A Tale Of Two Half’s
Steelers 30 – Browns 27
The 2014 Season started with a bang at Heinz Field, in a dominating first half performance by the Offense and Defense, it looked as if the game was going to be a sure enough route and Steeler Nation couldn’t have been happier. In fact by the look of all the empty seats at Half Time, it’s a safe bet the majority of the fans were at the bar celebrating. Things took a sudden and dramatic turn at the start of the second half however, it lasted until Sean Suisham nailed a 41 yard field goal with 5 seconds remaining on the clock to bring. In what was an identical display of ineptitude from what we saw in the Philadelphia Exhibition Game, the defense got gashed continuously on each of the Browns second half possessions. A highly disturbing trend that isn’t showing any signs of improvement, the defense was mauled and abused by a Cleveland Offense that look at is it was the second coming of the ’92 Dallas Cowboys. The offense didn’t fair much better, unable to move the ball or stay on the field. Aside from the 3 point game winning field goal to close out the game, the Steelers Offense had five possessions all ending in punts, unable to score any points and allowing the Brownies to march back from a 24 point deficit to tie the game.
Big Ben and the crew came out like gangbusters, AB was playing out of his mind, they looked completely unstoppable and they were. Ben got his team off to a quick start with big chunks of yardage, a slant to Antonio Brown turned into a 41 yard gain with some nifty jitterbug style running, followed by another short hitter to running back Le’Veon Bell who then turned it into a 21 yard gain. On the next possession Big Ben turned a third and six into a forty yard gain by launching it to Markus Wheaton who made a stellar grab and drag of his feet on the far right sideline. The second quarter was just as spectacular with Ben scrambling to his right and lofting a strike to Antonio Brown in the corner of the end zone for a gorgeous TD. On the next possession Le’Veon Bell took a hand off behind the left guard which he proceeded to turn into sprint to the end zone covering 38 yards. Bell showed incredible running prowess, dashing and dipping through the entire Browns defense, reminiscent of Franco Harris in his prime. All seemed right with the world after a half that produced 27 total points, Cleveland was clearly way out of their element against a potent offense that was filled with play makers all the way across the board. Markus Wheaton especially showing he’ll be a fine replacement for the recently departed Emanuel Sanders.
The luster quickly wore off in the second half after five listless possessions produced zero points. Newly signed right tackle Marcus Gilbert had his struggles, Kelvin Beachum fared no better on the other side as ex-Ratbird Paul Kruger spent most plays in the Steelers backfield. The Browns made all the adjustments they needed to make at halftime, and it all worked out perfectly fine for them. But true to his nature, Big Ben was able to work his late game heroics once again with 47 seconds remaining in the game. Starting at his own 43 yard line, it took Ben three plays to move the team into field goad range, two key darts to Wheaton totaling 31 yards was all it took for Suisham to then ice the victory.
Holding the Cleveland offense to three points in the first half seemed to quell the notion that this defense was going to continue it’s lackluster and listless ways, a little wishful thinking far too soon. The browns lost starting running back Ben Tate and tight end Jordan Cameron in the first half to injuries, yet that had little impact on their productivity entering the second half as they went no huddle, scoring on all four possessions. Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer making his fifth NFL start, turned into the second coming of Troy Aikman. Just like so many games last season, just like the 3rd pre-season game against the Eagles (who also went no huddle), the Steelers Defense was completely helpless, the Browns could’ve conceivably handed the ball off to a 12 year old girl scout and she could’ve run completely untouched through everyone wearing a black and gold jersey. Let us not forget for a minute that we have a total of 5 first round picks currently starting on the defensive side of the ball, let’s not forget that the defensive is no longer old and slow, the fact is they are young and fast but still can’t stop nobody. Also keep in mind the defense practiced against Big Ben and company using the no huddle offense in camp, and surely the embarrassment of getting blown out by Philly in the pre-season would have caused them to put more emphasis on preparing for the no huddle. And yet there they were, flat footed, defenseless, like a dear in the head-lights, completely befuddled and overwhelmed. Tomlin said in his press conference there was a lack of communication, throw in a lack of pass rush, lack of coverage, and complete lack of tackling and you’ll be describing the 2014 Steelers Defense to a T. Totally pathetic and unacceptable, it’s going to be a very long season if this unit doesn’t start performing with a sense of purpose and intent.
Good and bad in the special teams unit, the good was new punter Brad Wing had some lofty boots and showed consistently. He also fared well as place holder for field goal kicker Sean Suisham, who was 3 for 3 on the day including the game winner with 5 ticks remaining. Kick off returns were nothing to write home about, the speedster Dri Archer wasn’t able to break out and made a pour decision early on, only returning the ball to the twelve yard line. The biggest woes involved penalties, pushing in the back, etc., all costly mistakes which lead to poor field position. The highlight of course, and not just on special teams but across all games on opening day, was Antonio Brown jump kicking the punter on route to the end zone. AB was dashing and dodging everyone in sight and all that stood in his way was Clevelands punter Spencer Lanning. Brown could have easily headed left with a straight shot to seven points, but for some reason he decided to hurtle Lanning and in the process of coming down and regaining his stride, he kicked Lanning. Obviously this is dangerous and you wouldn’t want to think Antonio did this with intent, but is was funny. Fortunately no one was hurt on the play. Needless to say the Special Teams need to clean up their act.
If there was ever a staff who stood around helpless, without a clue and no answers as they got totally abused and shredded, this was the staff. Credit of course should be given to Todd Haley for putting together a diverse game plan in the first half, though I think he went home at half time and never returned. Dick LeBeau, well, of course he’s off the hook ’cause he’s the great Dick LeBeau, right? You’re got to wonder who really is in charge, going back to what has been stated over and over, an off season, OTA’s, and a full training camp and pre-season, this is the best they can do?
No one’s going to panic that’s for sure, we get the W on opening day and there have certainly been plenty of ugly wins in recent years. There should not be much concern given towards the Offense, they seem to be on the right path and have some big time play makers that can produce good things when the ball is in their hands. But if you’re not concerned about this Defense, you should be. At this point there are no excuses, none, we’ve got youth, leadership, and enough veterans to round out what should be a dominating bad-ass Steelers style team. The sad reality however is this is not your fathers Oldsmobile and it’s not the great Steel Curtain of years past, we’ll have little choice but to stand on the sidelines helpless and watch as it may get better, then again it may not.