The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Cleveland Browns by three touchdowns in a 30-9 rout at Heinz Field in Week 10. The win improved the Steelers record to 6-4 overall, while the Browns fell to 2-8 on the season.
Lets take a closer look at what went right and went what wrong for the Steelers on Sunday, and what it means for the team moving forward.
The injury to Landry Jones left ankle on the Steelers second drive of the game was a blessing in disguise. "Backup" quarterback Ben Roethlisberger replaced Jones with 11 minutes remaining in the first quarter and proceeded to throw for 379 yards and three touchdowns. Roethliserger completed 22/33 passes for 379 yards, three touchdowns and one interception while leading his team to a blowout victory.
Todd Haley's game plan and Roethlisberger's decision making were extremely aggressive throughout the game. Big Ben averaged 11.5 yards per attempt on his 22 completions. He currently ranks No. 1 in Football Outsiders Air Less Expected Ratings through Week 10, which measures a quarterbacks aggressiveness on third and fourth down (minimum 30 passes) by calculating the average distance between how far a quarterback threw a pass (air yards) and how many yards he needed for a first down. The below table is broken down into splits by distance: short (1 to 3 yards), medium (4 to 7 yards), and long (8+ yards).
Roethlisberger was relentless on Sunday, taking deep shot after deep shot to Martavis Bryant and Antonio Brown. Bryant averaged 29.7 yards on six receptions, and the Browns defense surrendered 141 yards in pass interference penalties. Roethlisberger leads the NFL in yards per attempts (8.94) and ranks No. 4 in yards per game (315).
(Stats from ESPN.com)
The offensive line provided excellent pass protection for Roethlisberger. The injured quarterback was sacked just once in the game. The Steelers thought they could get by the Browns without Roethlisberger, and get the quarterback some extra rest. But the injury to Jones forced their hand. Wearing a large protective shoe on his injured left foot, Roethlisberger was able to navigate the pocket and step into his throws. It doesn't appear the knee sprain will be an issue moving forward, and the foot should benefit from an extra week of rest before a Week 12 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.
Bryant (178) and Brown (139) ranked No. 1 an 2 respectively in yardage among wide receivers in Week 10. The two star receivers combined for 16 catches, 317 yards and three touchdowns against Cleveland. We are finally getting a a glimpse of how potent the Steelers offense can be when its skill position players are healthy. Pittsburgh's offense has averaged 34.0 points over the last two weeks. Opposing defenses will be forced to pick their poison against the Steelers wide receiver corps moving forward.
(Stats from ESPN.com)
There hasn't been a quarterback/wide receiver combination with the chemistry of Roethlisberger and Brown since Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison. In games that Roethlisberger has played in 2015 (excluding Week 3 at St. Louis), Brown is averaging 10.2 receptions, 159.6 yards and 1.0 touchdowns. Without Roethlisberger he's averaging 4.25 receptions, 58.75 yards and 0.0 touchdowns. Brown leads the NFL in receiving yards (1141) and is No. 2 in receptions (79). It's scary to think what his numbers would look like if Roethlisberger had played in all ten games this season.
The Steelers decided to go for two following Roethlisberger's four-yard touchdown strike to Brown with 3:36 remaining in the second quarter. Roethlisberger hit Brown in the corner of the end zone on the successful two-point attempt. Pittsburgh's offense has now converted 5/7 (71.4%) two-point conversion attempts. Through 10 weeks, they lead the NFL in two-point attempts, two-point attempts made, and two-point attempt conversion percentage.
Cody Wallace struggled against Browns rookie defensive tackle Danny Shelton. At 340 lbs., Shelton outweighs Wallace by nearly 50 lbs. Wallace's inability to move Shelton made it difficult for DeAngelo Williams to gain yards between the tackles. Williams carried the ball 17 times for 54 yards (3.2 AVG). He gained nearly half of those yards (29) on the final drive of the game. The Steelers were able to move the ball through the air against the Browns secondary at will, making the lack of a running game less of an issue.
The Steelers were fortunate to have only two turnovers in the game. Williams' fumble inside the Browns ten-yard line just before halftime was recovered by Heath Miller, and Jacoby Jones was able to recover his muffed punt. Roethlisberger's interception was a bad one. Not that there's such a thing as a good interception. It was the fifth INT he's thrown in the last three weeks. Bryant's fumble following his spectacular finger-tip catch was unfortunate. Credit Cleveland corner Charles Gaines for stripping the ball and making a heads up play.
I agreed with Mike Tomlin's decision to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the goal line just before halftime, but I didn't like the play call. Why not run Williams out of the spread there? It's a high-percentage play, and one that's been effective all season. Instead, Roethlisberger sailed a pass over the head of Bryant in the left corner of the end zone.
