By David Todd
This one was a laugher. Behind a defense that forced four turnovers, registered five sacks and scored its first touchdown of the season the Steelers rolled to an easy 27-11 win over the Browns at a cold and blustery First Energy Stadium in Cleveland. Despite playing without starters Brett Keisel and LaMarr Woodley the defense was able to get consistent pressure on the Cleveland quarterbacks, something that has been a rarity the past couple seasons. Jason Worilds had probably the best game of his career with six quarterback hurries and five tackles starting for Woodley at LOLB. William Gay had a pick six, strip-sack and three tackles and Troy Polamalu forced two fumbles. That made it easy for an offense that came out in the no huddle and was able to move the ball against a solid Browns defense. Ben Roethlisberger followed up his AFC Offensive Player of the Week performance with another solid, turnover-free outing and Antonio Brown got the best of All-Pro corner Joe Haden beating him for a 41-yard TD in the second quarter which put the Steelers ahead for good. The win raises the Steelers record to 5-6, tied with five other teams in the AFC for the second wild card spot, and sets up a huge Thanksgiving night matchup against the division-rival Baltimore Ravens.
The Steelers lost NT Steve McLendon to a left ankle injury early in this one. He left the locker room on crutches and in a boot and I highly doubt he’ll be ready for Baltimore with the short week coming. Corner Curtis Brown left in the second half when he was blocked as a gunner on punt coverage. Brown’s left knee appeared to buckle and he was in serious pain on the sidelines. There was speculation that he may have torn his ACL. That would certainly end his season and, quite possibly, his Steelers career. No injuries to the offensive line for the second week in a row. Miraculous.
*The Steelers offense line was solid in this one particularly in pass protection. Ben did a good job of getting rid of the ball quickly, but when plays took longer to develop he still had plenty of time. After only being sacked once last week, the OLIne put up a clean sheet in this one with the only real pressure from the Browns coming on plays where they sent five or more rushers.
*With the win Ben Roethlisberger improved on his already-gaudy record against the AFC North and the Browns in particular. Ben is now 37-11 against the division including 18-5 on the road and 16-1 vs. Cleveland. In this one Ben went 22-for-34 for 217 yards and two TDs. His passer rating was over 100 again at 102.2. For the fourth time this season he didn’t throw an interception. The Steelers are 4-0 in those games.
*Antonio Brown’s matchup with Browns corner Joe Haden was the feature matchup in this one and Brown got the best of it. After being held without a catch during the Steelers first three possessions, Bell caught four passes in six plays on the next drive and then caught his 41-yard TD on the following drive. He had five catches for 83 yards and a TD in the second quarter when the Steelers took the lead for good.
*The TD pass to Brown was originally designed to go to Jerricho Cotchery, but Ben saw the coverage and saw Brown had a step on Haden and went that direction. It was a very good call and read as to that point in the game the Browns defensive backs had been jumping everything.
*The Steelers punched it in on a 4-yard slant to Manny Sanders on their lone red zone opportunity not impacted by clock management (see below).
*Zero turnovers for the second consecutive week.
*Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The Steelers hurry-up offense is, at best, a work in progress. They continue to show a lack of urgency and consistently mismanage the clock at the end of halves. In this one the Steelers got the ball on their own 46, 1:43 left in the half and two timeouts. An eternity in today’s NFL. On first down Le’Veon Bell gained 12 yards to the Browns 42 with the Steelers in the hurry-up. They ran their next play at 1:08. 35 seconds later. On that play Ben completed a seven yard pass to Manny Sanders. The next play out of the no huddle, hurry-up was snapped with 0:42 seconds left, 26 seconds later, and Ben completed an eight yard pass to Heath Miller. The Steelers then called timeout with 0:37 seconds left. They ran three plays in 1:06 and used a timeout. That’s incredibly inefficient. After a 13-yard pass play to Miller the Steelers then ran to the line of scrimmage, got aligned and…spiked the ball with 0:20 seconds left. They have to have at least two plays called in the huddle there so they don’t have to waste a down. Two incompletions used up 9 seconds and the Steelers had to settle for a 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds left and one timeout because they wasted a down. This seems to happen about every other week. I find it incredible that the Steelers don’t have a better understanding of and execution in these situations.
