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The Cal Times student news is a publication of the Student Association Inc. at California University of Pennsylvania

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The Cal Times student news is a publication of the Student Association Inc. at California University of Pennsylvania

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Steelers’ Defense Propels Them to a Win

Recap of Browns @ Steelers on Monday Night Football (Week 2)
Sarah Seader
Weekly Professional Football Recap

After a rough season opener last week for the Pittsburgh Steelers, they were looking for a bounce back game, as they played host to the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football in week 2.  Last week, the Steelers lost to the San Francisco 49ers, 30-7.  The offense struggled immensely, not getting a first down until just over a minute left in the first half, where they were able to put together their one and only scoring drive of the game. The offense was held to just 239 yards of total offense by the 49ers’ defense.

The criticism of the offense continues, putting Offensive Coordinator, Matt Canada, on the spot.  Many Steelers fans are calling for Canada to be dismissed by the team, as Pittsburgh has scored 30+ points just twice under Canada’s offense and has never had more than 400 total yards of offense in the 37 games with Canada at the helm.

However, Matt Canada played a huge part in Kenny Pickett’s journey through football, as he was with the Pittsburgh Panthers when Kenny was recruited at Pitt.  Their relationship goes back further than their professional careers, and it seemed as though Kenny was just getting somewhat used to the offense to end the year. So, the thought of cutting loose with an offensive coordinator that Kenny might be comfortable with is a questionable move early on in the season.

The focus had to switch to the prime-time game against Cleveland (1-0), as Steelers fans were looking for answers. Having the spotlight of the entire league, as the last game of the week, it was time to put the league on notice. This was a rivalry game between two AFC North teams on a perfect night in Pittsburgh.  The last time these two teams faced each other was in last season’s final regular season game, when the Steelers won by a score of 28-14.  Kenny Pickett threw for 195 yards and one touchdown, while Cleveland’s quarterback, Deshaun Watson, finished with 230 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, and was sacked a whopping seven times by the Pittsburgh defense.  It may only be week 2, but this seemed like a must-win game for Pittsburgh.  Kickoff was set for 8:15 p.m. and the stadium was rocking.  The attendance for the game was over 67,000 people, and the Terrible Towels were being represented all night long, as it looked like a sea of yellow.

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Pittsburgh elected to defer, meaning Cleveland got the ball first and Pittsburgh would receive the ball in the start of the second half.  The game started out with quite the bang, as the first play of the game was a throw by Browns’ quarterback, Deshaun Watson, which was tipped in the air by Steelers’ safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, and intercepted by Alex Highsmith, who returned it 30 yards for a touchdown.  7-0, Steelers.  All of a sudden, the Steelers had scored as many points as they did all last week in just 9 seconds, as 14:51 was left in the first quarter.

The Browns would bounce back and get a field goal on their next drive, followed by intercepting Kenny Pickett’s third pass of the day, and ending the Steelers’ first drive on offense.  The question mark surrounding the offense remained an issue, but luckily the Steeler defense came to play.

The game continued to go back and forth with multiple turnovers by each team throughout the first half.  Cleveland would go on to kick another field goal, score a touchdown, and convert a 2-point conversion after an offside penalty by the Steelers defense on the extra point.  Pittsburgh would do the same by kicking a field goal and scoring an electric touchdown on a 71-yard pass from Kenny Pickett to wide receiver George Pickens, but failed on their 2-point attempt after a breakdown by the offensive line.  The Steelers go up 16-14 at the half.

Pittsburgh was able to come out of the half and put another three points on the board with a 50-yard field goal by kicker, Chris Boswell, making the score 19-14.  Boswell was 2/2 on the night, hitting field goals from 50 and 52 yards.

Cleveland was able to answer quickly once again, scoring a touchdown on their next drive after a 69-yard run by Cleveland’s backup running back, Jerome Ford, who was tackled at the 1-yard line. This set them up to score two plays later, followed by another two-point conversion to give them a field goal lead, 22-19.

The run game for the Steelers was practically non-existent, as two runs by Steelers’ back Najee Harris went for 17 and 21 in back-to-back plays; but, outside of those runs, the team had just 17 rushing yards on 19 attempts.  The offensive line’s grade after the game was not what you want to see, as a team who has practically reinvented the foundation of their front five.

The action on the offensive side of the football came to a stop, as both defenses seemed to control the rest of the game; however, as a Steelers fan, you have to like your chances when you are counting on our defense.  The last nine offensive drives of the game, by both teams, were scoreless and did not amount to much.  The Steelers offense was actually held to -7 total yards of offense in the fourth quarter. So, when I reveal the result of the game, it might surprise you.

