The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Cleveland Browns Sunday to close out the regular season at 12-4. As I do every week, here are my deeper post game observations after going through the game tape a few more times.
The sack by Lawrence Timmons on the Browns opening saw Timmons come on a delayed blitz and he took on fullback Owen Marecic. Marecic did not hold his block long and Timmons spun away back inside for the sack. Jason Worilds should get a little credit on the play for taking right tackle Artis Hicks up the field to open up the lane.
Great tackle on Josh Cribbs by Keenan Lewis on the first 3rd down to send the Browns off three and out. Lewis drove through Cribbs nicely.
Sheldon Brown was properly flagged for a blatant hold on Antonio Brown on the Steelers opening drive and Antonio fought through it well and made sure the official saw it.
I liked the aggressiveness to go for it early on fourth and short and the offensive line responded by blowing the Browns defense off the line for an easy conversion by Isaac Redman on the backside of the push.
Roethlisberger was not very accurate early with his passes, but his first one to Mike Wallace should have been caught. Redman and Max Starks allowed pressures on the second 3rd down. Roethlisberger might have been able to run for the first down, but clearly did not want to risk the ankle. On 4th down that followed, Roethlisberger missed an open Redman on the wheel route.
What can you say about the play by Troy Polamalu on the Browns first play of their second possession? Polamalu shot the A-gap and had quarterback Seneca Wallace on the ground before he could hardly get out from under center. Worilds and James Harrison got good pressure on 3rd down to force Wallace to get rid of the ball quickly and the Browns were 3 and out once again.
The first sack of Roethlisberger seemed like there might have been some confusion between Maurkice Pouncey and Chris Kemoeatu. Pouncey was swinging out to the outside to pick up Chris Gocong and Ahtyba Rubin came pretty free up the middle. Everyone seemed to be passing their man off to right, but Pouncey was gone from the middle. The sack led to a 3rd and 22 which the Steelers failed to convert.
The punt by Jeremy Kapinos that followed was a thing of beauty as it bit and backed up right at the half foot line of the Browns. Great wedge shot. Another 3 and out for the Browns followed as Polamalu once again was great, but this time in coverage.
On the Rashard Mendenhall run that resulted in his injury he just jammed his right leg into the ground and the knee gave way. He dropped like a ton of bricks. It looks like a classic ACL tear to a running back. Mendenhall really had a good game going and he had been effective the last several weeks.
On the first catch by David Johnson, he started lined up way outside the numbers and ran a simple slant underneath as Wallace and Heath Miller cleared out the middle. That is the first time I have seen that play this season. The hold by Pouncey liked to have killed that drive, but the Steelers converted 4th and short with a triple spin run by Redman. On the 3rd down sack, Jabaal Sheard bull rushed Marcus Gilbert and Roethlisberger likely should have stepped up into the pocket instead of trying to avoid the pressure outside. That sack cost them an easy 3 points and Shaun Suisham missed from 45 yards out.
The Browns first scoring drive featured numerous missed tackles by Harrison, Worilds and Larry Foote to name a few. On the Wallace scramble Foote lost containment of the middle as he and Polamalu were both outside the hashmarks. It was an easy run up the middle for Wallace with lots of open green grass. Casey Hampton shot the gap on the first down play and two imcompletions later, the Browns were forced to settle for a chip shot.
The 3rd and 5 slip draw on the next possession went nowhere as Gilbert did not push Sheard far enough inside before heading to the second level. I think Gilbert was caught by surprise that Sheard did not rush to the outside and stayed inside instead. On the punt, Cortez Allen seemed to get his right arm wrapped up in the tackle and he was in a lot of pain. He was holding his right bicep and that might not end up being good.
The catch by Brown on the final drive of the half was a thing of beauty and reminiscent of the catch he made against the Ravens last year in the playoffs as he pinned the ball to his helmet. WOW!!! On the play that followed on first down, it seemed like Wallace was sneaking a peek at the defender coming on the slant. It was not a great first half for him. On second down Gilbert gave up an easy pressure to Sheard and Roethlisberger was forced to get rid of the ball. Sheard knocked him to the ground after the ball was released and of course there was no call. They converted on the next play to Brown as Roethlisberger did a good job sliding out to the left. The next two play calls were not high percentage and both fell incomplete. The problem was they were out of timeouts and had to make quick throws to the endzone. They were forced to go to the lockerroom with just 3 points.
The miscommunication with Wallace carried over to the second half, but luckily Miller bailed them out on one that was overthrown to Wallace. The very next ball had no business being thrown as the Browns had Wallace blanketed deep. That ball should have been picked off by Buster Skrine as the ball hung up in the wind. Brown bailed the offense out again on 3rd down to keep the drive alive. Jerricho Cotchery should have caught the nicely thrown ball in the left corner a few plays later for a touchdown. The drive stalled again and resulted in a second field goal.
Polamalu made yet another fantastic play as he read the pass intended for tight end Evan Moore and undercut it for an interception. Lost in that play was the pressure by Worilds on Wallace after he avoided the chop block by the fullback.
The touchdown that followed was the bread and butter counter play to right that featured great blocks by Kemoeatu and Miller. Redman did the rest for the lone touchdown of the game.
Timmons, Ryan Clark, Ziggy Hood and Brett Keisel all had big plays on the Browns drive that answered the touchdown. Clark easily beat the tight end on the safety blitz for a sack. It was kind of curious that Mike Tomlin did not accept the holding call penalty that would have had the Browns 3rd and a mile and likely out of field goal range.
Keisel took over on the next drive as he used his long arms to knock down one pass a ripped out another ball from Peyton Hillis on 3rd down.
The 1000th catch by Hines Ward was cheap, but what did you expect in a game that they had to try to force a few to him. It looks like a catch on the stat sheet. I am not sure what Pat Shurmur saw that made him challenge the catch of Brown as it cost them a timeout by doing so. The Browns caught a break after Redman fumbled after a nice hit by Gocong. Tack on a facemask penalty on Gilbert on the recovery and the Browns had it on the Steelers 43.
Mohamed Massaquoi helped things out with a drop after he beat Bryant McFadden who stumbled in man coverage. McFadden was in the game as Lewis had left the game because of a leg injury. The defense ended up holding.
Both Johnson and Ramon Foster were banged up on the drive. Lost on the 3rd down play that resulted in a pass interference call was the excellent blitz pickup by John Clay. Redman would fumble for a second time after a nice run to the right and the drive was over with 5:49 left in the game. The defense held after a few nice plays in coverage by William Gay and Ike Taylor.
The next series saw a few nice runs by Clay, but culminated with a 3rd and 2 at the 2 minute warning. The play call was a quick slant to Brown against a stacked front and Brown could not make the catch. The Browns got the ball back with a chance to win the game with just under 2 minutes remaining.
Cribbs made a hell of a catch on 3rd and 1 on the Browns final drive with McFadden in tight coverage. Timmons made a great tackle on Moore with 15 seconds left as he was trying to get out of bounds to stop the clock. The Browns were out of timeouts and the Browns likely lost another play as a result of the lost time. 1 Hail Mary later and the game was over.
In closing I thought the defensive line and linebackers played well as a whole as Wallace was under pressure a good part of the game. Polamalu was amazing and the secondary made plays when they had to. Missed tackles was perhaps the biggest mistakes on the night.
Offensively the line was good, but not great. The run blocking was above average, while the pass protection allowed quite a few pressures on the day. It was not a great game for Wallace.
Special teams were good outside of the miss by Suisham.