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Steelers leaving too many plays on field

Jon Ledyard breaks down tape of the Steelers' win over the Browns.

- The mark of a great corner is how well they defend vertical routes, and, while Ross Cockrell has improved this season, that area of his game is still lacking. Big, physical receivers always seem to give him issues (Brandon Marshall, A.J. Green) and Terrelle Pryor was no exception. The Browns receiver made several contested or tight-window grabs despite good initial positioning from Cockrell, as the Steelers corner struggled to stay in phase, adjust and find the football. Cockrell is so much better breaking on the ball in front of him than he is at playing with his back to the pocket and contesting throws above the rim.

Ben Roethlisberger was efficient in the short passing game for most of Sunday's game, and the conditions likely deterred him from going deep very often. Nevertheless, Antonio Brown was open several times on vertical routes for would-be scores after dusting Joe Haden, yet Ben either missed him or misfired. The Steelers quarterback wasn’t much better in the red zone, passing up on an open Brown on third down on Pittsburgh’s first drive, and failing to see an open Le'Veon Bell on third down of the team’s second drive. The result was two field goals instead of possible touchdowns, and the Browns hung around longer than they should have on Sunday.

- The Steelers' game plan seemed to be to ride Bell to victory on a day when the Steelers had an advantage up front and poor weather conditions for attacking the Browns defense down the field. David DeCastroMarcus Gilbert and Alejandro Villanueva all stood out to me opening holes for Bell, as the Steelers running back romped for 146 yards and a touchdown on the ground to go with his eight grabs for 55 yards in the passing game. Jesse James also had his best game as a blocker, and the Steelers got a struggling run game back on track in Week 11.

- Terrific bull rush-to-rip move by Stephon Tuitt on Sunday, bullying past Browns right guard John Greco for a big sack. The Steelers need him to step up his production in a big way with Cameron Heyward out, and on Sunday Tuitt was unblockable, recording 2.5 sacks and six tackles.

- Artie Burns' interceptions are keeping fans off his back, but his play has been decidedly below average, even if the Browns weren’t the opponent to consistently take advantage of that fact. Burns showed poor press technique several times on Sunday, once eliciting an illegal hands to the face penalty on third down, and punching with the wrong hand on another Corey Coleman release that left the cornerback scrambling to make up lost ground. Browns tight end Gary Barnidge’s touchdown was on Burns as well, as the corner inexplicably tried to throw himself backward into Barnidge rather than click-and-close and attempt to make a play on the ball. His complete abandonment of basic corner skills is startling at times, but where Burns is at his best is attacking the ball in the air as he did on his interception. 

Lawrence Timmons off the edge was a fun wrinkle for Pittsburgh on Sunday as the Steelers frequently sugared every gap to make the Browns' inexperienced offensive line adjust their protections on the fly. Timmons bullied the Browns running backs who were forced to pick him up in pass protection, but in the process he showed hand usage and counter moves that could force Pittsburgh to think about playing him there more often. That way the Steelers could get he and Vince Williams on the field together with Ryan Shazier, and probably be a better pass rushing group if it meant Jarvis Jones or Arthur Moats was on the sideline. It’s an interesting thought anyway, and at this point it can’t hurt to try it. Pass rush desperately needs a spark against competent opponents.

- Interesting nugget that probably only interests a pass rush nerd like me: James Harrison’s record-clinching sack that moved him into first place all-time on the franchise sack list was achieved out of a 3-point stance. I’d have to go back and watch every one of his sacks, but I wonder how many have come with his hand in the dirt. Very few I’ll warrant.

Bud Dupree should be back to a key role on Thursday against Indianapolis, and just in time too. While Jones will lose some playing time to Harrison, Moats may be the outside linebacker whose playing time is most impacted by Dupree’s return. The veteran edge has begun to surrender the boundary more easily than Anthony Chickillo as a run defender, and Moats has never been much to write home about as a pass-rusher.

- It didn’t end up mattering on Sunday because the Browns were the Browns, but the Steelers recent trend of missed opportunities on both sides of the ball loomed large again. Key penalties killed offensive drives or gave Cleveland a fresh set of downs to work with. Drops plagued Cobi Hamilton, James, Ladarius Green and even Bell, while the Steelers defensive backs dropped easy interceptions as well. Those are the splash plays on both sides of the ball that the Steelers need more of, yet simply haven’t gotten at all of late.


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