It was a prototypical AFC North football game. The Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers faced off in a 60-minute, defense-dominant football slog. These are the types of games the Steelers have been able to pull out all season long. That was not the case in Week 11.
The Steelers entered the game as 2.5-point underdogs, but with the Browns starting rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, it felt like a game the Steelers should've had the upper hand in. The clock struck zero, and the scoreboard read Browns 13, Steelers 10.
The defense did its part by keeping Cleveland to one touchdown all game. Offensively, Kenny Pickett posted yet another dud, but Jaylen Warren shined and all but staked his claim to becoming RB1 for the Steelers.
Frustrations are growing to a boiling point in Steeler Nation despite their 6-4 record and current ownership of a playoff spot. It's time to discuss the Steelers' loss.
Jaylen Warren - RB1
In a game filled with negatives, having a positive, such as Warren's play, helps soften the blow ever-so-slightly. Warren dominated on the ground with 129 yards on nine carries. He scored a 75-yard touchdown which was surprisingly the Steelers' longest rushing score since Willie Parker's identical run in Super Bowl XL. Even without that, his yards-per-carry would've still been slightly over 6.0 yards/carry.
This is production the Steelers haven't gotten out of their former first-round draft selection in Najee Harris. While Harris is finding his game, Warren's ability fits the modern-day NFL a bit better. He has the speed and the constant run-hard ability that Harris doesn't.
That does not mean Harris can't be effective. He actually has been in recent weeks since the scales have tipped in Warren's favor in terms of snaps. That's okay. Trying to run Harris into oblivion for 85% of snaps just because he was a first-round pick is not the answer. Allowing him and Warren to complement each other is a much better strategy, and props to the Steelers for finally deploying it.
If they want to keep Harris as the RB1 by title, so be it. But Warren is the back that is electrifying the Steelers' offense and there is nothing wrong with putting the teams' success over egos.
5th Rounder Thompson-Robinson Beats 1st Rounder Pickett
This is not a headline that you want to see as a Steelers fan. "DTR" didn't necessarily outplay Pickett in this game, but the scoreboard is all that matters at the end of the day.
Thompson-Robinson tossed three interceptions in his first NFL game but he did so on very short notice. In week 11, he had a week of preparation and managed the game nearly perfectly to get the win.
His mobility at times caused issues for the Steelers. He was asked to drop back 43 times and only tossed for 165 yards, but that was enough to win the game. He threw an interception that was tipped, but the ensuing offensive drive by the Steelers went three-and-out. Thompson-Robinson threw a ball that hit Steelers safety Trenton Thompson right in the numbers, but he couldn't come up with it.
Pickett didn't throw any interceptions but the problem was he didn't take any chances to even make an interception come into play. The outright ineptitude from Pickett has slowed this offense to a screeching halt. Instead of getting better, Pickett has regressed and continues to refuse to throw across the middle of the field even though the potential plays are there.
Either he's being coached not to take a single chance which is a damning indicator of the coaching staff's confidence in him or he's not confident in his own abilities to throw into traffic over the middle. Now 22 games into his NFL career and seven games left in the Steelers' season, they need him to show something more to justify even giving him a third season under center as the starter.
Tight End Usage is Criminal
Pat Freiermuth returned to the Steelers lineup today in what should've been a happy boost to the Steelers offense. Instead, he was relegated to irrelevancy yet again with just one catch for seven yards. His backup, rookie Darnell Washington, also had just one catch for eight yards.
In most cases, a quarterback looks to his tight end to bail them out if they need a few yards or just need a completion. Just look at T.J. Hockenson's 11-catch performance in week 10 with former Steelers journeyman Josh Dobbs at the helm.
So far this season, Freiermuth only has nine catches, while Washington has just four. Granted, Freiermuth has only played in five of the games so far, but less than two catches a game is a criminal usage for a receiving tight end with the talent of Freiermuth. Four catches for a guy who is 6'8" is pretty ugly, too.
Adversely, Connor Heyward has 17 catches this season. Don't get me wrong, Heyward is a fine player in a pinch, but he shouldn't be leading the tight end room in receiving. It just isn't a conducive formula for winning.
Whether it is Pickett not trusting himself or the coaches not scheming plays for the tight end, that much has to change. The tight end should be the quarterback's best friend on the field. The Steelers are not utilizing the tight end position as they should be this season.
Garrett > Watt In This Battle
Many in the national media have differing opinions on whether Myles Garrett or T.J. Watt is the better player. You could argue that the overall war has been won by Watt over the years when the Browns and Steelers face off. However, this game's war belonged to Garrett.
The Steelers' first offensive play of the game saw Pickett sacked at the goal line for what probably should have been a safety. Garrett broke right through the Steelers' offensive line, relatively untouched, to lay the hit on Pickett. That close to the goal line and that early in the game, you just can't have that.
Garrett added another sack later in the game and now has 12 on the season to Watt's 11.5 sacks. Watt did add one today to get to that number but it wasn't until the fourth quarter that he finally had his name called.
Garrett's disruption set a tone early and the Steelers' stagnant offense was never really able to get going. His presence is one you have to worry about and Dan Moore Jr. has actually been pretty good against Garrett over the years. In Week 11, Mr. Garrett came out on top of Watt in terms of impact.
Joey Porter Jr.'s Penalties Have to Diminish
Considering how porous the Steelers' corners have been in coverage this season, Porter Jr.'s lockdown coverage outweighs the penalties that he takes. That doesn't mean, however, that he can continue to be called for a handsy penalty week in and week out.
Porter Jr. made a stop in a third down that would've caused a turnover on downs but was called for defensive holding. These types of penalties can be deflating to a defense and turn a stop in six points for the other team. In college, corners can kind of hold until the ball is in the air. In the NFL, there is a few yards of leeway before you're called for holding.
It is coachable, but it is also a bad habit that could be tough for him to shake. Porter is without a doubt the best coverage corner on the team, and they are finally playing him as such. He still has got to chill out with the penalties because they really can be hurtful to a team that already can't afford to give up more than 10 points a game.
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