Steelers 27, Browns 11
Strategy: On offense, the Steelers are the same Steelers we have seen the past couple of years, using short passes, screens and intermediate throws to get the ball into the hands of wide receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders and generate yards after the catch. They also remain dedicated to the run despite their struggles. The biggest change from Week 7, though, is that they are more often using the no-huddle offense with three wide receivers to get quarterback Ben Roethlisberger into a rhythm. On defense, the Steelers still use their 3-4 zone blitz scheme, of course, but unlike the first half of the season, they are sacking quarterbacks and forcing turnovers, as we saw in their win over the Browns.
Personnel: The Steelers are banged up on defense. Defensive end Brett Keisel missed the Browns game and was replaced by Ziggy Hood. Jason Worilds has been subbing in for LaMarr Woodley at outside linebacker. Nose tackle Steve McLendon left the Browns game and will be out Thanksgiving night. Al Woods took his place. Kelvin Beachum and Fernando Velasco are starting at left tackle and center, respectively, after injuries to starters and are playing well, particularly Velasco. Rookie Le’Veon Bell, who had a productive game against the Ravens in Week 7, is dominating the snaps at running back, though Felix Jones could see snaps in the no-huddle.
What went right: The Steelers defense shut down the Browns running game and was able to generate a lot of pressure without sending more than four pass rushers. They recorded five sacks, forced three fumbles and picked off a pass that was returned for a touchdown. Meanwhile, the Steelers offensive line did not allow Roethlisberger to be sacked. The quarterback had one of his most efficient games of the season, throwing a pair of touchdown passes and averaging 9.9 yards per attempt. One touchdown came on a beautiful deep ball down the left sideline to Brown, who beat Browns cornerback Joe Haden for a touchdown. Haden had been shutting down wide receivers all season.
What went wrong: Bell and the Steelers had success running the ball early against the quality Browns front, but it did not last long as they ended up averaging just 2.5 yards per carry. The Steelers converted only four of their 15 opportunities on third and fourth down and totaled just 302 yards in the win. Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon had 14 catches for 237 yards and a touchdown on 17 targets, but he did most of his damage in the second half after the Steelers had built a big lead.
Turning point: The Steelers led by 10 points midway through the third quarter when the Browns advanced to midfield. The Steelers blitzed a pair of defensive backs from quarterback Jason Campbell's blind side. Starting cornerback William Gay, who moves inside in sub packages, was not blocked. He sacked Campbell and forced him to fumble. Will Allen scooped it up and returned it to Cleveland's 4-yard line. On the next play, Roethlisberger found Sanders for a touchdown to give the Steelers a 20-3 lead. Gay’s hit also knocked Campbell out of the game.
X-factor: Strong safety Troy Polamalu's play has been streaky this season, but Sunday's win showed he is still capable of taking over a game. Prowling the field as he always does, Polamalu would blitz one play then back out and run with a tight end on the next. He finished the game with four tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles. The Ravens must keep an eye on him at all times, and his history in this rivalry also serves as a reminder to do so.