Here are some of my immediate gut reactions after the Pittsburgh Steelers broke their four-game losing streak in Week 11 against the winless Cleveland Browns.
It was good to see a Steelers team that has struggled at the line of scrimmage for extended points throughout the season dominate at the point of attack. The offensive line led by David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert cleared the way for Le’Veon Bell to rack up 148 yards and a touchdown rushing in a typical smash mouth AFC North game. Running the ball was the name of the game. The Steelers were effective and the Browns weren’t.
While the rushing attack got on track, the passing attack suffered. Ben Roethlisberger went 23/36 for 167 yards and managed only 4.6 yards per pass. The line was able to keep Roethlisberger from getting sacked, and the offense didn’t turn the ball over, but the passing attack has not looked the same since Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey have been out with their respective injuries.
Ladarius Green and Roethlisberger need to get on the same page. Green was a major off-season acquisition and with the lack of a big time vertical threat across from Antonio Brown at this point in the season, Green should be getting open and seeing a lot of passes go his way. Instead, he was targeted twice and had no receptions.
A tip of the hat to James Harrison who broke the Steelers’ all-time sack record. At the end of the day Harrison’s tough as nails, enforcer attitude, matched with his skill set made him an elite talent on an elite defense for the better part of a decade. Even though it seems like the league office isn’t James’ biggest fan, as they have fined him for more than his share of “illegal” hits, and accused him of using performance enhancing drugs, Harrison has avoided suspension.
James is a throwback to the Steelers defenders that came before him. He may be the last true “enforcer” that dons a Steelers uniform with all of the rule changes surrounding tackling that are being implemented. But the story of his success should be celebrated. He went from undrafted free agent to the Steelers’ all-time sack leader with a combination of talent, an unmatched work-ethic and career longevity. I personally will never forget him intercepting Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XLIII and rumbling down the sideline for a 100-yard pick-6.
The Steelers’ defensive front today was equally as dominate as their offensive counterparts. Led by Stephon Tuitt’s 2.5 sacks, the defense racked up a total of 8 sacks and 14 quarterback hits. Browns quarterback Cody Kessler was knocked out of the game with a concussion causing backup Josh McCown to enter the game late in the 3rd quarter. A Ryan Shazier strip sack of McCown with less than 2 minutes left in the game was recovered Javon Hargrove in the end zone put the game out of reach for a Browns squad that was battered on both sides of the ball for most of the game.
I must point out that during the Steelers’ four game losing streak mistakes by young talent really hurt the team in all facets of the game. But Sunday it was the young talent that carried the Steelers to a win, not the veterans. Artie Burns struggled at certain points with covering a much bigger Terrelle Pryor but the rookie cornerback finished the game with an interception and three passes defended, Javon Hargrove had a sack and recovered a fumble in the end zone while Sean Davis contributed three tackles and a pass defended as well. The youngsters helped the Steelers win the turnover battle and ultimately the game. Hopefully the younger Steelers keep improving and don’t hit the “rookie wall” because the defense will need solid performances from them if the team is going to make a successful play-off push.
Random Stat: The most wins any quarterback has had in Cleveland since they returned as an expansion team is 10. The quarterbacks that have won 10 games in Cleveland? Derek Anderson and Ben Roethlisberger.
What’s your gut reaction??