In a game that many pundits thought the Cleveland Browns had no chance of winning, they came out hot early and defeated the Steelers, 48-37 to advance in the playoffs.
Here are some studs and duds from the big game.
Stud: Browns First Half Defense
It all started with Karl Joseph falling on an errant snap that Maurkice Pouncey sent over the head of Ben Roethlisberger on the first possession of the game.
The Browns defense didn’t look back during the first half.
They forced three turnovers in the first half, adding two interceptions by Sedrick Redwine and Porter Gustin that allowed the Browns to jump out to a 35-10 first half lead.
The front four made Roethlisberger look uncomfortable and lost during the first half, leading to bad throws that the Browns took advantage of.
They played well against the run as well, keeping James Conner from hitting any running lane and limiting yardage.
This first half is probably as well as the Browns defense has played all season.
Dud: Browns Second Half Defense
It can’t be all roses.
After the half, up 35-10, Joe Woods ran the same defense that he ran in the first half.
Any football fan knows that adjustments need to be made throughout the game, but especially at halftime.
Roethlisberger would end up with 501 yards and four TDs for the game (to go with four picks).
Cleveland’s least favorite Steeler, JuJu Smith-Schuster, had 13 catches for 157 yards and a TD.
Yes, the Steelers were playing from behind and essentially abandoned the run early on, but Joe Woods failed to make adjustments throughout the second half.
That failure allowed the Steelers to torch the split-safety scheme and close the gap, allowing them to claw back until Sione Takitaki picked off a pass that helped seal the game for the Browns.
Stud: The Browns Offensive Line
Joel Bitonio was out because of COVID restrictions.
Jack Conklin would go out with a hamstring injury, not returning to the game.
Michael Dunn would go down in the fourth quarter.
#Browns’ QB Baker Mayfield on the offensive line situation tonight: "Michael (Dunn) got hurt and a guy named Blake who I literally introduced myself to before the game stepped up in the fourth quarter."
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) January 11, 2021
The Blake that Baker referred to was Blake Hance, a second year player from Northwestern.
Just a few short years ago, this would have been a cause for concern.
Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski have turned this positional unit into a strength, even with starters out.
They allowed Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb to run for a combined 127 yards, and kept the passing lanes clean for Baker Mayfield to get the ball downfield to his receivers.
While there is a TON of talent on the offensive side of the ball, the players in the trenches are what makes the offense hum.
And they did an amazing job Sunday night.
Dud: Ben Ben Roethlisberger
Yeah, he threw for 501 yards.
It took him 68 attempts and 47 completions to get there.
He also tossed four interceptions and looked horribly uncomfortable in the pocket, even when the Browns dropped into soft zones and only rushed three down lineman.
He looked old and befuddled for much of the game.
Roethlisberger has been the straw that has stirred the Steelers drink for much of the time he has been under center for the team.
With Baker proving himself over the last few months, Lamar Jackson being the defending MVP and winning his first playoff game, and Joe Burrow playing well for a horrible Bengals squad, the AFC North is stacked with good young QBs.
And Ben isn’t that guy anymore.
The Steelers have to take a good long look at the QB position going forward if they want to keep pace with the young QB’s in the division.
Stud: Nick Chubb
Yep. I’m going there again because he’s just THAT good.
He gained yardage on the ground when the Browns needed it, whether it was a big run or short yardage.
He also showed how big of a factor he can be in the passing game, scoring a TD on this play.
Nick Chubb. GONE ♨️
(via @NFL) pic.twitter.com/xEPBDhyulj
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 11, 2021
Chubb would finish the night with 145 total yards (76 rushing, 69 receiving) and a touchdown.
He’s cementing his place as one of the top players not just at his position, but overall, in the NFL.
He can only further that line of thought the deeper the Browns go into the playoffs.
Stud: Baker Mayfield
He’s becoming what every Browns fan has wanted in a QB.
He did that Sunday night, going 21/34 for 263 yards and three TDs.
Over the last few months, Baker Mayfield has stepped up and delivered for the Browns.
Against the Steelers, he looked comfortable behind an offensive line that ended up missing three starters by the end of the game.
While he missed some throws, he delivered the ball accurately against the Steelers blitz.
Honorable Mention-Cleveland Fans
West 9th street, Cleveland Ohio. #Browns until I die pic.twitter.com/KKD6YseOHU
— Nick Oslin (@noslin4) January 11, 2021
Browns fans, we deserve this.
After everything we have went through, you’ve stuck it out, through thick and thin.
And if I could be anywhere right now, I’d be in Cleveland just watching everyone enjoy this victory.
Mark Mertus says
First time caller but thank you for the excellent support of the Cleveland Browns