- From 4-6, for which destination would the Steelers depart?
While the Cleveland Browns had lost 4 of five, they’d just rebounded with a victory over the defending Champion Baltimore Ravens. The Browns had also beaten the Bengals at home and in fact, no AFC North Team had won on the road in ’13. Sure the Steelers have owned the Browns since ’99, but losses at Cleveland Stadium had marred the Steelers ’09 and ’12 seasons.
- The Browns also carried a 4-6 record into the game and had an equal shot in a very open playoff field.
In short, in the middle of the Dawg Pound a bone laid bare on the ground, the only question was which team would come away with it?
Seeds Sown During Slow Start for Second Half Fireworks
With temperatures in the 20’s and strong winds gusting off of Lake Eire, this game figured to be won in the trenches. And that did not seem to favor the Steelers offense. Yet Todd Haley didn’t let paper match ups dictate their strategy, and immediately set out to establish the run.
On the second play from scrimmage, Le’Veon Bell took the ball and was hit as soon as he reached the second level. He kept his legs churning and carried the pile 13 yards.
- As impressive as the play was, it was not to be a signature play of the game for the Steelers.
The Brown’s defense stopped the Steelers cold at their 29, and yet another promising drive would end with a Shaun Suisham field goal. The Browns defense was only getting started. The next 3 Steelers drives ended in Mat McBriar punts. Tack on an opening drive field goal for the Steelers, and in the early going it looked as if the kickers might dominate this game.
- Yet that was not to be the story of the game either, but this was foreshadowed when, Cameron Heyward sacked Jason Campbell out of field goal range forcing yet another punt.
Three punts later, it happened again, as Jason Worilds knocked Campbell down, forcing him from the game for a play and subsequently forcing another punt.
- The Steelers offense took this as an opportunity to strike blood.
Antonio Brown got things started with 14 yard punt return, and it took Ben Roethlisberger only two plays to find him again on a 41 yard touchdown pass where Joe Haden was just a step slow. Troy Polamalu struck next, stripping Chris Ogbonnaya of the ball and recovering. The Steelers offense marched down the field reaching Cleveland’s 14. Keeping to form the Steelers Red Zone offense sputtered there again and had to settle for 3.
But in just under 2 minutes the Steelers breathed life into an otherwise sterile game by putting 10 points on the board. And the fireworks were just getting started….
Blitzburgh Returns, for One Game at Least
One of the biggest weaknesses exposed during the Steelers 0-4 start and in their other two offenses has been an inability to consistently pressure the quarterback and, as a consequence, create turnovers.
- For one game at least the Steelers turned that tendency on its head.
While the trend began in the first half, it wasn’t until the second that Dick LeBeau unleashed his defense on the Cleveland Browns, and he did it with a vengeance. Cleveland’s first six 2nd half possessions went like this punt, fumble lost, missed filed goal, fumble lost, and pick six. First Jason Campbell ran for his life, and then it was Brandon Weeden’s turn.
Perhaps more importantly, the Steelers accomplished this as a team effort, with contributions coming from all corners:
- William Gay, had a strip sack and a pick six
- Jason Worilds hit the passer at least six times
- Al Woods registered two sacks and added two more quarterback hits
- Polamalu reached the quarterback for a strip sack
- Will Allen returned a forced fumble for 49 yards
- Cameron Heyward recovered a fumble registered another QB hit
The Steelers offense did its part too, shaking off its Red Zone malaise to convert Gay’s strip sack and Allen’s return into a touchdown in a single play, as Roethlisberger and Emmanuel Sanders hooked up for a touchdown.
Credit Cleveland’s defense. The Steelers offense dominated time of possession to the tune of 33:39 to 26:21, and only scored 10 non-turnover aided points to show for it. But the Steelers offense did what it needed to:
- Establish a lead
- Take advantage of turnovers
- Burn off the clock
And while it would be hypocritical to excuse the Steelers partly 4-14 third down conversion rate, the Steelers were in fact intent on running the ball and this led several third and longs. The Browns knew this and played accordingly, but the Steelers remained undaunted.
It may not have been pretty, but the Steelers offense did enough to win.
Steelers Nation Turns Attention to Thanksgiving in Charm City
The Pittsburgh Steelers have now won 5 of their last seven and, with three straight wins, have the beginnings of a streak. The offense’s struggles vs. Cleveland, particularly in the Red Zone show that this Steelers team remains a work in progress, but their 27-11 victory shows that tremendous progress has been made since starting 0-4.
- But just how much progress has Mike Tomlin led this team to?
For that Steelers Nation will get its answer in just four days, when the Steelers travel to Baltimore, where they will once again attempt to snap their Thanksgiving Day drought.