By Matthew Marczi
The Steelers are suddenly in the playoff race at 4-6 after back-to-back victories thanks to a shallow pool of talent in the AFC. The sixth Wildcard spot is currently held by the New York Jets, whom at 5-5 the Steelers have already beaten this year. If Pittsburgh is to prolong its hopes of a playoff berth, however, they can’t afford to lose any time soon, as the next three games are against teams competing for that final playoff spot, and the game after is against the Cincinnati Bengals. The target standing in front of them today, however, is the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns won the tossed and deferred. Felix Jones took the opening kickoff out to the 26-yard line. The Steelers ran a quick out on first down to Emmanuel Sanders, who forced a missed tackle on a bubble screen for 14 yards. Le’Veon Bell found a crease for 13 yards two plays later.
Bell was good for a short gain on first down. Ben Roethlisberger pump faked and then scrambled to avoid pressure on second down and then found Heath Miller for 12 yards. After a four-yard carry by Bell, safety T.J. Ward came up to stop him for a loss to set up third and long for the first time on the day. From the 28, the Steelers stayed on the ground and did not gain any yardage. Shaun Suisham angled a kick wide that the wind pushed in for a good field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.
The Browns returned the kickoff out to the 35, with Suisham in on the stop. Jason Campbell’s first pass was incomplete, and his second was good for five. A short pass to Josh Gordon went for a long gain down to the Steelers’ 36 after the receiver found the edge of the defense.
The pass intended for Jordan Cameron was too tall with William Gay in coverage. He followed that with a false start. After for straight passes, the Browns gained six on the ground to set up third and nine from the 35. The pass was well-short of the first down, but good down five yards. The field goal attempt was good to tie the game early on.
Felix Jones returned the kickoff again four yards deep, but he was dropped at the 16. Roethlisberger ran a bootleg and hit Will Johnson on the run for a nine-yard gain. Bell converted on second down. The Steelers went five-wide on the following play, which was good for two yards to Miller. Still five-wide, Roethlisberger’s pass was behind Antonio Brown.
On third and long, Roethlisberger hit a quick pass to Bell, but he was just shy of the first down by half a yard. Roethlisberger attempted to coax an offsides on fourth down, but the Browns didn’t bite, and the Steelers were forced to punt instead, burning a timeout.
Jarvis Jones lined up in coverage and Campbell targeted him on first down, allowing just a two-yard reception after making the stop. Troy Polamalu chased down a run in the backfield after another two-yard gain to set up third and long. Campbell found Cameron in front of Lawrence Timmons for a 16-yard gain.
Al Woods was in for Cameron Heyward. The Browns worked for seven yards on the ground to set up third and three, and Timmons was beaten again for a first down. Steve McLendon was injured on a three-yard carry. Campbell was nearly sacked on second down, but was able to find a receiver to set up third and two. from the Steelers 35, Heyward brought Campbell down for the sack to force a punt. The punt was downed at the six and a holding penalty on Curtis Brown pushed the Steelers back to the three.
Bell picked up five on first down to get some breathing room. Another three yards gave the Steelers a third and short scenario to work with. Roethlisberger went to the air and the pass was batted down.
After another poor punt, the Browns started from their own 47, and a run up the middle around Heyward went for 10 yards. A five-yard gain was later negated by a false start on second down. Pressure by Jason Worilds forced Campbell to throw the ball in the dirt. On third and 10, Worilds pressured Campbell again, and Polamalu nearly intercepted the pass.
From the 10, Brown made a tackler miss on first down on a bubble screen for four yards. On second and six, a screen to Jones was slow to develop and only gained four when it looked like it could go for more. The third and two pass went to Brown over the middle for 12 and a first down.
Brown was good for nine on the following play with Joe Haden draped all over him. Jones took a deep handoff and picked up two on second and one. An illegal formation backed them up five. Roethlisberger found Brown for 17. Brown bobbled a pass at the sideline on the next play, however, and was out of bounds by the time he secured it.
Roethlisberger threw a pass to Jonathan Dwyer for one yard to put the Steelers in third and nine. The blitz on third down forced Roethlisberger to get rid of the ball and the Steelers had to punt. But at least they flipped the field, with four and a half minutes left in the half.
Gordon was good for 10 yards on first down after Ike Taylor failed to wrap him up. Heyward and Polamalu dragged down the back after a four-yard gain. Worilds brought Campbell down on a bootleg for an incomplete pass, and the quarterback stayed down after the play. Brandon Weeden’s first pass was off the hands of the tight end on what should have been a first down.
Starting near midfield, Sanders gained 11 on first down on a short screen. With all the short passes building, Roethlisberger finally looked deep. Brown got past Haden, but Roethlisberger’s pass was short. Haden was able to scrape the ball loose, but Brown stayed with it for the touchdown.
The Browns took what the defense gave them after the touchdown until Polamalu raked the ball loose and the Steelers recovered. At their own 46, Bell carried on first down, showing hesitation and then carrying defenders with him for 12 yards. After a low snap, Roethlisberger hit Sanders for seven yards.
Roethlisberger found Miller down to the 27 for eight as the Steelers called a timeout with 37 seconds remaining on the half. Roethlisberger hit Miller again, who slammed into the defender for the first down. Roethlisberger ripped one to Brown in the end zone, but it was incomplete. On third down, Bell had the ball pop out of his hands on a short pass, forcing the Steelers to settle for a field goal to end the half up 13-3.