News & Analysis

NFL Week 17 PFF ReFocused: Cleveland Browns 24, Pittsburgh Steelers 22

Jan 3, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) celebrates after defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-22 at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns clinched their first playoff appearance since 2002 after escaping with a 24-22 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 17.

Editor's note: All of PFF's grades and advanced stats from this game will be finalized and made available to ELITE subscribers within 24 hours of the final whistle.

Story Of The Game

The Browns held a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter but nearly blew it after Mason Rudolph hit JuJu Smith-Schuster to bring the game within two, but Cleveland was able to get a stop on the two-point conversion and recover the onside kick to clinch the playoff berth.

Running back Nick Chubb led the way on the ground for the Browns, rushing for 108 yards and a huge 47-yard touchdown run in the first frame. This was Chubb’s 10th game of the year in which he busted off either 100-plus rushing yards or a touchdown. He also led all rushers with four missed tackles forced.

The Browns' only two receptions of 15-plus yards were caught by Rashard Higgins and KhaDarel Hodge. Higgins has been a solid weapon for Baker Mayfield this season and has four straight games with 50-plus receiving yards.

The Steelers were without a good chunk of their starters in this Week 17 matchup, including Ben Roethlisberger, T.J. Watt, Joe Haden, Cameron Heyward and Maurkice Pouncey. With Roethlisberger out, Rudolph took the reins of the offense and posted a career outing despite the loss.

The second-year quarterback set a career-high in passing yards (315), eclipsing 300 yards in the air for the first time in his short career. He was able to push the ball downfield reasonably well, hitting seven passes for 208 yards on passes thrown 10-plus yards downfield.

The dynamic trio of receivers was the backbone of the Steelers' offense in this matchup. Chase Claypool (101 yards), Diontae Johnson (96 yards) and Smith-Schuster (65 yards) were the top three receivers in this game. Claypool had his second career game with 100 yards receiving, and Johnson had his ninth game with either 70 receiving yards or a touchdown.

Without pass-rushers Watt and Heyward, the vaunted Steelers' pass rush suffered. As a unit, the Steelers posted 14 pressures, which tied their third-lowest total of the season, though they were able to bring down Mayfield on four occasions.

Rookie Watch

Rookie offensive lineman Kevin Dotson had an excellent game at tackle for the Steelers. He recorded 46 pass-blocking snaps and allowed a 0% pressure rate.

The same cannot be said for Cleveland's rookie tackle, Jedrick Wills Jr. He did not give up a sack but was beaten by his defender three times and allowed two pressures on 35 pass-blocking snaps.

Claypool had one of the better performances of his short career. He saw a game-high 11 targets, was targeted 19.6 yards downfield on average and posted 3.74 yards per route run. For Cleveland, Donovan Peoples-Jones caught just one pass for 11 yards and a first down.

On the defensive side of the ball, Jacob Phillips was the lone Browns player to see the field for over 20 snaps. He recorded nine tackles and one tackle for loss or no gain on the day. For Pittsburgh, Alex Highsmith recorded three pressures (second on the team) and one sack.

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