(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Coming into Sunday's game against the Browns, the Steelers knew that if they were going to win the game they would have to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Mission accomplished, as the Steelers' fronts on both sides imposed their will against the Browns.
"Our bigs, this game was going to be determined by our bigs," Tomlin said after the game in his post-game press conference. "Our bigs' ability to stop the run, our bigs' ability to protect Ben and win the line of scrimmage for us in the run game, and we talked openly about it all week. A synopsis of this game in a nutshell is our bigs, our big people on both sides of the ball really answered the challenge and played 'A' football."
The Browns came into Sunday’s game with the No. 1 rushing attack in the league, averaging 188.4 yards per game. The Steelers ranked second in run defense, allowing just 64 yards per game. Pittsburgh dominated in the trenches, as they held the Browns to 75 yards on 22 carries, an average of 3.4 yards per carry. On fourth-and-1 with 6:16 remaining in the third quarter with the Browns trailing 24-7, the Steelers’ defensive front got great penetration and stuffed Kareem Hunt, forcing a turn over on downs. That moment was a synopsis of the kind of day the Steelers' defense was having. The offense took advantage of the turn over on downs and great field position and Claypool would finish off the 8-play, 28-yard drive on a 3-yard rushing score off a jet sweep to give the Steelers a 31-7 lead.
The Browns' offensive line was playing at a high level too until they met the likes of Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree.
"Their tackles have been playing big for them," Cameron Heyward said on Monday leading up to Sunday's game. "They're mean, nasty guys that finish plays. That's what you want out of your tackles."
The only ones playing nasty on Sunday were the Steelers defenders, especially Stephon Tuitt who was simply unblockable for the Browns' offensive line when they tried to run the ball. Tuitt had five total tackles (four solos), a half-sack, 1.5 tackles for a loss and two quarterback hits. On the tackle for loss, Tuitt forced Browns' running back D'Ernest Johnson to fumble but the Steelers couldn't come up with the recovery. Tuitt was a handful for Browns’ right guard Chris Hubbard to block all game.
The defense also got after Baker Mayfield and made the afternoon miserable for him, as he was sacked four times and was hit six times. The Browns were 1 of 12 on third downs in the game and Mayfield on third downs was picked off twice, one which was a 33-yard pick-six by Fitzpatrick and was sacked once. The Browns were also 0 of 3 on fourth down. Kevin Stefanski pulled Mayfield out of the game at the end of the third quarter when the game was out of reach and stated, "I didn't want to see him get hit one more time." Mayfield finished the game 10 of 18 (55.6%) for 119 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and a quarterback rating of 54.9.
Myles Garrett had six sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 10 quarterback hits through five games. Garrett made hardly any noise against the Steelers, as he had four total tackles (three solos), one sack and a quarterback hit. The offensive line had a great performance against Garrett. Alejandro Villanueva has struggled at times in past games against Garrett, but he was excellent on Sunday as he didn't give up any sacks to Garrett. In total, the offensive line allowed two sacks and three quarterback hits. They were efficient in the run game as well as they paved the way for Conner to rush for 101 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown, an average of 5.1 yards per carry.
It was an old-fashioned Steelers win, smashmouth football on offense and a relentless defense that smashes the run and gets after the quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger joked after the game that "it felt like an old Bill Cowher offense."