Over a string of four consecutive series, Thursday night’s NFC North rivalry game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns was a shootout. For the other 17 possessions, this primetime game was far less eventful.
In a contest where both offenses were slow-paced and much of the scoring was limited to a 15-minute surge in the first half, a Cade York field goal, a Nick Chubb touchdown and a defensive score on the game’s final play that provided the final margin in a 29-17 Browns victory over the Steelers.
Cleveland Wears Down Pittsburgh’s Defense
With passes to tight end David Njoku (9 catches, 89 yards, touchdown) and receiver Amari Cooper (7-101-1) from quarterback Jacoby Brissett, the Browns picked apart Pittsburgh’s secondary in the early going, interspersed around a ground game led by Chubb.
“Coach [Kevin] Stefanski and staff have done a great job building an offense around Brissett, spreading the field to allow him to make quick decisions by pre-snap read and play-action off their ability to run with Nick Chubb,” said analyst Marvin Lewis of The 33rd Team. “They utilized personnel and formations, three tight ends in to run, then spreading them out to get favorable matchups in the pass game.”
Chubb is just old school- love it! pic.twitter.com/CVbqqf7In8
— robert smith (@Robert26Smith) September 23, 2022
After those touchdown passes gave Cleveland all its points in the first half, the Browns turned to Chubb and Kareem Hunt to grind out the clock as the team regained the lead. The team’s first two drives of the second half spanned 25 plays, 150 yards, and 13:37 of clock. The first ended with York’s field goal to go up 16-14, and the second ended with a Chubb run up the middle on fourth-and-goal from the Steelers 1-yard line for a touchdown.
“Contrary to perception, since head coach Kevin Stefanski and GM Andrew Berry took over, the Browns have been a pass-first team, and then they pound you into submission,” said analyst Joe Banner of The 33rd Team. “They passed 22 times and ran 13 times in the first half, then let Chubb and Hunt do what they do as well as any combo we have seen in many years. Those two guys running against a tired D-line in the second half is a massive mismatch, and really impressive to anyone who loves tough, physical football.”
Chubb ended the game with 113 rushing yards and the touchdown. Brissett finished with 220 yards and his second win as Cleveland’s temporary starter. The Browns (2-1) sit atop the AFC North standings.
Catch of the
In defeat, Pittsburgh’s George Pickens provided the game’s best play, and one of the best catches to happen in recent NFL history. In a play that evoked comparisons to Odell Beckham Jr.’s signature catch, Pickens went fully horizontal, reaching out with his right hand and bringing in the one-handed grab for 36 yards. The Steelers went on to score a touchdown on the drive.
— NFL (@NFL) September 23, 2022
NFL analysts and Pickens’ contemporaries were quick to signal their approval of the rookie’s ridiculous grab, which came after Pickens had lobbied for more targets, after making just two catches in the team’s first two games.
— robert smith (@Robert26Smith) September 23, 2022
“Mitch Trubisky made a nice throw on the run, Martz said. “You’d rather see the ball come down in front, but you see Pickens track the ball as it leaves his hand! That’s important. He can adjust the whole time the ball is in the air and never takes his eyes off of it. A rule for receivers: If you see it, you will catch it,” The 33rd Team’s Mike Martz said after the play.
Outside Pickens’ Play, A Game to Forget for Pittsburgh
The catch by Pickens will serve as one of the NFL’s biggest highlights from the entire 2022 season, but it served as one of Pittsburgh’s only positives in the loss to Cleveland. The Steelers missed a field goal in addition to the pair of first-half touchdowns, and kicked a field goal to make the score 23-17 with 1:48 to play in the fourth. But the team’s remaining seven drives ended in punts, or saw the clock run out in either half. As Cleveland scored 10 points to begin its second half, Pittsburgh went three-and-out on three straight series.
Not that they had much chance, but the Steelers just punted away whatever small chance they had.
— Joe Banner (@JoeBanner13) September 23, 2022
Mitch Trubisky, who grew up a half hour from FirstEnergy Stadium’s location, scrambled in for one of Pittsburgh’s first-half touchdowns. The other came on a Najee Harris run, his first rushing touchdown of the season, which saw Harris power through a tackle from Cleveland’s John Johnson III.
Najee Harris sought out that gentleman
— chris long (@JOEL9ONE) September 23, 2022
Trubisky finished with 209 yards passing for the Steelers, and Harris finished with 56 yards on 15 carries. For those searching for signs of improvement, the Steelers had multiple offensive touchdowns in a game for the first time this season, and their 310 yards marked a new season-best for a team that has one or fewer wins through three games for the fourth time in the past five seasons.
The final play of the game offered one last twist of the knife for the Steelers, when a failed lateral was recovered by Cleveland’s Denzel Ward in the end zone for a defensive touchdown.