*Luck plays a factor in every game and the Steelers and Ben got lucky early on. Early in the second quarter on 3rd-and-2 from the 12, Ben tried to go to Heath Miller in the right flat. The pass was broken up and almost intercepted by D’Qwell Jackson. If Jackson had not broken it up it probably would have been picked by one of two Cleveland defenders who were sitting on the route on Miller.
*Short yardage continues to be a problem. Jonathan Dwyer came into the game 3-for-3 converting 3rd-and-1 situations. In this one he was stopped on 3rd and 4th-and-1 as the offensive line continues to struggle getting push at the point of attack in the run game.
*On 3rd-and-9 from the Cleveland 43 with 4:48 left in the game, Felix Jones turned the corner on the left side. And ran out of bounds. Up 20-3 Jones has to know to stay in bounds in that situation. In a closer game that type of play could have a huge impact.
*The defense put up the numbers in this one forcing four turnovers, registering five sacks and scoring their first TD of the season. They forced Jason Campbell from the game in the first half on a hit by Jason Worilds and out of the game later on a hit by William Gay (see officiating calls). Having the opportunity to play with the lead has been a rarity for the Steelers defense this season and it makes a huge difference in forcing the opponent to be one-dimensional as the Browns basically abandoned the run in the second half.
*Pressure. Last week I wrote,
This was one of the best games of Jason Worilds’ career as he flipped over to the LOB spot in place of LaMarr Woodley. He recorded one of the Steelers two sacks, his fourth of the year and was able to apply consistent pressure agains the rookies on the right side of the Lions O-line.
While he didn’t register the sack numbers in this one, I think Worilds was even better in this one with six QB hurries and five tackles. Clearly he’s playing the best football of his career.
*Troy Polamalu is no longer the player he was when he was Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 and his coverage skills are limited, but he was flying all over the field Sunday making plays. He forced two fumbles, recovering one, and almost had an interception. Often playing more like a linebacker close to the line of scrimmage this year, Polamalu has been healthy and showed he still has something left in the tank.
*Lots of others to note on the defensive side in this one. William Gay created two turnovers and scored a TD, Al Woods registered his first two full sacks (he had a half sack while a member of the Bucs in 2010) playing in place of injured teammate Steve McLendon and Jarvis Jones was very active, particularly in the first half when the outcome was still in doubt.
*The Browns gained 152 of their 367 total yards in the last 6:54, essentially garbage time. But I have no idea how Ike Taylor lets Josh Gordon get behind him for a 47-yard completion with the score 20-3 and the Browns on their own 1-yard line. Gordon had six catches for 158 yards and a TD in the last 6:54. Five of those catches went for 16 yards or more and two for over 40. That’s not the type of defense your looking for to close things out.
*The Steelers didn’t have an answer early to all the short crosses the Browns were running but they eventually sorted it out.
*On a 4th-and-18 at the Browns 29, the Steelers tried the pooch punt with Ben. It worked perfectly. With no one back to return for Browns Ben hit a low-liner that Manny Sanders downed at the 1-yard line.
*The Steelers coverage units were very good and Shaun Suisham continues to impress nailing a 47-yard FG on the Steelers opening drive in difficult conditions.
*Wind was definitely a factor in the punting game, but Mat McBriar had another uneven outing.
*Again, the no-huddle was effective, as it has been most of the year. The Steelers went to it on their opening drive for the second week in a row. With a lead there wasn’t much need for it in the second half.
*I liked the decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 on their opening drive of the second half from the Browns 45. I didn’t work but I liked the aggressive call.
*The team was only penalized twice for eight yards. (The Browns were also only penalized twice for 10 yards.)
*The hurry-up offense. See The Bad under Offense. The Steelers have to have a better approach.
Big Officiating Calls:
*Not many impactful calls in this one, but the Steelers got a break on William Gay’s strip sack. His left arm made contact with Jason Campbell’s head. Campbell would not return because of the blow. Gay should have been flagged for a personal foul and the Browns should have kept the football.
Up Next: The Steelers will take on the 5-6 Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving Thursday at M&T Bank Stadium. Kick-off is scheduled for 8:30 EST.
Reminder: You can hear me and Tom Bradley on the postgame show on the Steelers Radio Network after every Steelers game. You can listen on the Steeler Gameday app, the Steelers Nation Radio app on iHeart Radio or DVE or 970 ESPN in Pittsburgh. You can hear me weekdays on 970 ESPN from 4-7 pm and you can follow me on twitter @DavidMTodd.