PITTSBURGH — The Steelers picked off Baker Mayfield twice and smothered a Browns offense that had trouble in recent weeks. In what was a make-or-break game for the Steelers, they needed to win this one, Mike Tomlin and company went to the drawing board and came up with the best game plan possible.
For Ahkello Witherspoon, he said that the game plan was easy to identify. The Steelers bottled up the Browns earlier using a different method, but in this one, it would be all about their ability to win in man coverage. While that was a challenge for the secondary and the pass rush, Witherspoon thinks it worked perfectly according to plan.
“Tight man coverage was the key,” Witherspoon said. “Man coverage, make him make those good throws. Then, when he does, man coverage again.”
Not only did man coverage allow the Steelers to shut down what the Browns were trying to do through the air, but it also shut them down completely on the ground as well. For Witherspoon and the defense, man coverage was their best asset to stopping Nick Chubb, but that meant the secondary playing their tails off.
“I thought they were going to force the run a little bit more,” Witherspoon said. “That was our plan. That’s why we were in so much man coverage. It’s the best tool to stop the run. I think we did such a good job at making the statement in the run game they went away from it.”
Witherspoon made it clear, however, that this game plan was entirely unique for the Steelers this year. As a team, they have been a mainly two-high team that likes to keep things in front of them. Still, in this game, the Steelers ran more man coverage than they had all season.
“I would say, we have never played this much man since I’ve been here,” Witherspoon said. “It was a lot. It was about 80%. So, today was a lot.”
The Browns love to use their bootleg game off their wide zone runs to really open up their passing game. However, Witherspoon noted that the Steelers are the exact type of team that can shut it down from all ends, including on his interception.
“I think minimizing the boot game was our reputation coming into the game,” Witherspoon said. “It’s just because of our edge rushers and Mike T’s freedom to blitz the edge. It scares teams off. We see fewer boots from those coordinators that are smart and have paid attention. Shoot, on the one they ran, it was a pick. So, you better stay away from it.”
Due to the power of man coverage, the Steelers were able to squash the Browns’ offense from the start of the game through the final whistle. While they may not use the same plan against the Ravens next week, they will need a similar performance.