Dawg Pound Journal: What's going on with the Pittsburgh Steelers?
Three weeks ago on Sunday Night Football, the Pittsburgh Steelers dismantled the Carolina Panthers 37-19 in front of a national audience.
Both Le'Veon Bell and LaGarrette Blount carved their way through the highly-regarded Panthers front seven, combining for 265 yards rushing as Carolina was held to 42 yards on the ground. The utter dominance painted a picture that the Steelers could be emerging as one of the top teams in the AFC.
Then the following week, the Buccaneers game happened. Tampa Bay was coming off the most humiliating defeat in franchise history (a 56-14 loss to the Falcons) and were starting the youthful Mike Glennon at quarterback. The Steelers let the Buccaneers hang around and didn't finish them. Glennon manufactured a four-play, 46-yard drive, culminating with a Vincent Jackson touchdown and that stunned and silenced Heinz Field.
Last Sunday, the Steelers may have responded, but it wasn't a thing of beauty. In their 17-9 victory at Jacksonville, Pittsburgh finally flexed their defensive muscles, but again they let the winless Jaguars hang around. With 5:28 left in the fourth quarter, Blake Bortles had the football and a chance to force the game to overtime. The rookie quarterback faltered and Steelers fans collectively breathed a sigh of relief.
Statistically and record wise, the Steelers seem to be having a solid first half of the season. They're 3-2 and ranked 4th in the NFL in offense and 9th on defense. But the last three games have been troublesome. The Steelers have not buried two of the NFL's weaker teams – FootballOutsiders.com rank Tampa and Jacksonville as the two least efficient teams in the pro football.
All of this bodes well for the Cleveland Browns. Since their Week 1, 30-27, last second loss to Pittsburgh, the Browns have strengthened their identity and mental toughness in the fourth quarter. Plus, this game is at FirstEnergy Stadium. Outside of a few plays here and there, Cleveland's defense has been thriving at home.
Pittsburgh will have to play a game much closer to the one they did against Carolina to leave Ohio with a win, because the Browns have proven they can now elevate their play when the game is on the line.
Other Steelers notes
- Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier will likely return to practice this week (knee). He'll be a long-shot to suit up against the Browns, but it's something to keep an eye on.
- Right tackle Marcus Gilbert is quietly having a strong season. A year ago, defenses had no problem posting sacks on the lineman. Now, ProFootballFocus.com ranks him as the Steelers' second most effective offensive player.
- A big Steelers problem has been scoring touchdowns in the red zone, which they've only done 44 percent of the time in 2014. Ben Roethlisberger even fumbled against the Jaguars. The quarterback and Tomlin said they will revisit the play calling near the goal line, which has been very pass heavy.
Two favorite Mike Pettine quotes from Monday
"[The offensive coaches] do a good job of kind of building a book on the opponent throughout the game."
*With offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's impressive resume, it's no surprise that he's been outstanding so far this season at cracking the codes of opposing defenses and making adjustments to change the momentum of games. Big credit for this also goes up to running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery, wide receivers coach Mike McDaniel, offensive line coach Andy Moeller, tight ends coach Brian Angelichio and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains. *
"When you have a historic comeback like that, all that means is you played really bad early and really well late."
*The Browns know they have a laundry list of mistakes to correct, which makes Wednesday's practice and film review a vital day. *