Welcome to the latest edition of the Steelers Stock Report of the 2020 NFL season: Cleveland Browns edition. I have been granted the distinguished opportunity to attempt to determine which direction individual players, or units, are trending after each weekly matchup, to the best of my ability.
I will attempt to make each determination without the use of my Black-and-Gold glasses, but admittedly I can make no promises.
Let’s get started...
Stock trending up: Steelers defensive line
What a dominant performance by the Steelers in their destruction of the still not ready for primetime Cleveland Browns on Sunday. It was truly a total team effort, so much so that it felt almost rather mundane if we are being honest.
In a game that many Browns fans were touting the most important game in decades, the true nature of both franchises were revealed. For the Steelers, a franchise steeped in tradition and an established winning culture, it looked like just another day at the office. The Steelers were ultra focused and surprisingly calm, considering all the potential distractions for both teams covered tirelessly by the media all week leading up to the game. The Steelers have been in plenty of identify confirming games over the years, and it showed bigtime on Sunday.
The Cleveland Browns are still in the process of establishing their identity, or at least moving far away from their hapless reputation as laughingstock of the NFL since they were reestablished in 1999 as an expansion team. Regrettably for the Browns, their reputation as the Mistake by the Lake still haunts the franchise. This Browns team has proven this season that they have plenty of athletic talent to be successful, but they are still lacking the heart and leadership of a contending team. When your star receiver takes his cleats off halfway through the fourth quarter and spends the rest of the game bickering with fans in the stands, you definitely have a leadership problem. No player is bigger than the team, and a trade maybe the only answer for that problem.
As for the game itself, it was incredibly difficult to identify who's stock is rising when the whole team's performance was outstanding. The offense was solid, if not spectacular, in all phases. It must be concerning for future Steelers opponents how effective they have been already considering they are nowhere close to firing on all cylinders as of yet this season.
In a league where the defensive bar has been set ridiculously low, the Steelers truly stand out. They manhandled the Browns offensive line, whose reputation coming in far exceeded their performance in Sunday's game. The Steelers defense was excellent at all three levels, but the big boys along the defensive line really stood out to me. The starting three are approaching elite status.
Cameron Heyward may just be the most powerful defensive lineman in the NFL. The Browns talented rookie LT Jedrick Wills Jr. will never forget his first encounter with Ironhead's baby boy. Heyward went basically wherever he wanted to during the game, and took his blocker along for the ride.
Stephon Tuitt abused former Steeler Chris Hubbard, making his first start at RG due to injury, throughout the afternoon. I wrote an article a couple weeks back about how Tuitt's play was being overlooked early in the season. Now Tuitt has four sacks on the season, to go along with his always tough run defense.
Tyson Alualu has proven his early season success was far from a flash in the pan. He has found the sweet spot of effectiveness and stability in his career.
Stock trending down: Devin Bush
This selection is rather obvious, after such a brilliant all around team performance. Bush's season ending knee injury is devastating, not only for the young man, but for the Steelers chances of becoming the best defense in the business.
Bush had shown real improvement in his sophomore season, even if it hadn't shown up yet in splash plays and stuffing the stat sheet.
He had a strong grasp of the defensive playbook and had done an excellent job communicating with his teammates while calling out alignments. His running back coverage was superior, and his tight end coverage was showing improvement. I have complete confidence he will return better than ever due to his strong work ethic, but he will be sorely missed for the remainder of this season.
Stock in need of diversification: Steelers inside linebacker usage
Quality depth is at a premium during the salary cap era of professional football. That doesn't mean it has to be high priced depth, just quality. Some teams are better than others at identifying and developing quality depth from late round and undrafted free agents. The Steelers are one of the best at doing just that.
The Steelers invested a small fortune to acquire Devin Bush, reflecting his importance to the defense, teaming him with veteran run stuffing specialist Vince Williams. Many fans expressed their concern during the off season with the Steelers unproven depth of sixth round selection Ulysees Gilbert lll and UDFA Robert Spillane, but I had complete confidence in the position coaches ability to get both young men ready to play when called upon. Everything was going according to plan coming out of training camp, then things got very confusing.
Both men made the roster, but Gilbert has only been active one game, where he only received special teams snaps. Bush never came off the field on defense, regularly playing 100% of the snaps. As great as T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree have been, the coaches regularly substitute for them every couple of series to give them a breather and keep them fresh for the fourth quarter.
This strategy also has another positive effect, giving depth players invaluable experience in live action, particularly important considering the lack of any preseason games this season. That way they are not still wet behind the ears when thrust into action after a starter goes down to injury.
The Steelers are now faced with just such a situation, and only Spillane has saw action on defense. Definitely not an optimal situation, but the Steelers have no choice but to make the best of a bad situation.
The Steelers still have talent at the inside linebacker position on the roster, but precious little experience amongst the bunch. It will be up to the Steelers coaches to help the young men meet the standard already set as they gain some valuable experience.