The Steelers defense pressured Manziel from the first snap of the game. On the Browns opening play from scrimmage, the ball slipped out of Manziel's hand as he moved his arm forward to pass, and the fumble was caught out of the air by Arthur Moats on Cleveland's 12-yard line. The Browns average an NFL worst 1.9 fumbles per game, and 1.4 fumbles lost per game. The Steelers sacked Manziel six times on Sunday. Pittsburgh ranks No. 4 in the NFL in total sacks (28), and the sacks have been very evenly distributed. Stephon Tuitt leads the team with 4.5.
(Stats from ESPN.com)
Keith Butler utilized his base 3-4 front more in Week 10 in order to stimy the Browns rushing attack. Pittsburgh held Cleveland to 15 yards on 14 carries (1.1 AVG). Cam Thomas, Daniel McCullers and Steve McClendon combined to play 31 snaps. Cameron Heyward dominated Browns rookie Cameron Erving, who made his first-career start at left guard.
(Stats from FootballOutsiders.com)
Sean Spence and Vince Williams each relieved Ryan Shazier for a couple of series. Spence had a nice tackle-for-loss on an attempted end around to Travis Benjamin. Williams has been noticeable on kickoff coverage this season. He's almost always the first one down the field making a play on the ball carrier. It's clear the Steelers want to develop some kind of a rotation at the inside linebacker spot next to Lawrence Timmons.
Speaking of Timmons, he was all over the field on Sunday. He made several big tackles on third-down stops and finished with ten tackles, two tackles-for-loss, two QB hits and a sack. The nine-year veteran ranks No. 11 in the NFL in tackles (73).
Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree made significant contributions with James Harrison sidelined by injury. Jones notched his second sack of the season, bull rushing All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas, and he recovered a fumble. He also recorded two QB hits. Dupree, meanwhile, did a nice job setting the edge on Benjamin's attempted end around and made a tackle-for-loss in the first quarter on a wide receiver screen.
It was a classy move by Moats to apologize to Manziel on Twitter for his egregious face mask penalty. It was a nasty looking play, and fortunately Manziel wasn't injured.
No hard feelings man just part of the game https://t.co/tlOeLz34Fp— Johnny Manziel (@JManziel2) November 16, 2015
With the score 14-3 near the end of the first half, the Steelers defense held the Browns offense to zero yards on three consecutive plays from its own goal line. Pittsburgh's offense took advantage of the resulting field position and drove for a touchdown on the ensuing possession, making the score 21-3 at halftime.
Veteran strong safety Will Allen led the team with 11 tackles, including one tackle-for-loss. Allen forced a fumble, and made a jarring hit on Browns wide receiver Hawkins. He was very effective playing in the box against the run in this game.
Free safety Mike Mitchell snatched his team-leading third interception. It marked the third consecutive week the Steelers defense has recorded an interception in the red zone. Pittsburgh's defense has been stingy in the red zone all season. The unit ranks No. 5 in points per game (19.1)
(Stats from ESPN.com)
With Harrison sidelined, rookie Anthony Chickillo played the first defensive snaps of his career. Chickillo finished with one tackle in 22 snaps (32.0%).
The Steelers defense surrendered 372 yards passing to Johnny Manziel. Manziel's 61-yard completion to Benjamin set the Browns up for a field goal on their opening drive. The Steelers did a better job of covering the tight end this week, but Gary Barnidge still finished with six catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. Pittsburgh ranks No. 27 in pass defense (278 YPG).
The Steelers benefited from a dumb special teams penalty committed by Browns linebacker Armonty Bryant. Bryant tried to use a teammate for leverage while attempting to block a Chris Boswell field goal try with the 3:30 remaining in the first half. Bryant's penalty set the Steelers up with a first-and-goal, and allowed them to extend their lead to 14-3. Cleveland committed 12 penalties for 188 yards in the game.
Boswell converted on all three of his field goal attempts. He's now 14/15 (93.3%) on the season.
Jacoby Jones muffed a punt and two kickoffs. He continues to look uncomfortable, especially fielding punts. He had zero return yards in the game. Thus far, Jones has not proven himself to be an upgrade over recently released Dri Archer.
Boswell missed his first extra point of the season. Fortunately it occurred with the game already in hand. He's now 10/11 on extra point conversions.
The Big Picture
The Steelers took care of business against an inferior opponent in Week 10. At 6-4, Pittsburgh is in a nice position in the AFC Wild Card race. Sunday's win moved the Steelers up into the No. 5 position in the AFC heading into the bye week.
If the season ended today, the Steelers would travel for an opening round playoff matchup with the No. 4 Indianapolis Colts (4-5). The Cincinnati Bengals (8-1) fell to the Houston Texans on Monday night, and are now 2.5 games ahead of the Steelers in the AFC North.