Steelers pushed the right buttons
Looking back on the Pittsburgh Steelers 33-18 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, there were certain plays which could have possibly changed the game, or at least changed the momentum of the game.
The first was when Browns kicker Greg Joseph’s 41-yard field goal attempt drifted right with 13:29 remaining in the second quarter. A successful kick would have given the Browns a 9-0 lead. That field goal would have enabled the Browns to still have the lead after the Steelers ensuing touchdown, when they went 69 yards in just six plays.
Another play was a near-interception by Cleveland’s Damarious Randall on Ben Roethlsberger’s quick one-yard scoring pass to Antonio Brown with just eight seconds remaining in the first half. Randall missed deflecting, or even intercepting, that pass by mere inches. If Randall could have intercepted that pass, he would have been able to race the entire length of the field for a Cleveland score. Instead of the Browns feeling bedraggled at being down 14-6, it would have been the Steelers, who would have felt as if someone had taken all the air out of the balloon. Pittsburgh would have felt that they had wasted their time going on a 16-play, 87-yard march, encompassing seven minutes and 12 seconds.
After getting a safety in the third quarter when Cleveland’s Desmond Harrison was flagged for holding Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree in the end zone, momentum had definitely swung Pittsburgh’s way. However, on the free kick following the safety, the Steelers’ return people truly had a “brain lock.” Up man Roosevelt Nix called for a fair catch, but then he didn’t catch the ball, and neither did Brown or Ryan Switzer. They looked more like an infielder and two outfielders converging on a short fly ball and then suddenly everyone backing away and letting the ball bounce.
That’s fine on a punt, but a free kick is not a punt, which means the rules are different. The rule is explained in greater detail further in this column.
Cleveland jumped on the bouncing ball, which meant that it was their ball on the Steelers’ 24-yard line. Momentum was now going Cleveland’s way. However, instead of striking quickly, it took the Browns seven snaps, including four penalties on Pittsburgh, to finally get into the end zone. By that time, the Steelers were breathing fire, both offensively and defensively, and so were their fans.
From that point on, it was all Pittsburgh. The offense had taken their time on the sideline to get settled in on what they wanted to do. What they wanted to do, was to give James Conner the ball. They used their experience against the young Cleveland defense by running trap plays. Five plays, later, Conner bounded into the end zone from 12 yards out, capping the 75-yard drive. Conner rushed for 60 of those yards.
The outcome was pretty much decided at that point.
Following a safety, the team which surrendered the safety, has to kick the ball to their opponent. That kick may be in the form of a punt, or a kickoff. Most teams prefer to use their punter as they like the height of the punt to enable their coverage team to get downfield. They generally use their kickoff coverage team as they aren’t going to be doing any blocking for the punter as they would on a punt.
Conversely, the receiving team uses their kickoff return team to receive the free kick. Even though the ball is generally punted, it is treated just like a kickoff in that once the ball travels 10 yards, it is a “free ball”. This is where the Steelers messed up in not catching the ball. If the kicking team recovers the ball, they cannot advance the ball, but they do get possession.
Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward spent his early years growing up in Squirrel Hill. Saturday’s horrific shooting was on his mind after the game, when he said, “It’s your own community, so, it hits home even more. It hurt a lot. I thought about what if my kids were there? I have friends that live there, and I was calling to check on them.”
Heyward went on to say, “They are innocent people. I don’t care what you believe. You treat people with respect and care about everybody.”
The tragedy hit home with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who disclosed that he only lives about 800 yards from the synagogue. That’s less than a half mile.
Steelers assistant head coach John Mitchell was the Browns defensive line coach from 1991-93.
Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler was Cleveland’s linebacker coach from 1999-2002.
Pittsburgh cornerback Joe Haden was drafted in the first round by Cleveland in 2010, earning two Pro Bowl selections during his eight years with the Browns.