Browns: Can Steelers protect Ben Roethlisberger from vicious Dawgs?

Jan 10, 2021; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) sets to pass against the Cleveland Browns in the first half of an AFC Wild Card playoff game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 10, 2021; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) sets to pass against the Cleveland Browns in the first half of an AFC Wild Card playoff game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports /

The Browns pass rush is coming and the Steelers offensive line needs to buy him 2.36 seconds. Can they do it? 

The Cleveland Browns have an outstanding pass rush, and they are coming after Ben Roethlisberger in Cleveland on Sunday. Will they catch him? Maybe.

But first, the narrative on public media is totally wrong. The public media narrative says that the Browns have a boring ineffective pass rush, and they really need to consider hiring a new defensive coordinator to replace unimaginative Joe Woods, who is not getting enough out of defensive ends Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney.

The facts are that the Browns have 20 sacks so far this season. They are one shy of the NFL lead of 21 shared by the Vikings and Bears, who play in a much weaker division than the Browns.

The Browns are also number two in the NFL in rushing yards permitted per game with only 80.4 yards/game. Once the ball gets airborne, they are sixth-ranked in the NFL with 215.1. Where is this horrible defense?

As for the Steelers, the media narrative is that Ben Roethlisberger, the ancient warrior, needs to retire and make way for a dramatic new quarterback like Dwayne Haskins. He’s too old to evade the pass rush. He had been surrounded by a group of All-Pro linemen for years, but this season they left to go free agent or were traded or retired, and so he has four new linemen and is getting killed by the pass rush. The kiddie linemen are unable to help him survive.

This narrative is also way wrong.

Here are the real numbers you need. Roethlisberger is the 20th most-sacked quarterback in the NFL, not number one. The Steelers gave up eight sacks in their first three games, but only four sacks in the last three games.

Readers of this space were clued in that it is a young line that has never played together before and was going to be rugged at first and improve as the season progressed. That is in fact what we are seeing.

One of the main reasons for the low sack rate is that, according to Nextgen Stats, Roethlisberger’s average time to throw is only 2.36 seconds, the quickest in the NFL.

The Steelers offensive line is sixth best in the NFL in terms of sacks allowed according to They are fourth best in the NFL in terms of quarterback pressures allowed.

Truth be told, these glittering stats should probably not be believed, because they have a lot to do with Roethlisberger’s rapid release on the dink-and-dunk. But no one should have believed 2020’s stats, either.

That’s why losing left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, left guard Matt Feiler, center Maurkice Pouncey, and right guard David DeCastro was not such a big deal for the team! The eyeball test told us, or should have told us, that the group was losing their edge towards the end of the 2020 season.

With all due respect, sending DeCastro and Pouncey to the Pro Bowl last season was probably based on their reputation rather than their play over the last two months of the 2020 season. It was the right time for them to retire after great careers.

Left tackle Dan Moore, Jr. started six games for the Steelers last season, left guard Dotson started four games, center Kendrick Green is a rookie third round pick;, right guard Trai Turner was signed as a free agent; and right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor is in his fourth year with the Steelers.

Based on the fact that there are 32 teams in the NFL, there can be 32 starting centers and 64 starting guards and tackles, none of the Steelers starting linemen are above average. But their sack-related and pressure-related stats look great. This is not a contradiction when you realize that Roethlisberger needs only 2.36 seconds to get the ball airborne, the shortest Time-to-Throw (TTT) in the NFL, as mentioned previously.

The new, younger players are more than adequate to replace the name brand players of 2020. That’s the major takeaway.

Still, suggests that Moore may be in for a rough afternoon versus Myles Garrett. Moore has yielded 17 pressures this season, while none of the other four linemen have yielded more than eight.

When and if the ball gets airborne, Roethlisberger is able to target the likes of wide receivers Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, and James Washington, plus tight end Pat Freiermuth and running back Najee Harris. With Denzel Ward out, the Browns may not have an ability to keep all of these players covered for 2.36 seconds.

The Steelers will probably use a modified West Coast philosophy in which Big Ben will make the Big Dink to the first open receiver he sees.

Claypool is hard to cover, but has not been hanging on to as many balls as he should (catch percentage 52.4% this season versus 56.9% last year). Diontae Johnson is a little more polished, but both are very dangerous.

Both have missed a game this season but are at 100% and will bring their A-game for the Browns and are a tough matchup for Greedy Williams and rookie Greg Newsome II. Slot guy Troy Hill will usually pair up against James Washington.

Freiremuth has a catch percentage of 90% on 18 catches in 20 targets, so keep an eye out for him. Najee Harris is going to be used out of the backfield also. He has 34 receptions in 46 targets for catch percentage of 73.9%, so he is also very dangerous.

The Steelers aren’t going to ask Roethlisberger to hurl the pigskin 50 yards downfield. 15 ought to do it most of the time. He can complete those passes. A better question is whether Najee Harris can be effective enough to keep the Browns honest.

As good as Harris is, the Browns’ rugged front four normally would expose the overall weakness of the Steeler offensive line and make it tough to gain as many as four yards per carry. However, Jadeveon Clowney and Takk McKinley of the Browns are both listed as questionable.

Clowney did not practice at all, which is a bad sign. Joe Jackson and Ifeadi Odenigbo are the next men up. Both are competent NFL players, but neither were the first player taken in the NFL draft like Clowney was.

At defensive tackle, Malik Jackson is questionable, but did practice towards the end of the week. Malik McDowell is healthy. At linebacker, Sione Takitaki is probably the Browns best run stopper, and Anthony Walker has been outstanding overall. Malcolm Smith, the former Super Bowl MVP, is going to get his snaps as well.

This is not going to be an easy game. Look for a typical AFC North slobberknocker, with both sides having trouble moving the ball. Roethlisberger and the Steelers offensive line are not exactly the greatest show on turf, but they are still a threat, contradicting the words of those who wanted to write them off at the beginning of the season.

Matchups vs. Steelers that will decide game. dark. Next

They are going to run the dink and dunk offense, limit turnovers, and try to let their defense win the game. Bring your lunch pail and hard hat, and get ready for Browns versus Steelers football.