The Pittsburgh Steelers fell to the Cleveland Browns 29-17 on Thursday Night Football where their offense played historically bad on third downs, and the defense also struggled in critical moments to get off the field.
The Steelers finished 1-9 (11%) on 3rd downs, tied for their 3rd-worst in a game since Mike Tomlin took over in 2007 (via @ESPNStatsInfo)
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) September 23, 2022
In Ohio, the Steelers’ single conversion on third down came in the third quarter on the first drive of the half when Mitch Trubisky connected with Chase Claypool for a 14-yard gain when they needed nine. The offense showed some of what it’s capable of able of sustaining a pair of 75-yard touchdown scoring drives with Najee Harris, and Trubisky running the ball into the endzone in the first quarter without reaching third down.
The Steelers’ offense got off to a strong start in the second half moving from their own 16 to Cleveland’s 41 and eating up close to five and a half minutes in clock time. Then, Claypool was called for offensive pass interference on third and five and the drive ended with a Pressley Harvin 32-yard punt.
Steelers 2nd Half Woes
The Steelers produced one drive for the rest of the half longer than three plays. They never held onto the ball for longer than 1:27 in the remaining five possessions of the game.
Diontae Johnson had a pair of dropped balls on third down. The first on a third and three, on the Steelers’ opening drive of the game. Then with the Steelers trailing 16-14 with 1:18 to play in the third, Trubisky threw it deep after avoiding the pursuit of Myles Garrett and Johnson had the ball bounce off his hand with Denzel Ward close by in coverage.
Was the single biggest play of last night's game the Diontae Johnson drop when the Steelers were down 16-14 late in 3Q?
If it wasn't, what was?
— Colin Dunlap (@colin_dunlap) September 23, 2022
“That’s a pain in the butt when you can’t convert third downs,” the receiver said via veteran Steelers beat writer Mark Kaboly of The Athletic. “Obviously, that’s a problem. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board.”
The only two times in head coach, Mike Tomlin‘s 16-year tenure where third down was more of a problem were a pair of 1-for-10 losses, 21-14 to the New York Giants in 2008, and 26-15 at the hands of Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills in 2020. Thursday night’s third down conversion rate in the game on the shores of Lake Erie tied a 2012 loss in the very same stadium where Lawrence Timmons returned an interception for a touchdown, but Charlie Batch threw three interceptions as the Steelers fell 20-14.
The defense found itself on the field a lot with the offense failing to keep much of any sustained pressure and it hurt them. The Browns were able to muster up six third-down conversions and added another three fourth-down converts.
“Three and outs, you do that and you’re on the sideline,” Cameron Heyward said to the media following the loss. “As a defense, we didn’t get off the field.”
The Steelers let Jacoby Brissett pick up 3 yards for the Browns on a quarterback sneak on a fourth and one at their own 49 to continue for their first touchdown drive of the game. The journeyman quarterback, who has had stints with the Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, and, most recently the Miami Dolphins, converted on third, three times via the pass and once on the ground.
A bright spot for the Steelers in getting off the field was that both sacks in the game came on third down forcing Cleveland to punt.
Moving forward as Johnson said, the Steelers will need to address their issues with converting to stay on the field. For the defense, they will need to improve overall with T.J. Watt still sidelined.
So, Steeler Nation. How do you think the Steelers can improve their third down game on offense? How can the defense improve in significant moments? As always, please share your thoughts with us in the comment section below or on our social media feeds.