An unrelenting pass rush and a multi-faceted offense propelled the Steelers to a 38-7 win over the Browns on Sunday. With the win, Pittsburgh is 5-0 for the first time since 1978, when the Steelers won their third of four Super Bowls in a six-year span. The Browns, who brought a four-game winning streak to Pittsburgh, dropped to 4-2 and 1-2 against AFC North division foes.
Two interceptions of Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield helped Pittsburgh jump out to a 24-0 lead. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick’s 33-yard pick-six of Mayfield made the score 10-0, while cornerback Cameron Sutton’s interception of Mayfield on the Browns’ ensuing drive set up James Conner’s three-yard touchdown run. The Steelers further stretched their lead when Ben Roethlisberger hit James Washington for a 28-yard score.
While he was able to get the Browns on the board before halftime on a 13-yard touchdown pass to Rashard Higgins, Mayfield was unable to avoid Pittsburgh’s formidable pass rush, which sacked him four times (two by linebacker Bud Dupree) while hitting him on numerous other occasions. Mayfield, who was initially questionable to play with a chest injury, was pulled in favor of Case Keenum with a minute left in the third quarter.
The Steelers’ offense continued to roll in the second half, as rookie Chase Claypool and running back Benny Snell scored on short touchdown runs. Pittsburgh’s rushing attack was led by Conner, who recorded his third 100-yard rushing performance against the Browns since 2018. Roethlisberger, who now has 11 touchdowns and just one interception through five games, improved to 24-2-1 against the Browns, who passed on him in the 2004 NFL Draft.
Why the Steelers won
The Pittsburgh front seven was dominant in the victory. Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward reset the line of scrimmage all day as T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree supplied pressure from the edge. The result was seven quarterback hits and four sacks on opposing quarterbacks. It was truthfully detrimental to Baker Mayfield’s health — he had suffered a rib injury against Indianapolis — to keep him in the game. Kevin Stefanski eventually pulled him in favor of a healthy Case Keenum. The Steelers secondary also looked much improved. As Tony Romo noted on the CBS broadcast, Pittsburgh had altered their third down defensive strategy to show a Cover 2 over the top with some man coverage concepts underneath.
On 11 possessions, Cleveland had six punts, three turnovers on downs and two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. They were a combined 1-of-15 on third and fourth down plays.
Why the Browns lost
Baker Mayfield and the offensive line played horrible. The Browns’ rushing attack has been praised all season but it ran into a brick wall in Week 6 against Pittsburgh. Every single starter along the offensive line had their worst game to date. The team wants to establish the run, allow their defense to create turnovers and grind out wins. When a run-based offense falls behind early, it becomes very difficult for them to keep pace. The same narrative played out in Week 1 against Baltimore.
Cleveland managed just 75 yards on 22 carries and a chunk of that was accomplished in the fourth quarter with game already in hand. The play-calling, which had been fantastic all season, was disappointing in the effort.
Play of the game
On Cleveland’s first offensive possession, Mayfield dropped back to pass and drove a ball into coverage. It was clear that he had a preconceived idea of where he wanted to go on the play. The issue is that Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick read it the entire way, stepped in front of the throw and returned it for a touchdown.
By stretching the lead to 10-0, it began to force Cleveland to throw the ball more and abandon their game plan. Considering the Browns were only able to score seven points, it literally put the game out of reach in the first quarter.
Cleveland will travel to Cincinnati next week. After losing in Week 1 to Baltimore, the Browns rattled off four consecutive wins. Outside of rematches with Baltimore and Pittsburgh later this season, Cleveland has a pretty favorable schedule. If they do not allow today’s effort to carry over into the coming weeks, they should still have a strong chance to push for the playoffs.
Pittsburgh will play every week for the rest of the regular season as a result of their game against Tennessee being postponed. They play the Titans and Ravens in the next two weeks. Those two teams had a combined eight wins coming into Week 6.