Going into the 4th quarter, the Steelers were down 22-19 and seemed to be running into a brick wall when it came to moving the football on offense.  Pressley Harvin, the punter for the Steelers, actually had potentially the best game of his career, which is not always something you want to hear as a fan of the team that was punting a lot.  Harvin punted the football seven times and was able to pin four of those seven punts inside the 20-yard line, including two crucial punts late in the game to switch the field on Cleveland. One punt went out of bounds at the 1-yard line and another was downed at the 6-yard line and covered a total distance of 61 yards.  Harvin averaged 45.7 yards per punt on the night.

Harvin was criticized by Head Coach Mike Tomlin after their week 1 loss, and Harvin bounced back big time in week 2.  It is hard to tell by looking at stats, but the things Pressley Harvin did in that game made a huge difference.  When you are able to push a team back and make them start their drive from inside their own 20-yard line, it makes moving the ball that much harder.  Less room to make mistakes and Cleveland’s inability to flip the field, gave the Steelers good starting field position, if they were able to get the ball back right away, which was crucial, especially for a struggling offense.

With just over eight minutes left in the fourth quarter of the game, Deshaun Watson and the Cleveland Browns got the ball back off of the late, clutch punt from Pressley that started them at the 6-yard line.  First play, the Steelers were able to meet the running back, Jerome Ford, in the backfield for a loss of three.  The next play, they forced an incompletion, and all was looking good as the Steelers were looking to get the ball back, as Cleveland held the lead, 22-19.  As for the next play, well let’s just say it wouldn’t be a real Pittsburgh experience if you didn’t have an emotional roller coaster of plays at some point.  On the 3rd and 13 from their own 3-yard line, Deshaun Watson steps back and throws a perfectly placed ball to wide receiver Elijah Moore, who was wide open on the sidelines, for a gain of 16 yards and a first down for Cleveland.

As a lifelong Steelers fan, at this point, I am sitting on the floor of my living room holding my Terrible Towel over my face, in disbelief that we gave up such a big first down so late in the game.  The next play was a hand-off up the middle for running back Jerome Ford, who only managed to get a yard. Then it was 2nd and 9 and Cleveland was at their own 20-yard line, looking to keep the clock running, but also needing to move the ball and get a first down to keep the ball out of the Steelers’ hands.

Deshaun Watson lined up under center, with a tight formation and only one wide receiver on the outside.  He called hut and it was a play action. He dropped back to pass, pressure was coming, but no one was open, and he was hit hard by Alex Highsmith from the backside and the ball was knocked loose.  Recovered by T.J. Watt who got the ‘scoop and score’ for the Steelers as he took it into the endzone for a touchdown.  Steelers take the lead 26-22, with just under seven minutes left in the game.

The Browns would get the ball back, but almost immediately were faced with 4th down, and a punt back to the Steelers with five minutes left.  Now, it was the Steelers’ turn to attempt to run the clock out, and that was something that they have not been very good at in recent years.  The drive started with a little 1-yard run by Najee Harris, and the clock began to move, 2nd and 9 coming up.  This time, the Steelers handed it off to Jaylen Warren, the current backup running back for the Steelers, and he ran for a gain of 8 yards up the left side on a stretch, still a yard short of the line to gain.

With a little over 3 minutes left, this play could have very well decided the game if the Steelers were able to get just one yard, and move the sticks.  Here was where the mind of Matt Canada came into play, as we decided to run a play action, fake-jet sweep, quarterback draw up the middle. We faked a handoff to the running back, faked another one to the receiver, and made our quarterback run the ball even though the defense had already had enough time to breakdown the offensive line, leading to a loss of three, resulting in a 4th and 4, and yet another punt for Pittsburgh.

With the lead being four, and the Browns getting the ball back, they had no choice but to go for a touchdown on what seemed like it would be their last drive of the game. There were three minutes left in the game, one timeout remaining, and a four-point deficit.  Watson had yet to lead a game-winning drive since joining the Browns at the beginning of last year, and the Steelers were not planning to let that stat change.  The Browns did however, manage to get back-to-back first downs to start the drive, and advanced the ball across midfield rather quickly.  On the first play in Pittsburgh territory, Watson decided to keep it himself, and advanced the ball just three yards. It was 2nd and 7, but leave it to the defense to make a big play yet again.  Deshaun dropped back, and the pressure was there almost immediately.  Rookie linebacker, Nick Herbig from Wisconsin, came flying around the backside of Watson, causing the ball to be thrown away out of bounds, now 3rd and 7.

Cleveland came up to the line with three receivers out wide, Watson in the shotgun, with a tight end in formation as well.  As Watson dropped back, the defense met him in the backfield once again, causing him to attempt to scramble out of trouble, just to be brought down by Elijah Riley for the Steelers’ sixth sack of the game.  The constant pass rush of Pittsburgh was what kept them in this game.  Now, Cleveland was faced with a 4th and 10 with the game on the line, with a minute and a half to play.

