Well, this wasn’t exactly what we expected when we talked about the Steelers/Browns game in the preview did we? Things got off to a rocky start with a length of the field drive by the Browns which followed by a nearly horrific injury to Ben Roethlisberger in the middle and ended with Antonio Brown taking a Roethlisberger pass 79 yards with just minutes remaining to put the game out of reach. Yea, there was a bunch of other stuff that happened but that is the best three ling explanation I can give in a Steelers 14-3 win.
Honestly I don’t even know how to talk about this game. Coming in I think everyone expected the Steelers to really run away with this one and there really wasn’t much worry going into the game. That worry took a little bit of a hit as Colt McCoy was outstanding to start and earned an opening drive field goal to cap off a 10 play, 78 yard drive. This could have been a ton worse but the Steelers got the help of replay to take away a McCoy five yard touchdown run where it did show he was short and then on third and goal from the one the Steelers defense stuffed Peyton Hillis with unreal efforts from Casey Hampton and Steve McClendon to blow the play up before it even could get going.
The Steelers then got the ball and it only took five plays to span 73 yards that culminated with a Jerricho Cotchery touchdown grab from Roethlisberger. For how poor the Browns run defense was the opening drive was all passing. Ben shredded the defense and you really had the feeling the offense was going to have its way with the Browns. To be honest it did but the Steelers couldn’t get out of their own way. Twice the Steelers had the ball inside, or just outside, the red zone and back to back fumbles by Hines Ward and Heath Miller cost the Steelers at least six points. Two of the guys that never put the ball on the turf did just that on back-to-back possessions. Just unreal.
That set up what might have been the Steelers season going down the drain. With about six minutes left in the first half Roethlisberger rolled out to his right hand side and waiter for some receivers to get open. That is when Scott Paxon came in low (not dirty at all) and caught Ben in a weird way going down and Ben was down and out. He got off the Heinz Field turf and went straight to the locker room and could barely walk. Heinz Field sounded like nobody was there. To be honest I thought Ben was going to be alright but there was still that idea that he might have broke his leg and he was done for the year. That would have ended the Steelers season.
In checks Charlie Batch and he performed about as well as you thought he might for a 40 some year old backup quarterback to come into the game with no preparation in sub freezing conditions. He looked terrible. Although the Steelers defense held the Browns to only three points at the time I thought that if Charlie was going to be the quarterback all night that the Steelers had a better than odds chance of losing the game. There was two series for Batch where he didn’t complete a pass and the Browns stuffed the line of scrimmage. It was not pretty and thank God the defense came up huge and didn’t let the Browns do anything.
Then we got news at halftime from NFL Network that Ben’s x-rays were negative which was a huge sigh of relief. All we had to do was get through this game, somehow, and things might be alright. There were shots of Roethlisberger in the locker room and he was walking, barely, but that was still a good thing to see. Then we got the report that Ben was on the field and taking snaps ready to play the second half. I was literally stunned.
Ben played and when he went out onto the field for the first series there was an unreal roar from the crowd and even though Ben literally couldn’t jog he was out there and played the entire second half on what turned out to be a left ankle that had a high ankle sprain. What a player. The rest was history as Ben had a pretty outstanding half considering he only played on what amounted to be one leg and led the Steelers to victory. He hit Brown for 79 yards to close it out. What a human.
Here are some general thoughts on the game:
-I talked about what happened to Ben a little earlier but a high ankle sprain is no joke. If you have ever had one (I have) you know how painful it is and I was even surprised he was able to walk with it. After the game Ben said that he thought he broke his leg on the play and that after the game it felt like his ankle was going to explode. No idea how he comes back into the game. I touched on this a little bit with a few friends but I feel that just having Ben back out there for the second half gave the Steelers that extra jump in their step. They were really sluggish and looked disinterested when Batch was out there and I can see why they might feel like that. Watching them walk off the field for halftime on the shot the NFL Network gave us really showed that they didn’t know what to think. Ben just being back out there was a huge help for the moral and really gave them a jolt they needed. Even though Ben could barely walk the run game got it done and it opened up the passing game for some two step drops and some plays from the shotgun. People have called Ben a drama queen and there probably is some truth to that in the past. He has really played up some injuries in the past and people, including teammates and coaches, have called him out for it but this was not one of those times. High ankle sprains are no joke and to come back and play on it is really remarkable. Say what you will about Ben off the field but on the field this is probably the toughest quarterback in the league and all he wants to do is win. I bet you that every single one of his teammates have a new respect for him after what happened last night. I was actually shocked to see Ben’s final numbers: 16/21 for 280 yards 2 touchdowns and only one pick. Ben was 8/9 before the injury and was 8/12 after it, on one leg. Just unreal.
