Week One matchup review in a nutshell: Pittsburgh 30, Cleveland 27
It was one of the more bizarre football games of the 2014 season. Pittsburgh whacked Cleveland around in the first half with a calculated game plan full of screen passes and deep throws down the field. It was one of the more flawless 30 minutes of football Roethlisberger has played in his career. Even worse, Cleveland's best offensive player all throughout the preseason, Ben Tate, fell to a sprained knee. The Browns trailed 27-3 at halftime, appearing shell-shocked and outmatched.
Like a tornado brewing in the middle of Kansas, the Browns took the Steelers by storm, nearly blowing over their house. In unexpected fashion, rookie running backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell started mowing through the Pittsburgh defense. Brian Hoyer was lights out, engineering four straight scoring drives. The Cleveland pass rush fed off the momentum from their offense, dragging Roethlisberger to the turf three times, while tempering the Steelers to a sundry of three-and-out drives. Almost with a snap of a finger, the Browns found themselves tied with the Steelers at 27 apiece late in the fourth quarter.
The fervent retaliation ended in bitter fashion for the Browns, when a Roethlisberger pass floated in between the Cleveland defense and into the outstretched arms of receiver Markus Wheaton. Shaun Suisham finished the job, nailing a 41-yard field goal as time expired.
Coach Mike Pettine and his players walked off the field feeling disgruntled. But the team used the first half shellacking as a wakeup call: The Browns are talented enough to beat any team in the league; they just have to play 60 minutes of football.
The key matchups
The Browns' no-huddle offense vs. the Steelers defense*
The Steelers had zero answers for the hurried pace the Browns used in the second half back in September. Hoyer looked like Tom Brady. Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West were garnering Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner comparisons. The no-huddle was unexpectantly rammed down the Steelers' throats and Pittsburgh couldn't catch their breath. Pittsburgh coaches said they will be better prepared for the up-tempo this time around. Maybe Cleveland doesn't use the no-huddle as much – or maybe they use it even more.
Antonio Brown vs. Joe Haden
There would be no sweeter redemption for Browns fans than to have Joe Haden wrap a blanket around Antonio Brown and tuck him to sleep at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Steelers receiver has fried defenses thus far, and Haden was on the warmer end of a toasting session Week One. Brown's six catches for 116 yards and a 41-yard circus touchdown catch humbled the Cleveland defense in a train wreck of a first half at Heinz Field. Brown didn't run free on Haden during the second half, and in fact, was put away neatly in cupboard. One of the NFL's best cornerbacks has to reign supreme over one of the NFL's best receivers for the Browns to prevail in the win column. If Haden can't suit up because of a hip injury, Buster Skrine told us he'll be more than up for the challenge.
Paul Kruger vs. Steelers offensive tackles
Kruger was the member of the Browns' defense who got everything cranked up in the Week 1 contest – actually all season long. Lining up on both edges, Kruger's use of his hands combined with an increase in his lower body strength has given him the explosion needed to agitate offenses. The Steelers will need to consider double-teaming the 28-year-old, or at least chipping him with an extra tight end or running back.
Who will step up for the Steelers on defense?
Linebacker Lawrence Timmons collects tackles like stamps in the middle( leading the team with 41), but remember Jordan Cameron beating him for a 40-yard burn on Brian Hoyer's second pass of the season. Safety Troy Polamalu will eventually find a bronze bust in Canton with his renowned black locks. But now? He can be a liability at times. Younger pass rushers Cameron Hayward and Jarvis Jones could enter the conversation if they show more consistency. Defense is as much of a team concept in Pittsburgh as anywhere in the NFL, but their fan base has been rightfully clamoring for a player to instill that patented Steeler fear into offenses.
Ben Tate, Isaiah Crowell, Terrance West vs. Steelers linebackers
There's not another three-headed-running-back-monster quite as equivalent to the Browns'. Tate is the steady method-man. Sometimes it may not seem like Tate is controlling the game, and you'll look at the stat sheet to see he has 11 carries for 77 yards at halftime, like he did last week in Tennessee. His pace can lull defenses to sleep, for eventual big passing plays. Terrance West will show you his juke moves and keep himself healthy. West does an excellent job of getting out-of-bounds, limiting the amount of blows he takes from defenders. His fellow rookie, Isaiah Crowell, is the opposite. Don't let his inviting smile fool you: Crowell is a man-child on the field, willing to batter would-be tacklers. Big chunk runs hurt the Steelers in the first matchup. It'll be up to their linebackers to ensure six-yard runs don't become 36-yard runs.
Okay, it's not exactly a matchup, but it's been an interesting part of the Browns' success. Cleveland's only coughed up the football one time (a Hoyer interception last week against the Titans) but have also only taken the football away just four times in four games – one of those was on crazy lateral at the end of the Saints game. In turn, the Steelers have five takeaways and six giveaways – a negative one turnover ratio. The law of averages suggests these numbers could drastically fluctuate soon. Football is too chaotic for turnovers not to happen.
Le'Veon Bell – 24 receptions for 228 yards.
A season-high 88 of those yards came against the Browns. Cleveland defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil will have to counter and possibly use a key player like Donte Whitner or Karlos Dansby to mark Bell more closely in the passing game.