CLEVELAND — Nick Chubb ran for 113 yards and a touchdown as the Cleveland Browns took control in the second half to beat the rival Pittsburgh Steelers 29-17 on Thursday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper gave up the onside kick that allowed the New York Jets to pull off a stunning comeback Sunday. Thursday night against the Steelers, Cooper more than stunned by that mistake.
He finished with seven receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown, propelling the Browns to victory.
“We’ve got to own it, learn from it and flush it,” Cooper said this week of the collapse against the Jets. Cooper spearheaded Cleveland’s rebound performance, as the Browns (2-1) claimed first place in the AFC North standings.
Pivotal play: On third-and-1 to begin the fourth quarter, quarterback Jacoby Brissett faked a handoff to Chubb. Cooper, meanwhile, dashed away from Steelers cornerback Cameron Sutton before hauling in a 32-yard reception at the Pittsburgh 39-yard line. Cleveland punched the ball into the end zone eight plays later to go up by two scores. With the key play-action reception, Cooper became the first Browns player in nine years to finish with more than 100 yards receiving and a receiving touchdown in back-to-back games.
QB breakdown: Brissett delivered another solid performance in his third start for the Browns. He tossed a pair of touchdowns in the first half, the first to Cooper on a slant, the other to tight end David Njoku at the back of the end zone. Brissett finished the game 21-of-31 passing for 220 yards as he continued to steady the Browns’ offense.
Trouble trend: The Browns lost both starting linebackers to injury, including Anthony Walker, who was carded off the field with a left knee injury. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah also left the game with a quad injury. Cleveland was already missing defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who injured his ankle last weekend. — Jake Trotter
Underrated statistic to know: Cooper now has a receiving TD in consecutive games. No Browns wide receiver caught a receiving touchdown in consecutive games last season.
Nextgame: at Falcons (1 p.m. ET, Oct. 2)
The Steelers preached an aggressive approach to the offense after two weeks of underwhelming performances. For a half, they delivered.
But a disappointing second half from an offense that couldn’t sustain drives coupled with a defense that couldn’t generate a pass rush or run defense buried the Steelers (1-2) in the loss to the Browns.
Trouble trend: For the second week in a row, the Steelers struggled to get an effective pass rush going in TJ Watt’s absence. Larry Ogunjobi and Alex Highsmith combined for a sack early, but that was the only one until late in the fourth quarter. With the pass rush faltering, Brissett was pressured on only three of his 23 dropbacks in the first half. And on the back end, the Steelers’ secondary had a series of breakdowns and miscommunications that led to big plays and touchdowns. Terrell Edmunds was in the wrong position on the Browns’ first score, an 11-yard pass from Brissett to Cooper, giving the receiver too much room. Cooper feasted on the secondary, racking up 101 yards on seven catches. The ineffective pass rush also contributed to the Browns’ ability to run the ball freely, and Chubb (23 carries, 113 yards) and Kareem Hunt (12 carries, 47 yards) carved up the Steelers’ defense.
Biggest hole in the game plan: For all the offensive adjustments made — at least in the first half — the Steelers still didn’t target the middle of the field. Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth didn’t get targeted until midway through the fourth quarter. That pass sailed high, and Mitch Trubisky threw it into triple coverage. Freiermuth’s first catch came with 2:56 left in the fourth quarter, an impressive grab for a 26-yard gain. He followed it up with another on the next play over the middle for 15 yards. But trailing by two scores, it was too late for those completions to have much impact on the game.
QB breakdown: Trubisky did what he said he needed to do in the days leading up to the meeting with the Browns: He was more aggressive and he targeted George Pickens — at least in the first half. Trubisky aired the ball out more often in the first half, connecting with Pickens for a 36-yard completion — courtesy of the wide receiver’s impressive one-handed snag — for the Steelers’ longest pass play of the season. Trubisky also showed off his mobility as he escaped from pressure, completing 7 of 8 passes from outside the pocket for 108 yards in the first half — the most for any Steelers quarterback outside the pocket since 2015. But Trubisky and the offense reverted to an anemic brand of football in the second half. After completing 9 of 13 passes for 109 yards in the first half, Trubisky completed 6 of 12 passes for 41 yards until the final drive of the fourth quarter, when he targeted the middle of the field and moved the ball into range for a field goal . –Brooke Pryor
George Pickens somehow gets a hand under this ball for the unreal one-handed grab.
Underrated statistic to know: Three different Steelers have now made a one-handed catch this season (Pickens, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool). No other team has had multiple one-handed receptions yet.
Nextgame: vs. Jets (1 p.m. ET, Oct. 2)
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism