An injury to a key offensive starter. Gun slinging play from a franchise quarterback that alternates between brilliant and boneheaded. Defensive success through sacrificing yards for sacks and turnovers and Red Zone toughness.
- If you were seeking to understand the Steelers 2015 season, it was all on display vs. the Cleveland Browns.
The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Cleveland Browns to clinch a playoff spot, with an assist from Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills, and they did so in a way that provided their fans with both a sense of drama – and hope as the Steelers head to the playoffs.
Call Him “Bennie Gun?”
If Steelers Nation is to carry one big Worry with them into the playoffs, and yes that’s worry with a capital “W” on purpose, it is the sudden shift in play by Ben Roethlisberger.
- Let’s submit that as a quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger has never “played by the rules” nor will he ever do so.
Most quarterbacks begin to fall apart when they make contact with defenders, that’s when Ben Roethlisberger has been at his deadliest. You have to take the good with the bad when it comes to Ben Roethlisberger to some extent or another. A boneheaded interception seemed to be a small price to pay for Ben’s ability to make something out of nothing.
But since the second half of 2013, Ben Roethlisberger has developed into a more mature, more polished product under Todd Haley’s tutelage. He’s learned to get rid of the ball more quickly, without sacrificing the free lancing style that makes Ben Ben.
- But of late, the seemingly obligatory “stupid interception” has crept back into Ben’s game.
And it was back in force vs. Cleveland. Ben’s first interception came in the 1st quarter as he tried to hit Martavis Bryant. The Steelers defense held Cleveland to a field goal, but it came after Will Allen had sacked Austin Davis to force a Browns punt. It was exactly the type of play to breathe just enough life into the Browns to allow them to keep it interesting.
- His next pick came on the Steelers first possession of the second half on an obvious attempt to force the ball to Antonio Brown.
Fortunately James Harrison picked off the pass in a play that looked scripted to emulate Super Bowl XLIII. Make no mistake about it, Ben Roethlisberger looked sharp for much of the time vs. Cleveland. His touchdown passes to Brown and Markus Wheaton, as well as his two-point conversion pass to Fitzgerald Toussaint were pure Ben at his best.
But Antonio Brown also had to make a leaping catch that otherwise could have been intercepted. And Heath Miller had to outmuscle a defender on both his touchdown catch and a later third down catch.
- Commonplace errors that a team can overcome in the regular season will kill a team in the post-season.
To that reality, factor in the injury to DeAngelo Williams. All of that means that Pittsburgh needs a pristinely perfect Ben Roethlisberger in the playoffs. Ben’s play vs. Cleveland shows that, at a very minimum, he must refocus.
Steelers Defense Does What It Can Do…
In the eyes of Mike Tomlin, the Steelers loss to the Ravens came down to the defense’s inability to produce turnovers. At the time it sounded like a technocratic apology for a lackluster performance vs. a weaker opponent.
- That might have been partially true, but vs. the Browns, the Steelers defense vindicated their coach.
The Steelers defense got into Austin Davis’ face early and often, and the results speak for themselves. The Cleveland Browns managed two field goals at the half, and another one to begin the fourth quarter. But the first field goal came after Ben Roethlisberger’s first interception after the Browns advanced to the Steelers 9.
- Once again, the Steelers defense delivered in the Red Zone.
Given all that followed, the Steelers trip to the playoffs and the Browns summary “execution” of its coach and GM, people will forget that Browns opened the 4th quarter by pulling to within five points. But the Browns final points of the Mike Pettine era represented another Red Zone success by the Steelers defense.
- Lawrence Timmons and Arthur Moats ended the Browns next possession after 5 plays, with a sack-fumble that set the Steelers up at the Brown’s 8.
During his later years, Dick LeBeau’s defenses could be stingy with yards and, to a lesser degree, with points. But turnovers and pressure on the quarterback have been in short supply since 2010 and particularly since 2012. Keith Butler’s defense might not have the technical sophistication that LeBeau’s had, but he’s able to get pressure on the quarterback, (even if it STILL isn’t coming from the outside linebackers) and when the Steelers defense pressures the quarterback, the defense secures turnovers.
- The Steelers defense dropped Davis 7 times, with Ryan Shazier, Antwon Blake, and Stephon Tuitt joining in on the sacks.
It’s no secret that the Steelers defense also secured two turnovers with William Gay game sealing grab coming just as word reached the Steelers bench that Rex Ryan had come through.
See You at Paul Brown Stadium
The Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 season is closed. The Steelers 10-6 mark and Wild Card slot might seem like a step back from 2014’s 11-5 AFC North Championship, but this group of Pittsburgh Steelers has weathered and overcome adversity that quite frankly didn’t face their predecessors.
- And the headline, Steelers Beat Browns Clinch Playoffs does have a nice ring to it.
Once again, the Steelers will begin the playoffs at the same place where they’ll finish them – on the road at Paul Brown Stadium?
Can the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers conjure up some of the same magic that drove their 2005 brethren? If Ben Roethlisberger can play a little smarter, and the Steelers defense remains opportunistic then the answer is “Just maybe.”