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All-22 Review: Browns-Steelers

Analysis of coach's tape updates play of Finney, Davis, Maxey, the tackling of Burns and what that means with Miami coming up, and much more.

It’s tough to have a lot of overarching, meaningful takeaways from a game into which the Pittsburgh Steelers entered without several key players, but there were still some interesting observations to be made from the coaches tape:

B.J. Finney got off to a tough start at center, but rebounded nicely as the game went on. I think there were some communication issues between he and Fitzgerald Toussaint in pass protection early on, which will happen with two guys who haven’t played much overall, let alone together. Todd Haley got Finney going on some center pulls, getting him out in space on the edge, where Finney has been very effective in his three starts. The Steelers have to be thrilled with his progress and the depth it gives their offensive line.

- The Browns ran a pretty red-zone play that fooled the Steelers defense, resulting in tight end Seth DeValve’s 12-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter. Cleveland ran pin/pull with the right guard and right tackle to the backside, drawing the linebackers away from the boot action by Robert Griffin on the playside. With the defense flowing left, DeValve was wide open in the flat for the easy catch and 10-yard touchdown. Great design and execution, as the Steelers have struggled with boot action for years now. Lot of aggressive defenders who like to attack the first key they see, so throwing false ones at them is definitely a way to reveal the Steelers' defensive weaknesses.

- Sean Davis’ impressive rookie season continued Sunday as he led the team in tackles with nine while also recording a drive-killing sack and the game-changing fumble recovery that led to Pittsburgh’s first points of the game. He’s been a game-changer in coverage as well, taking away underneath options and tight ends and consistently forcing teams to options outside the numbers.

- Good and bad from Johnny Maxey. Lost contain on one pass rush, allowing Griffin to get outside the pocket and hit Isaiah Crowell for 13 yards on a scramble drill. But hit a nasty swim move on the Browns center the play before to bag Crowell for a one-yard loss. Maxey plays way too high and doesn't win with power often, but he’s quick and has flashed some moves you wouldn’t expect. Still, he’s not someone you want on the field in a playoff game against a team that ran for 200-plus in the last meeting.

Artie Burns has shown a much-improved ability to break on routes in front of him, leading to a couple near-interceptions against Cleveland. The Browns used that against him at one point, though, with Pryor running a quick curl in front of Burns, who broke on it hard from off-coverage. Pryor spun right out of his break and up the sideline, toasting the Steelers cornerback for a 43-yard catch. Mike Mitchell saved a touchdown by pushing Pryor out at the five, and Crowell fumbled on the next play to give the Steelers life with one minute remaining. Burns has improved in several key areas, but that’s the second time in two weeks he’s given up a big-play ball over his head with a lack of positional discipline and Mitchell has had to save him. Look for Miami to go after him in a similar fashion.

- Speaking of the Miami game last year, the Steelers' biggest issue as a run defense was probably crack/replace on the outside by their corners. The Dolphins would use their wide receivers to crack the Steelers box safety (Robert Golden), forcing the playside cornerback to step up as the force defender in run support. Burns failed to do so at all on several big runs, and Ross Cockrell tackled poorly when he did fill. Both corners have improved their work in the run game considerably, but neither are great tacklers, so this will be one of the keys to victory on Sunday for Pittsburgh.

Ryan Shazier had some harsh words after the game for the lack of emphasis some of his teammates placed on a technically meaningless contest against the Browns, but his own play should be under the microscope as well. Shazier has had an excellent season for the most part, but he continues to show that, when healthy, the only player capable of stopping him is, well, him. Shazier’s missed tackles were an issue again Sunday, as he allowed Crowell to slip away for a 67-yard run despite having the running back pegged near the line of scrimmage. His third interception of the season did come at a crucial time, but Shazier needs to balance out his splash play ability with better tackling and attack angles, or the Steelers defense will continue leaking big plays against the run.

Landry Jones made some terrific plays on Sunday, highlighted by his ball placement, timing and accuracy from the pocket. His touchdown pass to Demarcus Ayers looked simple enough after the receiver sprung free from man coverage on a mesh concept, but Jones ability to lead Ayers up the field with perfect placement was crucial to the rookie being able to maintain his speed to the end zone on his way to his first career touchdown. The Steelers used the same mesh concept to free Ayers up on the crucial fourth down conversion during the team’s game-winning drive, and Jones again hit him in stride for the first down.

- Jones isn’t a great vertical passer, but he gave Darrius Heyward-Bey a chance on a crucial 50-50 ball to set up the Ayers touchdown. None of Jones' throws were as impressive as the game-winning pass to Cobi Hamilton, an arcing 26-yard throw that led the receiver perfectly to the back corner of the end zone. Jones has received a ton of flak from the Steelers fanbase, but there aren’t many better backup quarterbacks in the league at this point. I’m hopeful the team brings him back as a free agent this offseason if he can be had at an affordable rate.

Bud Dupree got his first pass-rushing one-on-one victory of the season that resulted in a sack, beating Browns right tackle (typically center) Cameron Erving around the edge for a strip-sack of Griffin. All of Dupree’s other sacks this season have come on hustle or effort plays, but on this occasion he did a great job to slap Erving’s hands down at the top of the arc and turn the corner to the pocket. That’s how he’ll need to win in the future if he wants to make good on his first-round price tag.


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