Honestly, it was difficult narrowing down the plays that illustrated what went wrong in Cleveland on Sunday. The defense, once again, didn't play with good technique either in the run or passing game. Breakdowns occurred on offense that ruined drives. But make no mistake, Cleveland is a good team and Brian Hoyer is a quality quarterback.
This, I think, is one of the biggest plays of the game. Pittsburgh is winning 3-0, it's third-and-short and the Steelers get an advantageous look. A simple lack of execution, however, was very costly.
I've watched this play over and over again. I don't think the problem is the length of the route. Ben throws the ball way before Wheaton gets out of his break. If Ben thought the route was going to be shorter, he would have thrown out of a one-step drop (think WR screen). Instead, Ben throws it off of the hitch on his third step.
I think the issue here is that Marcus Wheaton was sloppy with his technique coming out of his break. To change direction, you have to lower your center of gravity. That prevents a receiver from needing to take a bunch of gather-steps when he attempts to cut. It seems as if Wheaton doesn't lower his center of gravity enough, thus resulting in too many gather-steps. These extra steps don't allow him to snap off his route. This half-second delay leads to fourth down.
Bill Cowher has been quoted a lot this week, so why not add one more? There's a fine line between winning and losing. In the NFL, a few plays can turn the tide of the game, even a game with a wide margin of victory. I'm not saying the Steelers win if this pass is completed, but I am saying that this was a huge play in the course of the game.
The following play summarizes the Steelers' run-defense this year.
First off, James Harrison is horrible, just plain bad, on this play. He ends up on the ground, effectively sealing Stephon Tuitt who is playing his block well. Moreover, the tight end is able to come off of Harrison and block Lawrence Timmons. I know a lot of people will complain that this is holding, and it might be, but don't blame the refs. Blame Harrison.
I have no idea what Troy Polamalu is trying to do here. He and James Harrison end up in the same gap. That's not good defense. Speaking of not-good defense, Cam Thomas ends up in the end zone.
Finally, Cortez Allen has to support the run better. He is in man coverage here, so his support is going to be late. But you would like to see him burst to the running back and make a tackle at the one- or two-yard line. Allen looks very indecisive in this case.
On the very next series, the Browns run exactly the same play from the same formation. Allen makes a great tackle (he drives the running back backwards) for no gain. Hopefully, this is a sign that Allen is learning from his mistakes.
Finally, we often think that all plays result from the Steelers doing something very poorly instead of the other team simply executing well. Here's an example of Cleveland's offense executing a play very well.
When you hear coaches saying that a quarterback can make all of the throws, this is one of those they're referring to. A deep-out from the opposite hash mark.
Allen has no deep help so he has outside leverage. His technique is good but the timing of the play and the velocity of the throw make it impossible for Allen to make a play here.
This is a much, much more difficult conversion than the play we highlighted earlier. Somehow, Brian Hoyer seems to be in sync with receivers that he hasn't even worked with for a full season.
The good news is that this loss isn't nearly as bad as the one to the New England Patriots last year. The Steelers were able to turn things around and play much better after that game last year. They will try to do the same thing this year, starting Monday night against the Houston Texans.