Week 1: Steelers – Browns Fallout

The Pittsburgh Steelers produced a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, seven sacks and one interception vs a rookie quarterback, yet, they only came away with a 21-18 win vs a Cleveland Browns team that went 1-15 last season.

If not for Antonio Brown, this could have been a game afterwards where many within the Steelers were saying ‘what the hell happened’.

Instead, the Steelers found enough in all three phases to get the ‘W’ and start the season 1-0.

The company line from Mike Tomlin and others was taking the high road with the Steelers performance.

“Obviously, we’ve got some work to do, but it’s great to do that work with a win in your back pocket,” Tomlin said. “I thought our offensive drives got stopped because of penalties. I thought our defensive drives got extended because of penalties, and when you’re doing that, you’re going to keep people in the game. We’re not making excuses. We’re not blaming anyone. We’ve got to perform better from a technical standpoint to stay clean so that we don’t stop ourselves. But again, like I said, it’s great to make those necessary adjustments and grow while you win.”

Pittsburgh was penalized 13 times for 144 yards and what would have been an embarrassment had the Steelers lost, Cleveland’s offense out-scored Pittsburgh’s 18-14.

Takeaways: Training Camp Matters

While the Steelers offense, headlined by Ben Roethlisberger plays at a lower level on the road, what Sunday proved is that training camp reps matter after all.

The biggest Le’Veon Bell fan can’t deny he was not in game shape nor ready to play.

[hide] Bell rushed 10 times for 32 yards, with 15 of those yards coming with under two minutes remaining. He had 3 receptions for 15 yards and was out of sync with Ben Roethlisberger on a number of check downs.[/hide]

Despite the Steelers offense having no first downs in the first quarter, what was telling early on was the Steelers going away from the run.

It was quite clear that the Le’Veon Bell that showed up Sunday was the Le’Veon Bell Steelers coaches saw in practice, a player who wasn’t ready to play an NFL game at an impactful level.

Tomlin took the high road after the game on Bell, blaming his ineffectiveness more on penalties than Bell reporting nine days before a game and only having one padded practice under his belt.

Because of Bell not being ready to play and lack of production when the ball was in his hands, the Steelers game plan ventured into 4 WR sets and 1 RB that saw a lot of bubble screens and slant routes.

Eventually Antonio Brown would do Antonio Brown things to produce the only life the offense had as the Steelers made only two red-zone trips in the victory.

To their credit, both red-zone trips resulted in touchdowns with Brown playing a major part in setting up both touchdown drives.

In a 7-7 game, Brown took the Steelers from their own 11 yard line to the Browns 39, 28, and 9 yard line on three straight plays that setup a Jesse James TD reception late in the second quarter.

Early in the third quarter the Steelers produced a 6 play, 75 yard touchdown drive with Brown drawing a 41 yard pass interference call to move the ball to the Browns 18.

Pittsburgh got a special performance from Brown.

Without Brown’s big day, Cleveland is not only celebrating an 18th straight win by the Indians this morning but the city would have been celebrating their version of winning the Super Bowl.

Takeaways: Bryant’s lack of explosiveness a growing concern?

Against the 31st ranked run defense from a year ago, one of the surprises from the Steelers win was how the O-line got dominated at the line of scrimmage in stretches.

Le’Veon Bell will eventually get into game shape and be Le’Veon Bell but is it a lock that the 2014/2015 version of Martavis Bryant will come back?

A growing concern is Steelers circles since Bryant has returned to the practice field is that Bryant has lacked that unique explosiveness/separation ability [hide] with his size that made him such a daunting player to cover prior to his suspension.

That separation speed sources say hasn’t been there in practices nor on game days.

Bryant’s biggest issue against the Browns was creating separation at the line and it’s an area to watch moving forward that could have a big impact on this group because other than Eli Rogers, Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t have much interest right now in looking JuJu Smith-Shuster’s way. [/hide]