PITTSBURGH — The Steelers’ 31st-ranked rush defense had been leaky all year. That was not supposed to change as they faced a solid Browns rushing attack that had sliced up plenty of foe before them. However, the Steelers crunched the Browns rushing offense and held them to only 93 yards on the day.
In fact, 32 of those came on one run, on the other 19 carries, the Steelers held them to a mere 61 rushing yards on 19 carries, putting the Browns below an average of four yards per carry. For a unit that has struggled so mightily all year and was indeed short-handed, the Steelers are increasingly appreciative of that fact.
“We needed it,” Cam Heyward said. “It hasn’t been great the last couple of weeks, but we knew there was football to be played. There’s another opportunity next week. It comes back to preparation. You can have a good week of practice and then blow it all up in the game. You are judged by your wins and losses.”
As for Heyward, he was ticked off at the one big run that the Steelers did end up giving up on the game. However, Heyward appreciated the ability for them to hunker down and persevere through adversity. More importantly, he named the run defense as the catalyst for the pass rush.
“Stopping the run early was the key,” Heyward said. “They got one big run. I was so annoyed that we gave it up because we knew what they were going to do. It was their Counter C-G. They pulled their guard and tackle on the backside to create extra gaps. But I thought after that we cleaned up a lot. Even after that run, we were able to settle down to not even allow a field goal. It was just good team defense.”
T.J. Watt echoed a similar sentiment that their run defense helped echo what they wanted to set up with their pass rush. More importantly, he noted that this was finally a game where everything came together for them in a do-or-die situation overall.
“They didn’t try to establish the run too much,” Watt said. “They went away from it relatively quickly. When they did run, we did a good job. Once you get one-dimensional, we have you. We were able to score points. Our special teams were great. Corliss was punting the snot out of the ball. We were able to pin our ears back and go”
This is the second time this season the Steelers defense has held Cleveland’s rushing attack dormant throughout the game. Nick Chubb often felt like an afterthought, and once the Browns went down, they were forced to put the ball into the hands of Baker Mayfield. Without such a great performance on the rush defense, they would not have been able to win the game. As Tomlin noted, it was the catalyst.
“Chubb is special, but we did the job tonight, and I’m appreciative of the efforts,” Tomlin said. “We played a lot of people. That’s what have to do at times when you are playing subs, and we played a lot of people, and everybody put their hand in the pile and made the necessary plays. I thought that was just a catalyst for the defensive effort, the fact that we were competitive and consistent in terms of minimizing that component of their game, and it kind of made the things that flow off of it more difficult. The misdirection pass I think we picked off the first boot of the game, for example, and it starts with trying to work to minimize 24 and his talents. Got a lot of respect for him.”
With it, the Steelers have completed a sweep of the Browns as they defeated them in Cleveland earlier this year.