You can't spell the word dismantle without the letter D.
The Cleveland Browns' 31-10 domination of the Pittsburgh Steelers proved the one thing we were still uncertain about – that this defense is capable of shutting down an explosive offense.
Of course, the 21 straight points from the offense in the second quarter lit a firestorm under the city of Cleveland and will dominate the highlights on NFL Network.
Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron finally got going, catching three passes for 102 yards, opening the game wide in the second quarter with a 51-yard touchdown. Ben Tate and Isaiah Crowell combined for 36 carries, 158 yards and three touchdowns. The Browns ran the football until the Steelers choked on it.
Brian Hoyer played like Brian Hoyer – one of the, if not THE, most underrated quarterback in the NFL. Hoyer only needed eight completions to post 217 yards, an average of 27 yards per completion. Hoyer did all of this when his top target, Andrew Hawkins, was held without a catch. Dating back to 2013, Hoyer's now 6-2 as the Browns starter – he just wins, baby.
But we've known the identity of the Browns offense. When they are clicking, they are troublesome to stop. The offensive line – even sans Alex Mack, who was carted off with a frightening lower leg injury in the second quarter – is talented and smart enough to dictate the line of scrimmage against every defensive front they've faced. The running game combined with Hoyer's smart football decision just fall into place.
The offense isn't why the city of Cleveland has even its most jaded fans buying into this team.
It was that D in dismantling and defense which really made this win worth celebrating, for Browns fans. The confusing look on the mighty Ben Roethlisberger's face, caused by this Browns defense, has people league-wide sipping the Believeand Kool-Aid.
Coach Mike Pettine indicated the strategy against Pittsburgh may have unintentionally thrown them off. The Browns barely blitzed, instead using only four pass rushers on most plays. The extra defenders were used in spacing to stop offenses from getting big chunk plays. Clearly, the creative scheme worked. It also took some trust in each other's abilities.
"They believe in each other. They believe in what we're doing," said Pettine. "This is a tight team."
The big-time performances from the unit started on the third play of the game and never really stopped.
On a third-and-1, safety Tashaun Gipson snuffed out a Le'Veon Bell pitch play, grabbing the elusive running back's leg and thwarting what might've been a big chunk yardage play. On the next series, the Steelers marched down the field inside the Browns' 5 – but three straight run plays were annihilated and the Steelers kicked a field goal.
Less than 10 minutes into the game, it was apparent this was not the struggling Cleveland defense we saw during the first four weeks.
"We were playing too uptight," said Desmond Bryant, who finished with three tackles and a sack. "We just let loose. It's going to make all the difference."
For a brief instance in the third quarter, it looked like the Steelers' offensive woes might be ending, and that they might be flipping the script on the Browns in terms of a historic comeback.
On Pittsburgh's first drive of the second half, Roethlisberger effectively used the no-huddle, finding Antonio Brown for 23 yards. The Steelers were in field goal range, only briefly, though. On back-to-back plays, the Browns' defense was able to sack Roethlisberger, first Karlos Dansby and then Bryant. The Steelers eventually punted and never threatened again when it mattered.
"We were out-executing them," said Dansby, who finished with a team-high 11 tackles and notched his 40th career sack. "We were beating them to the punch. We knew how they wanted to attack us. We were just well prepared. We just played lights out football today."
"I'm proud of the whole defense," said John Hughes, who was thrust into the starting lineup following injuries to Phil Taylor and Billy Winn. "Just to come out there with a relentless attitude, even being down [some players] on the defensive line, we didn't blink a bit."
Pettine said, to him, the momentum jumped into the Browns' hands early in the second quarter. Another Pittsburgh drive was full of yards, but not a touchdown. The ensuing snap on a field goal was botched by holder Brad Wing and the sunken feeling never left the Steelers' side the rest of the afternoon.
The normally jovial and well-spoken Roethlisberger was short and agitated in his postgame press conference. None of it had to do with reporters.
"I didn't play well enough," said the two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback, who lost for just the second time ever to the Browns.
"Nope, just need to get better," Roethlisberger said to an additional question about his struggles.
To finish the Steelers and put them out of their misery, Buster Skrine picked off Roethlisberger early in the fourth quarter. Skrine dove for the tipped pass and got both arms underneath the football.
The Steelers' lone touchdown came in garbage time, when the Browns were making sure none of their players were hurt in some meaningless collision near the end zone. It didn't matter. The 21 point victory was still the largest a Browns team has posted against an AFC North opponent since 2003.
"We've played good for one quarter, two quarters; but, the thing about today – we went for the whole game," said Skrine.
"It's really big for us as a defense," said Paul Kruger, who muscled his way onto the field, even with an aching back. "Now we know what we can do. If we can play like that, we're going to be really hard to beat."