The Pittsburgh Steelers started three rookie defenders for the first time, like, ever during a 24-9 road victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Defensive back Artie Burns took 97 percent of Pittsburgh’s defensive snaps at cornerback, while defensive lineman Javon Hargrave played 41 snaps (six shy of his season high) and scored his first career touchdown after recovering a Josh McCown fumble in the end zone. Surprisingly, Sean Davis, who has played the majority of his downs as a slot cornerback so far this season, played every one of Pittsburgh snaps at strong safety, according to Pro Football Reference.
With more holes than Camp Green Lake (please someone get that reference), Pittsburgh’s defense has become increasingly reliant on strong contributions from its rookie class. Burns continued to prove why the Steelers were right to “reach” on him with the 25th overall pick of the 2016 Draft by holding fellow rookie Corey Coleman to just four catches for 39 yards, while Hargrave and Burns responded favorably after poor showings last week in a home loss versus Dallas.
Unlike years past, the Steelers don’t have the luxury to bring rookie defenders along slowly; Pittsburgh’s defense has ranked in the bottom 10 in the league in pass defense over the last two seasons, and will almost certainly finish there again in 2016. Burns, Hargrave and Davis must continue to aid Pittsburgh’s porous defense if the Steelers hope to get to the postseason for the third consecutive season.
If nothing else, at least it looks like the Steelers have three solid pieces for the future.
Playing like a man possessed
Somewhere between finding out that his teammate Cameron Heyward would miss the remainder of the season with a pectoral injury and body-slamming McCown into FirstEnergy Stadium’s turf like a ragdoll, Stephon Tuitt came out of his shell. Tuitt ruined the lives of both John Greco and Austin Pasztor by generating 2.5 sacks, four quarterback hits, three tackles for loss, and six total tackles. Tuitt also opened the door for Arthur Moats to pick up two sacks of his own on Sunday.
Despite Tuitt’s dominance, it is worth noting the Cleveland is ranked 31st in sacks allowed and 32nd in quarterback hits allowed, so it might be wise to take his success with a grain of salt. Then again, Tuitt looked solid in Week 10 against Dallas, which boasts perhaps the best offensive line of the past decade or so.
Tuitt might just have open season again this Thursday, as the notoriously-difficult-to-tackle Andrew Luck is very questionable for that game with a concussion.
The offensive game plan was...weird
Sunday’s game conditions were far from ideal, but Ben Roethlisberger has spent his entire life playing football in the Rust Belt; snow and wind is not a foreign concept to him.
Roethlisberger completed 23 of his 36 passing attempts for only 167 yards against a Pittsburgh-like Cleveland secondary, though very few of his passes traveled particularly far in the air. Eight of his completions went to halfback Le’Veon Bell, who also had 28 rushing attempts to go along with his receiver-like reception total.
Pittsburgh’s feverish usage of Bell isn’t a huge surprise, as Cleveland entered Sunday’s game as the league’s second-worst run defense. Cleveland’s pass defense isn’t much better, so it was a little strange to see Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley call such a conservative game; except, yanno, for that crazy sequence of events to end the first half that saw Pittsburgh run a total of three offensive plays with zeros on the clock. Tomlin really doesn’t live in his fears, especially when considering that failing to convert that ballsy first-and-goal to end the first half would’ve incited a yinzer riot.
And now, time to play “how crazy would Le’Veon Bell’s statistics be if he hadn’t missed the first three games of the season?”:
With 128 carries for 579 yards and 53 receptions (which is tied for 18th in the NFL, by the way) for 415 yards, Bell is currently on pace for a 1,075 rushing/770 receiving yard season. Applied to a 16-game schedule, Bell’s per-game averages put him on pace for over 1,300 rushing yards to go along with 121 catches (which, obviously, would be an NFL record for running backs) and 948 receiving yards. Some people are okay with the Steelers letting this player walk away in free agency.