The whole game relied on this next play.  Make the stop, Steelers walk away with a win, bounce back from a brutal loss last week, and improve to 1-1 on the season.  Allow a first down, Pittsburgh fans all around the world would spend the next 60 seconds ripping their hair out and biting their nails from stress, as they would watch Cleveland drive further down the field.  Allow a touchdown, and the Browns would be 2-0 for the first time since 1993, and the Steelers winless through two weeks.

Watson dropped back, looked to the sideline, and threw a lob to Donovan Peoples-Jones, who was being covered by Joey Porter Jr., and the pass was incomplete as the ball landed out of bounds, Steelers took over on offense with exactly a minute left, and took victory formation, kneeling away the final seconds of the game and giving the Steelers their first win of the season.  There was controversy on that last play, as Porter seemed to have his hands tied up in Peoples-Jones’s jersey, but the ball was not catchable to begin with, which might have been why there was no call.

The Pittsburgh defense was the main story of this game, as they were able to get to the quarterback 6 times, forced and recovered three fumbles, opened the game with an interception returned for a touchdown, and finished the game with a fumble recovery for a touchdown.  Technically, the defense outscored the offense in this game, 14-12.  T.J. Watt ended the game with 4 total tackles, a sack, 2 tackles for loss, 1 pass deflection, 4 QB hits, a fumble recovery, and a touchdown.  Alex Highsmith on the other side ended with 7 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, 2 QB hits, an interception, and a touchdown.  He was later announced AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance.

As for the offense, their lack of consistency was shown once again, as the team accumulated for -7 yards in the fourth quarter, and still found a way to win the game.  Kenny Pickett was 15/30 (50%), for 222 yards, one touchdown and one interception.  The leading receiver for the game was George Pickens, who had four catches for a career-high 127 yards and a touchdown.  The Steelers improved to 1-1 on the season and 1-0 in divisional play.  They will travel to Las Vegas to play the Raiders on Sunday Night Football, in what will be the Raiders first-ever game in their new stadium.  Tickets for that game are at record-breaking prices for a week 3 matchup, considering the change of scenery and two of the most historic franchises facing off for the debut of the stadium.

For Cleveland, Deshaun Watson was 22/40 (55%), 235 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.  He also had 22 yards on the ground.  Jerome Ford, who came in for the injured Nick Chubb (out for the season) finished the game with 16 carries for 106 yards, along with three catches for 25 yards receiving.  The Browns drop to 1-1 and 0-1 in the AFC North.  They will head home to host the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at 1:00 p.m.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns will face off again in week 11, on Sunday, November 19, in Cleveland.  That game is scheduled to kickoff at 1:00 p.m. with the Browns listed as early favorites. (-3)

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About the Contributors
Andrew White
Andrew White, Sports Editor

Andrew White is the Sports Editor and serves as a staff writer for the CalTimes.  He has a deeply engraved passion for sports and loves to inform the community about the local teams, both on and off campus. He is a Senior here at PennWest California, majoring in Communication Studies with a minor in Business Management.

Growing up in Brownsville, PA, Andrew is a die-hard Yinzer and will always have a place in his heart for the city of Pittsburgh and where he came from.  He serves as a play-by-play commentator for California’s basketball teams and hopes to land a career in Broadcasting, Public Relations, or Media Writing down the line, with his main goal being finding success as a play-by-play commentator.

Andrew is involved in CUTV, WCAL, CalTimes, and dips his hands in some graphic design work as well. He will be graduating in May and looks forward to his next steps of his career past PennWest California. He is the son of Tami and Stephen White of Brownsville, PA.

Sarah Seader
Sarah Seader, Editor-in-Chief

Sarah Seader is the Editor-in-Chief and a Staff Writer for the CalTimes and a Senior Honors Student at PennWest California, pursuing two degrees in Business Administration Management and Management Information Systems with a Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship as well as a Data Science Certificate. Sarah serves as the PennWest California Student Trustee.

Sarah is involved serving as the President of the SAI Board of Directors, President of DECA, President of Alpha Lambda Delta (ALD), Student Government Executive Board serving as Vice President, Vice President of Finance Club, Accounting Club Treasurer, and serves as the Treasurer on the Student Honors Advisory Board (SHAB).

Sarah is also a member of Women United, CUTV, WCAL, New Life, STAND, American Sign Language (ASL) Club, American Marketing Association (AMA), Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), Student Activities Board (SAB), Vulcan Gaming Club, President's Leadership Academy (PLA), The National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS), and serves as a Peer Mentor and Honors Coach.

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    Andrew WhiteSep 22, 2023 at 11:22 am

    Correction: Browns fall to 1-1 in the AFC North.
    – Andrew White