 150 net passing yards to go along with a touchdown and the aforementioned interception.
So, yeah, between the penalties, turnovers, and bad offense, watching the Steelers/Browns game was a pretty lame waste of a Sunday.
Stock up: The Steelers defense!
I’ll lead this off by giving outside linebacker T.J. Watt a special shout-out, because it was his blocked field goal that prevented Cleveland from winning its first game since 2016. He also had four sacks — I could see this maybe getting reduced to three, as the fourth one resulted from him shoving Taylor out of bounds during a late-game quarterback scramble, but we’ll see about that — so it isn’t much of a stretch to say that, without T.J. Watt, the Steelers probably would’ve lost to the Browns.
With the exception of Cleveland’s first offensive drive after the halftime break, one that led to the Browns’ first touchdown of the afternoon, the Steelers totally shut down Cleveland’s offense, holding the Browns to just 3.8 yards per play, amassing seven team sacks, as well as a whole bunch of hits and hurries, plus keeping Taylor et al. scoreless on 16 offensive drives, including three overtime drives.
If you subscribe to the longstanding notion that the Browns are the Browns, you’re probably somewhat dubious about the defense’s showing, or at the very least, you’re taking it with a grain of salt. But if you really take a look at some of the performances by individual Steelers (Watt; Mike Hilton, who did pretty well covering Jarvis Landry; Artie Burns and Joe Haden, who essentially rendered Cleveland’s outside receivers—including Josh Gordon—mostly useless; Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, who anchored the run defense; Sean Davis, who actually looked the part of a functional NFL safety; Jon Bostic, who made a handful of good plays; Bud Dupree, who at times looked unblockable) there’s reason to be optimistic about this group. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel an overwhelming sense of dread every time a promising offensive drive stalled; I actually felt confident in the defense.
Stock up: James Conner
I’m not gonna waste too much space singing his praises because the significance of his performance — nearly 200 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns — is self-evident. I’ll withhold any Le’Veon Bell is the product of a system takes for now, but we’ll see what happens in the weeks ahead.
Stock up: Ryan Switzer
Ryan Switzer is a good return specialist! Thank God.
Stock down: The offensive line
The line committed a million penalties — somewhat understandable given that Myles Garrett makes Von Miller look like Aaron Curry — and allowed Cleveland’s pass-rushers to consistently affect Roethlisberger, which ultimately wound up being the difference in Sunday’s game. With that said, my level of concern at the moment is maybe like a 3 because it’s still so early in the year and I’m fairly confident in stating that this group will eventually mesh into the top-tier group it’s been in each of the past two seasons.
Stock down: Ben
Ben’s final stat line isn’t entirely reflective of his performance. One of his interceptions resulted from Antonio Brown running the incorrect route; another occurred when a pass caromed off of Jesse James’ fingertips into Denzel Ward’s waiting arms.
But if you’re responsible for five giveaways, your arrow goes down. I don’t make the rules.
Stock down: Mike Tomlin
To be clear, the inclusion of Mike Tomlin on this list is not an indictment of Mike Tomlin’s coaching. But, man, I think this game is really gonna wind up being a black mark on his career resume. After the Browns turned the ball over on downs in Pittsburgh territory late in the fourth quarter with Pittsburgh leading 21-7, the Steelers had a 98.5% chance to win the game, according to ESPN’s proprietary win probability formula. The fact that the Steelers went on to commit turnovers on each of their next two drives and allow Cleveland to tie that game at 21 is not Mike Tomlin’s fault, but this tie game will now and forever mark his record. If this ends up being the only tie on Mike Tomlin’s resume (as it currently is), we’ll certainly remember it.