chubb runs wild steelers offense sluggish browns nab 29 17 win
NFL

Chubb runs wild, Steelers offense sluggish: Browns nab 29-17 win

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Pittsburgh was determined to stop the run in its Thursday-night AFC North clash in Cleveland, but Browns running back Nick Chubb had other ideas.

Chubb rushed for 113 of his team’s 171 yards on the ground, while providing the knockout blow with 9:29 to play, a 1-yard plunge that all but sealed a 29-17 Cleveland win and sent the Steelers to 1-2 on the season, with a tough stretch on the horizon.

The Pittsburgh offense at least showed signs of life in the first half but fizzled in the second, punting on its first four possessions — including three-straight three-and-outs — out of the break.

The Steelers were a lousy 1-for-9 on third-down conversions offensively, and again didn’t get much pressure on the opposing quarterback, as backup Jacoby Brissett had his way with the Pittsburgh secondary most of the night (21 for 31, 220 yards, 2 touchdowns).

After neither team could get anything going early on, Cleveland (2-1) grabbed a 7-0 advantage on an 11-yard Amari Cooper touchdown reception late in the opening quarter.

The Steelers answered with an impressive drive, traveling 75 yards on seven plays in just 2:59 to tie it up on the first play of the second quarter on a 5-yard Najee Harris touchdown run, his first of the season. Harris finished with a team-high 56 rushing yards.

The possession was just what Steeler fans had been clamoring for, a balanced mixture of run and pass that was highlighted by quite possibly the catch of the year.

On second-and-3 from the Pittsburgh 46-yard line, working from the no-huddle, Mitch Trubisky rolled out and fired one down the field to rookie George Pickens, who twisted, turned, and came away with a magnificent, one-handed grab along the sideline, reminiscent of Odell Beckham Jr.’s famous, jaw-dropping grab a few years back as a member of the Giants.

The 36-yard catch, which was awarded Top Play on SportsCenter, provided a huge lift and gave Steeler fans a glimpse of Pickens’ athleticism and potential, certainly one of the bright spots on the evening.

After the Browns regained a 13-7 lead (Cade York’s extra point doinked off the upright) midway through the second quarter on an acrobatic David Njoku TD reception, Pittsburgh once again had an answer.

The offense looked well-oiled, once again playing an up-tempo, faster pace, as Trubisky capped a 10-play, 75-yard march with a 1-yard, diving touchdown run to give the Steelers a 14-13 halftime lead.

In the second half, though, everything seemed to fizzle offensively. Aside from its opening drive out of the locker room to start the third quarter, Pittsburgh failed to get a first down until just over three minutes left in the contest.

It was a return to the conservative, stagnant, vanilla offense for the most part, something sure to cause offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s already-hot seat to warm up a few more degrees.

Had the Steelers been as aggressive in the second half, they could’ve at least put themselves in a position to win down the stretch.

Instead, punting the ball away over and over again eventually led to another disappointing defeat, all the while showing no real sense of urgency until it was too little, too late.

Cleveland was 3-for-4 on fourth-down conversions, including Chubb’s dagger on fourth-and-goal from the 1. The Browns also controlled the time of possession, 36:09-23:51.

“They did what they wanted to, and what they wanted to was get Chubb the ball and get him over 100-plus,” said safety Minkah Fitzpatrick afterwards. “When you let a guy like that do what he wants, it’s hard to win the game.”

In addition to Chubb’s big night, backfield mate Kareem Hunt chipped in with 61 total yards on 15 touches, while Cooper led all receivers with 101 yards on seven receptions and Njoku added nine catches for 89 yards.

Down by nine with 3:13 left, tight end Pat Freiermuth made a great snag amongst multiple defenders over the middle, then hauled in another first-down catch (his only two receptions on four targets) that led to a Chris Boswell 34-yard field goal, trimming it to 23-17 with 1:48 to go.

By the time the Steelers got the ball back, they had to go 96 yards in nine seconds, with no timeouts left. After a series of razzle-dazzle laterals went nowhere in a hurry, Cleveland’s Denzel Ward added insult to injury, pouncing on a loose ball in the end zone as the final horn sounded.

Trubisky played an improved game overall, completing 20-of-32 for 207 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions, and putting his mobility on display. But once again, he couldn’t really move the chains and deliver with the game on the line.

It remains to be seen if — or when — the Steelers might choose to roll the dice with rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett, but at the same time, Trubisky isn’t exactly doing all he can to prove he deserves to keep his starting job moving forward.

When asked if he felt he and his fellow receivers were given chances to make plays this time around, Diontae Johnson summed it up perfectly.

“Yeah, I felt like we were,” said Johnson, who led the team in receiving with 84 yards on eight catches (11 targets), “but we just didn’t execute enough. Hopefully we get that turned around this following week.”

The upcoming 10-day layoff may be exactly what the Steelers need to get refreshed, re-tuned and refocused before hosting the Jets (1-1) on Oct. 2. After that, it’s tough sledding with a trip to 2-0 Buffalo the following week, Tampa Bay (2-0) at home, and then it’s at Miami and at Philadelphia, also both 2-0.

Scott Ratcliffe

Scott Ratcliffe has worked as a freelance writer for several publications over the past decade-plus, with a concentration on local and college sports. He is also a writer and editor for his father’s website, JerryRatcliffe.com, dedicated to the coverage of University of Virginia athletics.