Skip to main content

Problem solved

The Steelers' third-down turnaround was as dramatic as it was emphatic.

A week after allowing 10 third-down conversions in 14 attempts against the Eagles, the defense limited Cleveland to a 1-for-12 effort on third downs in Sunday afternoon's 38-7 blasting of the Browns at Heinz Field.

Cleveland also moved the chains on one third-down occasion via a penalty for a neutral zone infraction against outside linebacker T.J Watt, but the Steelers also went 3-for-3 stopping the Browns on fourth down.

"We had a better plan," head coach Mike Tomlin offered. "It starts with us as coaches, and then the guys performed better, and they finished it off.

"We both were JV last week, players and coaches, and we got better this week."

Defensive coordinator Keith Butler had acknowledged culpability on the part of the defensive coaches for what had transpired against Philadelphia in the days leading up to the Cleveland game.

"We gotta do a better job of coaching," Butler maintained last Wednesday. "If we did a little bit better job of coaching in terms of disguise and stuff like that I think we would have helped our guys out a little bit."

Perhaps that's why free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick spent as much time as he did lining up in the box or at the line of scrimmage against Cleveland, and why cornerback Joe Haden was spotted retreating into a deep Cover 2 with Fitzpatrick just before the snap that resulted in defensive back Cam Sutton's interception in the second quarter.

Fitzpatrick had initially been positioned in a two-deep look with strong safety Terrell Edmunds on the Browns' first third down of the game, but began moving closer to the line of scrimmage just before the snap. And Fitzpatrick's first steps once the play commenced were forward.

The play ended with Fitzpatrick intercepting quarterback Baker Mayfield on third-and-3 from the Cleveland 28-yard line and returning the ball 33 yards for a touchdown and a 10-0 Steelers lead.

"We just changed up a couple of the schematics," Fitzpatrick said. "We decided to play a little tighter, a little bit more man-to-man, make him throw out of the pocket. I think we just executed better.

"I don't believe we changed a whole lot. We practiced third-and-medium, third-and-long a whole lot more this week in practice because we played very poorly last week on third down. So we really wanted to just emphasize that throughout the week so we did and I think we executed very well."

Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 6 game against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field

NEXT MEN UP: Inside linebacker Devin Bush was knocked out of the game with 2:28 left in the second quarter with a knee injury Tomlin said appears to be "significant."

Bush was replaced by second-year pro Robert Spillane, who had been much more noticeable this season as a member of the kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return teams.

The defensive snaps he took against the Browns were Spillane's first since he played eight in the regular-season opener at the New York Football Giants. And those had been Spillane's first in a career that started by appearing in two games as an undrafted rookie with Tennessee in 2018.

"Spillane more than answered the bell but we have a great deal of confidence in him," Tomlin said. "He's a capable guy. You know guys that make plays in special teams, that's usually a precursor to them making plays on defense. And since we brought him up the middle of last year he's been a consistent performer for us, so I don't think any of us are surprised with quality play form him.

"If Devin is down a while, those that are called to step up, he'll be among them, 'Uly' (Ulysees) Gilbert will be among them, Marcus Allen will be among them. We'll put together a formula that will allow us to function in the interim, believe it."

BROWNOUT: Cleveland arrived leading the NFL in rushing with an average of 188.4 yards per game.

The Browns managed 75 yards on the ground on 24 carries, for a 3.4 average.

"You gotta stop the run early and then we can throw the sink at 'em," defensive tackle Cam Heyward said. "We gotta be about it."

That's another plan that came together.

TALKIN' 'BOUT PRACTICE: Rookie Kevin Dotson started his second game at right guard in place of David DeCastro (abdomen).

Dotson had replaced DeCastro for 72 percent of the offensive snaps in the Eagles' game.

"My routine coming into every game is to make it as much like practice as possible so I'm not in my head as much," Dotson said. "I'm trying to revert back to that practice stage.

"I went 100 percent in practice and going 100 percent in the game is just the nature of it now, so I just try to make it as normal as possible so I don't get in my head."

Related Content