Regardless of who was calling the plays and signals, Tomlin and Butler did not have a good game plan
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
In the biggest game of the year, the defense didn't show up. They allowed 41 points and had no sacks or quarterback hits in Sunday night's, 48-37, loss to the Cleveland Browns in the wild-card game. Maurkice Pouncey was responsible for the other seven points by snapping the ball over Ben Roethlisberger's head and strong safety Karl Joeseph recovering the loose ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
The Steelers led the league in sacks and quarterback hits this year. You wouldn't have known that by their performance against the Browns. Ironically, the last time the Steelers had no sacks in a game was the 2017 divisional-round game loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Steelers have allowed 93 points in their past two playoff appearances, but according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, don't point the finger at defensive coordinator Keith Butler.
Dulac reported that for most of the season and the last couple of years, Mike Tomlin has called all the defensive signals, and he did so on Sunday night against the Browns. In the past, Tomlin and Butler would often split the play-calling.
“We functioned the way we normally function tonight,” Tomlin said after the game when asked if he was calling the defensive signals.
Regardless of who was calling the plays and signals, Tomlin and Butler didn't have a good game plan.
According to Next Gen Stats, Mayfield was 13 of 18 for 192 yards and threw three touchdowns and no interceptions when the Steelers blitzed. The Steelers had a 53% blitz rate and had no pressures on Mayfield.
The Steelers scored 16 unanswered points and were trailing 35-23 in the fourth quarter with 14:24 remaining. The Browns were facing a third-and-2 from their own 28-yard line. The defense needed to come up with a big stop, but Mayfield completed a short pass to Landry that went for 12 yards and a first down. It was an easy pitch and catch for Mayfield and Landry, and guess who was in coverage on the play? Inside linebacker Robert Spillane. That's not who you want covering Landry in space. Three plays later, Nick Chubb caught a screen pass and went for a 40-yard touchdown to give the Browns a 42-23 lead with 12:32 left in the game.
The Steelers never adjusted, and the Browns continued to target Landry when Spillane was covering him. It was very similar to 2018 when former Steelers' inside linebacker Jon Bostic was continuously matched up with Chargers' wide receiver Keenan Allen. Allen finished the game with 14 receptions for 148 yards and a touchdown. His biggest reception of the game came on third-and-4 from the Steelers' 34-yard line with the score tied up at 30-30 and 1:12 remaining in the game. Allen was matched up with Bostic and made a quick cut to the outside and Philip Rivers made an easy completion for 12 yards. The Chargers would ultimately win the game, 33-30, by kicking a field goal on the drive.
Warren Sharp broke down the two similar plays on Twitter on Monday.
Former NFL cornerback Darius Butler also ripped apart Tomlin and Butler's decision to have Spillane covering Landry on Twitter.