Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Defense almost collapses in Steelers' win

By Scott Brown 
September 7, 2014

Sep 7, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Terrance West (28) leaps over Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Ryan Shazier (bottom) while carrying the ball during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers did everything they could to turn what should have been an easy win into a devastating loss. 

They were one play away -- perhaps Mike Pettine's decision to opt for a punt instead of attempting a go-ahead 52-yard field goal with 4:37 left and the score tied 27 -- from losing to a rival that never beats them in Pittsburgh. 

But Ben Roethlisberger led a late drive to save the Steelers from themselves while offering another painful reminder to the Browns that they once drafted Kellen Winslow Jr. over him. 

The bad news for the Steelers after they blew a 24-point halftime lead before winning 30-27 on a 41-yard field goal as time expired is if they need to score 30 points to beat the Browns how many points will they need against elite teams? And how many other times will the offense have to bail out the defense? 

A defense that couldn’t stop the run last year got gashed for 183 rushing yards and yielded 6.1 yards per carry. The Browns were simply more physical than the Steelers' defense, and that is something that happened too many times last season. 

Four of Cleveland's runs in the second half alone covered at least 15 yards, including a 22-yard scamper by rookie Terrance West that set up the Browns’ first of three touchdowns after halftime. 

“They found rhythm with the running game,” coach Mike Tomlin said, “but it was the chunks and misdirection game that was creating real issues for us.” 

A review of game film will solve whether Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer was able to play pitch and catch with no-name receivers because of the success of the running game. Or whether West rushed for 100 yards on 16 carries because Hoyer was so successful with play-action and throwing to no-name receivers that the Steelers gave too much respect to the pass. 

The common thread in the second-half meltdown by the Steelers’ defense is it got caught completely flat-footed by the no-huddle offense that the Browns ran almost exclusively after halftime. 

The indictment there is two-fold. 

The Steelers should have been expecting the no-huddle or something with the Browns trailing 27-3 going into the third quarter. And even if they were completely surprised by the no-huddle the Steelers should have been able to adjust. 

It is one thing to get shredded in the no-huddle by Drew Brees or Andrew Luck, two quarterbacks who will visit Heinz Field later this season. It is quite another to get lit up by a journeyman like Hoyer. 

The success of the Browns’ no-huddle offense already has the Steelers thinking they will see it a lot Thursday night in Baltimore. 

“This is a big-time copycat league and teams are going to continue to do that to try and move the ball on us,” Brett Keisel said. 

And if the Ravens and other opponents use the no-huddle extensively against the Steelers? 

“Let ‘em,” Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “We’ll be ready.” 

At least one person thinks so.

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