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The Steelers secondary shines in dominating win over the Browns

The Steelers playmakers in the secondary show up big in the Week 6 win over the Browns.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest stories of the Pittsburgh Steelers first 4 games was the secondary, and not in a good way. With Minkah Fitzpatrick virtually invisible in the highlights and the stat sheet, and following a game where the Steelers repeatedly allowed the Philadelphia Eagles to convert third downs, the defensive backs made play after play on third down, and the Cleveland Browns converted 2 of 13 third downs (I’m counting the non-play penalty) and 0 of 3 fourth downs.

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who was a first overall draft pick and won a Heisman trophy, was held to 10 completions for 119 yards passing, 1 TD, 2 INTs on 18 pass attempts, good for a 54.9 passer rating, his worst rating of the 2020 season and the fourth worst of his career.

While the defensive line had a lot to do with that, the secondary looked like the 2019 Steelers secondary, with 6 passes defended and 2 interceptions while allowing only 4.5 yards per pass attempt on the day.

The secondary also set the tone for the entire game on the Browns third offensive play of the game.

Week 6, 1st quarter, 9:05. Minkah Fitzpatrick is the safety to the bottom of the screen.

In last week’s film room about Minkah Fitzpatrick I talked about getting Fitzpatrick into more robber looks, because he is the most dangerous in that role. Opposing quarterbacks give him a wide berth and often avoid his entire side of the field when they see him move up, but Baker Mayfield doesn’t, and it pays off for the Steelers.

Week 6, 1st quarter, 2:49. Odell Beckham Jr. is the wide receiver to the top of the screen.

Baker Mayfield has Beckham Jr. on an out route for the first down, but with T.J. Watt behind him and Stephon Tuitt in front of him he is forced to throw the ball high, and while Beckham Jr. makes the catch, it gives Joe Haden the opportunity to shove Beckham Jr. out of bounds for an incomplete pass.

The Steelers corners were physical with the Browns receivers all game, and it didn’t go unnoticed by the receivers.

Week 6, 2nd quarter, 0:31. Odell Beckham Jr. is the receiver to the top of the screen, Jarvis Landry is the slot receiver next to him.

You can see Beckham Jr. show his displeasure with his rough treatment after Steven Nelson finally gets him out of bounds short of the sticks, and you can also see Jarvis Landry fighting with Mike Hilton, and at the end Landry throws HIlton to the ground to earn a penalty.

The Steelers defensive backs would also draw a penalty in the game.

Week 6, 2nd quarter, 2:39. Joe Haden (#23) is covering Odell Beckham Jr. (#13)

The contact from Joe Haden is enough to draw a flag, and it nullifies an interception. While the contact is understandable as Haden is likely going to get beat by Beckham Jr.’s double move, the throw wasn’t the best, and that contact did not affect the play on the ball. Without that contact Joe Haden adds an interception to his already impressive game.

That drive would end with a Cleveland touchdown, the only Cleveland Browns score of the game.

Week 6, 4th quarter, 13:51. Joe Haden is the cornerback to the bottom of the screen.

Now this is good physicality. Joe Haden times his attack well and knocks the ball out of Jarvis Landry’s hands for one of the Browns many failed third downs.

Week 6, 4th quarter, 2:00. Joe Haden is the cornerback to the bottom of the screen, Cameron Sutton is the slot corner next to him.

Now this is a play straight out of 2019. Baker Mayfield thinks he has Cameron Sutton beat on the quick out, but Sutton is dropping deep, and Joe Haden jumps the short pass for another pass defended. On this play Sutton starts with hard inside leverage because there is no middle help at all, and because Joe Haden is going to cover his man if he cuts outside quick. The receiver makes a quick outside cut, Sutton drops deep and Joe Haden makes the play.

This same defensive concept didn’t go well earlier in the game.

Week 6, 3rd quarter, 0:03. Cameron Sutton is the defensive back lined up behind the edge defender to the bottom of the screen.

Cameron Sutton and Steven Nelson both believe they are responsible for the outside receiver here, and Jarvis Landry is wide open for a 24 yard gain. Landry was almost certainly Sutton’s responsibility, as asking Nelson to cover that route from his starting alignment would be ridiculous

It is good to see the defense fix a mistake and get it right inside of the same game, and it is also nice to know that when Sutton got the chance to make a play of his own, he rose to the occasion.

Week 6, 2nd quarter, 7:50. Cameron Sutton starts the play second from the bottom, and covers the outside short zone. (sorry about the TV broadcast graphic that does nothing to help explain the play)

Cameron Sutton is able to high point the pass for the Steelers second interception on the day. This play is more than just another turnover for the Steelers defense, it showcases the reason the Steelers run their defense the way they do, and how it can pay off when the quarterbacks they face aren’t making great throws.

Here’s the field when Baker Mayfield starts to throw.

As Mayfield escapes the pocket, he has Rashard Higgins (bottom most in the picture, at the 48> yard line) and Jarvis Landry (above Higgins) between the defensive layers both running to the sideline. He also has Austin Hooper (just passing the <40 yard line) attacking underneath Cameron Sutton.

Against the Eagles Cameron Sutton stayed up too far and let Travis Fulgham attack the gap between him and his deep help for a first down, but here, even with Hooper underneath Sutton stays just behind the first down line, and when the pass is slightly underthrown Sutton is able to come down with it.

With Mike Hilton’s injury needing further evaluation, it is unknown if Cameron Sutton will be called on much more than he has so far this season in week 7. But if he is, it is good to know that he is playing well and fixing the mistakes he does make.

With the Steelers set to face a tough three game road trip without the Steelers best coverage linebacker in Devin Bush, the secondary will be tested more than they have this season. Hopefully this week was a turning point for the secondary and not just a bad game from Baker Mayfield.