-I talked a lot about the passing game but the run game was really good for the second week in a row. The Steelers ran the ball 28 times for 147 yards. So you don’t have to get your calculators out that comes to be a 5.3 yard per carry average which is outstanding no matter what way you slice it. Rashard Mendenhall was running as hard as I’ve seen in some time as he went for 76 yards on 18 carries. Rashard has put together three straight weeks of really good carries and while it might not show up on the stat sheet he has been really good for this offense. Isaac Redman carried the ball only six times but it went for 35 yards and even Mike Wallace got into the mix with a 21 yard run in the first quarter. The Browns run defense was bad and the Steelers exposed it even though in the second half the Browns knew it was coming.
-A little downside of the running game came in the fourth quarter when the Steelers had their first chance to put the game away. Ben found Mike Wallace on a 24 yard catch and score but on replay it showed that Wallace’s knee hit down at the two yard line but that was whatever, it was first and goal from the two. The Steelers went three straight runs and got stuffed on each of the tries. Fourth and goal from the one and Mike Tomlin says to go for it. They get stuffed again. Meh. There is a lot of talk about this decision and to be honest I liked it. The Browns offense didn’t do anything since the first series and while the Steelers were only up four, a touchdown would have ended the game. A field goal still makes it a one score game so I didn’t like that considering the opponent. A lot of people are wondering why there wasn’t a pass, and I was one of them at the time, but it turns out that Ben checked out of a pass play on third down so there is that. This is not Bruce Arians fault. If you think it is then you have a problem. Another issue was not using Ike Redman instead of Mendenhall for any of the runs. That is a personal decision and I am pretty sure Mike Tomlin and his staff knows a little better than anyone at home watching the TV. Did it suck that we didn’t convert it? Yea. Does that make it a bad decision? No. I would have been OK with the field goal try but I am glad that MT had the killer instinct to put the game away then and there. The players need to perform there.
-In the preview I talked about Antonio Brown becoming maybe the top receiver on this team and that is not a more arguable point than ever after another monster day. Five catches for 151 yards and the long touchdown in the win. He was targeted a team-high eight times and really only had one bad play on a third down drop but if that is all that was bad about his game then I am OK with that. He continues to make big plays when the Steelers need someone to and the move he made on whatever joke DB was chasing him on his 79 yard run was awesome to see.
-This old and slow defense just continues to get better and better as the year goes on. They forced two more turnovers this week on interceptions by Troy Polamalu and Will Gay and had two other picks taken away via replay and a penalty. They also got to Colt McCoy three times and only gave up three points. Three points. While the Steelers didn’t get great pressure on McCoy all night they only gave up three points. In the past three games the Steelers have only given up 19 points and only surrendering one touchdown in that span. Sure it was against a few bad teams but any time you only give up one touchdown in three games you are doing something well.
-The guy who had the most impact on the defense last night was Will Gay. Last year I got roasted for sticking up for Gay and saying that he had a pretty good year. If it were up to most he would not be on the team and if he wasn’t here we would be missing a lot. Last year Gay was forced into playing some positions where he probably isn’t suited for and it showed with some poor play but I thought he did well in the nickel roll. This year he has excelled in his play all season and was one of the main reasons for the Steelers win yesterday. With the Browns in the red zone Gay picked off Colt McCoy right before the Brown touchdown and that pick virtually ended the game. Earlier in the game he had a chance at another pick with some good coverage but just couldn’t come down with it. He made seven tackles and had a team-high three passes defended and just played outstanding. I don’t expect to hear much about his play from most because it is easy to see he has become the scapegoat for the pass defense but he is quietly having a great year.
