Steelers vs. Browns: Takeaways from Pittsburgh's 27-11 Win
Let's talk about something for a minute. With the Pittsburgh Steelers' 27-11 win over the Cleveland Browns, they are in the midst of a three-game winning streak and are 5-2 over their last seven games.
It's hard to think that those kinds of numbers can be attributed to a team still under .500 and fighting for a playoff spot. Nevertheless, the Steelers found a way to close things out on Sunday against the Browns. They must continue to win if they want to stay relevant in the AFC.
This Steelers win was as good a game as Pittsburgh has played all season. With a mix of a balanced offense and smothering defense, the Steelers totally overpowered the Browns.
Here are some key takeaways from Sunday's big win.
All stats provided by ESPN.
The Steelers' Screen Game Is Strong
The Steelers once again gave the opposition a healthy dose of screen passes. Over the course of the game, the Steelers ran eight different screen passes to either wide receivers or backs.
Pittsburgh fans get frustrated at times with the lack of aggression in the passing game, and in particular Twitter becomes enraged at offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
However, it is clear that the screen passing game serves two purposes. First, it is an extension of the run game. Short, safe throws, designed for moderate gains is not so dissimilar to a run play. The Steelers' wide receivers are loaded with speed, so they can take advantage of the cushion the Browns gave them and keep the chains moving.
The second goal of the screen game was to pull in the safeties. On more than one occasion, the Browns were using no deep safeties on obvious passing situations. The Steelers weren't able to capitalize on the deep ball as much as in recent weeks, but the plays were there, thanks to the screen game.
Antonio Brown Is Making History
Sunday was another opportunity for wide receiver Antonio Brown to show that he is one of the most underrated players in the league this year. Brown had six more catches for 92 yards and a touchdown.
Those numbers on their own might seem less remarkable until you consider that Brown spent the entire game covered by Browns cornerback Joe Haden. Haden is one of the top coverage players in the league, and Brown had the best game against him of any wide receiver this season.
Brown's game on Sunday gives him 80 catches for the year, and he continues to stay on pace for well over 100 catches on the season. Teams continue to scheme for Brown, but exceptional play design and execution on Sunday got the best of the Browns.
Brown has a chance to put himself in rare air among Steelers receivers if he can continue to play at such a high level.
Jason Worilds Made Some Money Today
Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley missed Sunday's game with an injury, so the onus for the Steelers' pass rush fell squarely on outside linebacker Jason Worilds.
And Worilds did not disappoint.
Worlids finished the game with only five tackles, but he was one of the most disruptive defensive players on the field for either team. Worilds hit the Cleveland quarterbacks six times and on multiple plays put Browns tackles on skates, running them straight into the backfield at the snap.
Worilds had this to say after the game, per TribLIVE radio host Ken Laird.
Jason Worilds w/ 6 QB hits: "I just enjoy being out there. Being out there consistently. It allows me to open up some of the things I do."— Ken Laird (@Ken_Laird) November 24, 2013
One thing is for sure: If Worilds keeps playing like this, he's going to make himself some money on his new contract next year.
Jarvis Jones Struggles as a Starter
Linebacker Jarvis Jones is a work in progress.
From a technical standpoint, Jones still has a lot to learn about how to play with leverage and be able to pivot on a tackle. Sunday was another example of Jones trying to simply get upfield faster than the tackle, but when he couldn't, he had no counter move.
The Steelers need to focus on Jones this offseason. He has to get bigger and stronger, because his game does not fit his athleticism. Sunday, he flashed some impressive plays, but over the course of the game, he seemed lost and out of the play far too often.
Le'Veon Bell Is the Man
The question posed last week was if rookie running back Le'Veon Bell could be the man. Sunday's game appears to have answered that question, and the answer is yes.
With wind and weather concerns for the game, the Steelers' game plan was to feed Bell the football early and often. He did not disappoint.
The box score will tell you that he had a 23-carry, 80-yard performance, along with 18 additional yards receiving. What the box score won't show you is the young running back had very little room to operate, and he did his work against an aggressive Browns defensive front.
Believe that the future is bright for this young man. On Sunday he showed that even against a great defense in less than ideal situations, he can be very productive.
Are We Talkin' About Playoffs?
It feels like at some point, some NFL mathematician will have to go through considerable statistical permutations to figure out the AFC Wild Card teams. Just know that for another week, the Steelers are in the picture.
The loss pushes the Browns down. With three more AFC North games in the final five of the season, until the Steelers lose, it's important to keep the eyes on the prize. If this Steelers team can play like this for the rest of the season, they will be hard to beat.
In fact, according to the SB Nation Twitter account, the Steelers are in the playoffs as of now.
We got our tiebreakers mixed up. The 5-6 Steelers would be in the playoffs, not the 5-6 Jets. Please win some games, football teams.— SB Nation (@sbnation) November 24, 2013
Obviously, this will change in the coming weeks, but this illustrates just how tight things are.
Winning the Turnover Battle
Typically, when turnovers are part of the takeaways, it's bad news for the Steelers. Going into Sunday's game, the Steelers were minus-13 in the turnover ratio category.
However, today the Steelers got their groove going to the tune of the fumble recoveries and an interception. In particular, safety Troy Polamalu was in the zone, forcing two fumbles at key points in the game.
Nevertheless, the dagger for the Browns was a late interception by William Gay, who incidentally also forced a fumble today.
The Steelers defense was swarming all day long, and their aggressive stance really paid off.
A Long Day for Ike Taylor
Oh Ike. Oh poor, Ike.
It was a rough day for veteran cornerback Ike Taylor. All season, Taylor has drawn the short straw when it comes to coverage. Taylor's never one to shy away from locking down the opposition's top wide receiver.
Sunday, that meant Taylor was tasked with attempting to cover Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon. Alas, things didn't go so well. Gordon is truly a special talent in the league and showed it on Sunday. It didn't matter which quarterback was throwing him the football; he still found a way to haul in 14 receptions for a mind-numbing 237 yards.
Thankfully, Gordon's individual performance didn't factor into the final outcome of the game. Nonetheless, it is something the Steelers will certainly need to address going forward.