Saying the Pittsburgh Steelers were in a must win situation against the Cleveland Browns isn’t an exaggeration. It doesn’t matter that Cleveland is the only winless team in the NFL at now 0-11. It doesn’t matter that the Dallas Cowboys beat the Baltimore Ravens, who have the tie-breaker for the lead in the AFC North over the Steelers.
With a 4-game losing streak, and most likely needing to win the division to get into the playoffs, a loss would’ve sent this team into a greater tailspin that would have led to greater unwelcome ramifications for the coaching staff and players. I don’t care that it was the Browns, they needed something to feel better about themselves.
The smartest decision of the day was the Steelers electing to kickoff after winning the pre-game coin toss. This defense was under fire after giving up the win to the Dallas Cowboys with under a minute remaining after the offense appeared to have won it. It was imperative that defensive coordinator Keith Butler’s unit got off to a good start against the 28th ranked total offense and 30th ranked scoring offense, to gain some confidence without their best defender Cam Heyward, who is lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.
Even after allowing a 38-yard catch to Terrelle Pryor to convert a 3rd down, Artie Burns’ second career pick on 3rd and 17 to end the drive 3-plays later was the right dose of medicine needed to get this much maligned unit moving in the right direction.
The second drive began with a sack by Stephon Tuitt, his 2nd of the season and ended with another sack by Javon Hargrave six plays later. On the day, they finished with a season high 8 sacks, one of which led to a fumble recovered for a touchdown by Hargrave. The 8 sacks is the tied for the most in the NFL this season. They came into the game with only 13 sacks in 9 games, which was tied for dead last with the Oakland Raiders in that category. For only the third time this season they held a team under 300 total yards.
This week’s game ball goes to Stephon Tuitt and Lawrence Timmons. Tuitt had 6 tackles to go along with 2.5 sacks, and will need to come close to replicating this performance weekly in the absence of Heyward. Timmons also showed his veteran leadership with 8 tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, and 3 hits on the QB.
Offensively, it appears Todd Haley has finally realized the best weapon he has, and in my opinion the most lethal in the entire NFL, is running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell had 11 touches (8 rushes, 45 yards; 3 receptions, 34 yards) for 79 of the 87 yards and converted 6 first downs on the first drive that started at their own 4-yard line and ended with a Chris Boswell 32-yard field goal. For the day, Bell finished with 28 carries for 146 yards and a TD, 8 receptions for 55 yards. Using Bell they way they did allowed them to play ball control, and win the time of possession battle 33:58 to 26:02 with 4 drives of over 11 plays. Most importantly, they kept the struggling Pittsburgh defense on the sideline.
But, settling for 3 field goals after two 16-play drives (9:18, 9:28), a 15-play drive (8:02), and struggling to get into the end zone from inside the 5-yard line at the end of the 1st half versus the second worse total defense in the NFL, is still highly concerning. I don’t care what the weather elements, Pittsburgh can’t go 1 of 4 inside the red zone. I don’t need to tell you that’s not going to get it done if they hope to make a playoff run, which is what this teams only focus should be.
However, a win is a win. And right now this team will take them.
Next up, at the Indianapolis Colts (5-5) on Thanksgiving Night. Last season the Steelers beat the Colts 45-10 at Heinz Field on the strength of Roethlisberger’s 24 of 39 for 364 yards and 4 touchdowns performance.
- Pittsburgh’s 4th sack of the day registered by James Harrison made him the Steelers all-time career sack leader with 77.5, passing fellow #92 Jason Gildon, when he sacked Cody Kessler on 2nd and goal early in the 3rd quarter.
- Le’Veon Bell passed Jerome Bettis for the fewest games to 5,000 scrimmage yards in Steelers history. It took Bell 42 games, “The Bus” Jerome Bettis did it in 52.
- Ben Roethlisberger passed Fran Tarkenton and Philip Rivers for 12th and 11th on the all-time completions list in NFL history. He now has 3,704.
- Antonio Brown set an NFL record for the fewest games (96) to reach 600 career receptions on his 5th reception of the day. Brown had 8 catches for 76 yards against the Browns.