-Another guy who had a really nice night in the secondary was Ryan Clark. As most of you know I am a pretty big Ryan Clark fan and thought it was a great signing when they brought him back on the extension and while he may throw in the occasional knucklehead personal foul hit I think he is a very nice compliment to Troy Polamalu in the Steelers secondary and last night was one of his best games of the season, in my opinion. He made a team-high 10 tackles, nine of them solo, and was a force in the run game with some monster hits. Now I know that most of you think that when I say monster hits with Ryan Clark that he was launching himself at the ball carrier with his head but that couldn’t be further from the truth. He was in sound position all night and making good hard hits on the ball carrier while also laying some good licks in the secondary. Nice night for Clark.
-Steve McLendon was pretty outstanding last night also. I talked about him on the goal line stand with Big Hamp but he had a really nice all around game. He had to play some defensive end when Ziggy Hood went down with a groin issue and he played on fire and maybe his best game of the season. I say it time and time again that the defensive line in a 3-4 system are the unsung heroes of the defense but that was true last night as McLendon was really good.
-James Harrison is in hot water again. Late in the game before the Gay interception Harrison smacked Colt McCoy and basically knocked him out with a helmet-to-helmet hit. It was pretty brutal and got a flag for 15 yards and could have really cost the Steelers in the end. Here is a video of the hit:
I think the call was right. Although Harrison said that McCoy was out of the pocket and running with the ball like a running back you still can’t hit him helmet-to-helmet. Football is a fast game and you only get fractions of seconds to avoid situations so I get there he is coming from but you just can’t put your head down like he did. The call was good on the field and I would think he will be getting fined around $100,000. I would not be shocked if they suspended him for a game and I wouldn’t argue that either but I don’t think they would do that this year since Harrison has been relatively calm and without incident so far.
-Jason Worilds gets better every week. When he first filled in for LaMarr Woodley what seems like years ago he wasn’t doing much and wasn’t wrecking any havoc but slowly he has turned it on and has been playing some good football and will give the Steelers a nice addition to the rush linebacking core when Woodley comes back. He made nine tackles, eight solo, last night and also had a pair of sacks. Good to see him stepping up and answering the bell when the Steelers needed him to.
-Last thing I want to touch on is the offensive line. Ben was only sacked once and so was Charlie so they did a pretty nice job but they were pretty sloppy overall with penalties. I believe Marcus Gilbert was flagged twice for jumping off sides and Chris Kemoeatu was forced into action with Maurkice Pouncey having to leave the game with a high ankle sprain and Kemoeatu was horrible. He committed three penalties in the second half and one of them negated a huge third and long pickup in the fourth quarter to Heath Miller. He is a decent run blocker but just too many mistakes this year and I would be shocked if he plays next week even if Pouncey is out. Overall the line did a nice job protecting Ben in the second half. One thing we didn’t need to happen is Ben getting smacked around on that bad ankle but I think he only got knocked down one time and was given a good bit of time to throw. Hopefully they can straighten out the penalty situation and get it together.
-All together the Steelers had 12 penalties for 97 yards. Can’t happen.
-Heath Miller hit a milestone in the game. He had two catches which ties him for the most catches by a tight end in Steelers history. He is now tied with Elbie Nickle with 329 catches and should surpass that next week. Good for Heath, he deserves it.
-Hines Ward is still nine catches away from 1,000.
-Word is that both Roethlisberger and Pouncey’s high ankle sprains are “not good” according to Gerry Dulac. Here is the link for that which says that neither sprain is a grade 3 sprain which is the worst of them. Honestly if it’s me I bet he is at least a game-time decision. Wouldn’t be shocked at all if he played. The Steelers need him. Pouncey is a different story, he hurt an ankle that has been a problem all year. It may take him a little longer. He is not a grad e 3 either so that is good news.
Long rest period. Take in all the game this weekend.