The Runner Sports

Steelers Stave Off Browns In Season Opener

The Pittsburgh Steelers began the 2017 regular season in Cleveland, visiting their AFC North rival Browns. Pittsburgh got off to a slow start, particularly on offense, but eventually, the Ben Roethlisberger-Antonio Brown connection started working in a big way, paving the way for the 21-18 victory. With the win, the Steelers join the Ravens atop the always-competitive AFC North. Let’s take a closer look at what was a milestone day for several Steelers to open the season.

 

Game Recap

The Browns, led by rookie QB DeShone Kizer, took the field first on offense but it would be the Steelers putting points on the board first. The Steeler defense forced a quick three-and-out, and the ensuing punt was blocked by Tyler Matakevich, who came streaking through the middle of the line. The ball bounced into the end zone and took a miraculous turn to avoid rolling out of bounds and Anthony Chickillo was there to fall on it for the score.

The Steelers’ first offensive possession was derailed by offensive holding penalties, rookie WR JuJu Smith-Schuster and TE Vance McDonald the guilty parties. On their next drive, the Browns capped off a long 12-play, 5:26 drive with a 1-yard TD run by Kizer. The game remained tied at 7 at the end of the 1st quarter.

The teams traded punts a couple of times, with the Steelers unable to move the ball on the ground and Big Ben looking somewhat out of sync with his receivers to this point. But with just under 4:00 in the second quarter, Roethlisberger and Brown started to click. The two hooked up for completions of 50, 11, and 19 yards culminating in a 4-yard TD pass to Jesse James. The score put the visitors up 14-7, which would be the halftime score.

The Browns were cruising on their first possession after the break, dicing up the Steeler secondary for completions of 23 (to Corey Coleman) and 21 (to Seth DeValve) yards down to the Steeler 11-yard line. A few plays later, rookie OLB T.J. Watt came up with a huge sack (the first of his NFL career) that ended up forcing CLE to settle for a field goal. Instead of a tie game, the score was 14-10 with Pittsburgh maintaining the lead.

A 41-yard defensive pass interference on the ensuing Steelers’ possession set up Big Ben & Co. in the red zone at the Browns’ 18. A few plays later Roethlisberger and James would connect for their second touchdown of the day, this one from 2 yards out, increasing the lead to 21-10. T.J. Watt continued to make plays for this defense, adding another sack, and an athletic, leaping INT when dropping back in coverage.

The score remained 21-10 leading into the 4th quarter, but the Steelers couldn’t quite salt the game away with their underperforming run game. Le’Veon Bell and James Conner combined for just 14 rush attempts and 43 yards on the ground (3.1 avg). Just about every big run was called back by a holding penalty, and it allowed the Browns more chances on defense than they would’ve had otherwise.

Just over halfway through the 4th quarter, the Browns were able to string together a couple more big plays to get within striking distance again. On a 4th & 2 from the PIT 4, Kizer threw a slant to Corey Coleman against the coverage of Artie Burns. Burns was knocked off the line of scrimmage at the snap, and was a step behind when Kizer found Coleman crossing the goal line. To make matters worse, newly acquired safety J.J. Wilcox suffered a head injury on the play while attempting to jar the ball loose. After a successful 2-point conversion run by Isaiah Crowell, the lead was narrowed to 3 points, 21-18.

The Steelers took over on offense with 3:36 left, trying to seal the win. Fittingly, the game-clinching play was an awesome 38-yard completion to Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger had great protection and eventually lobbed the ball up to Brown near the sideline, where he out-jumped a trio of defenders to come down with an incredible catch. The Browns used their final timeout after this play, then Bell busted loose for his longest run of the day (15 yards). Three Big Ben kneel-downs later and the game was in the books.

 

Takeaways

  • Dominant run defense allowed just 57 yards on 25 carries (2.3 avg).
  • Great performance by D-line, sacked Kizer 7 times (Watt-2, Chickillo-2, Haden, Hargrave, Heyward).
  • Penalties (13 for 144 yards) stifled running game.
  • Gave up some big plays in the passing game.

 

Noteworthy

  • Ben Roethlisberger overtook Fran Tarkenton for 9th-most career passing yards.
  • T.J. Watt became the first Steeler with 2 sacks and an INT in the same game since LaMarr Woodley back in 2010.

 

Injuries

  • Stephon Tuitt, DE (bicep): fear he may miss the season just a day after signing a new contract
  • J.J. Wilcox, S (head): exited late in the 4th quarter with what looked like a head injury

 

This was a good win for the Steelers, who faced a decent amount of adversity from the surprisingly feisty Browns. They certainly made a game of it Sunday with solid defense and just enough big plays on offense to give the visitors some headaches. The Steelers (1-0) will play their first home game of the season next Sunday at 1 pm ET hosting the Minnesota Vikings.

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