PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 08: David Johnson #85 of the Pittsburgh Steelers attempts to break a tackle after catching a pass against the Cleveland Browns during the game on December 8, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
It likely won't get much sloppier for the Steelers than Thursday's 14-3 win over Cleveland. Certainly, emotional divisional games bring out some of that sloppiness, but it nearly did in the 10-3 Steelers. There are no rankings that matter in the NFL, except record. Any win in a contender's Week 12 and Beyond schedule is huge.
Credit to Antonio Brown and David Johnson for their career-best performances, and credit to the Browns for a physical defensive game plan. In the end, it's a win kicking off a badly needed few days of rest.
Here are my thoughts upon a second viewing.
- The start to this game looked like two offensive heavyweights were about to square off. Between Colt McCoy and Ben Roethlisberger, neither made a poor throw in their respective team's opening series. In a short week, it figured it'd be the offense struggling right away.
- Was that version of McCoy the same one we've seen recently? Look at his throw to Moore on the first drive, and the throw to Massaquoi (not the one he blatantly pushed off William Gay) were excellent. He really just doesn't have the arm strength, or at least he's not driving from his legs on his throws.
- This Cleveland team is the best one we've seen during their recent stretch of dismal seasons. Not sure if that means anything or not, but if nothing else, their game plan was to beat the tar out of Roethlisberger, and they succeeded.
- Then again, McCoy's arm strength - or lack thereof - nullified the turnover advantage they should have had. Great play by Haden on Miller's fumble, well-coached defense led to Ward's fumble. Both off-set Polamalu's interception, which was really caused by the fact McCoy doesn't have a satisfactory level of heat on his fastball. It's not worth repeating the nearly laughable lack of playmakers the Browns have. If you think they aren't going to use some of the dearth of picks they got from Atlanta to trade up to 2 with Minnesota for Justin Blackmon, you're crazy.
- What's that phrase we hear the broadcasters use all the time during replays? "He must see irrefutable evidence to overturn the call on the field." I'm at a loss for words trying to explain what Hochuli saw under the hood to overturn Brown's catch. In fact, what you see is "irrefutable evidence" that he made the catch. I won't back from my stance that it was a stupid challenge, and probably the worst overturned call I've ever seen. Only in the NFL can officials take something that's supposed to be objective, and put their own subjectivity into it.
- In Week 13, the Steelers got three red zone touchdowns. In Week 14, they turned the ball over three times (Roethlisberger's interception was at Cleveland's 16-yard line) in the red zone. Weeks 13 and 14 were only four days apart. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?
- A four play offensive sequence in the second quarter: Ward fumble, Gilbert false start, Miller fumble, Gilbert false start...did I mention four days ago the Steelers kicked four lives out of the Bengals in the second quarter? Two nice runs by Mendenhall, and the Franchise is lying on the ground in pain after his ankle is gruesomely rolled over.
- Part of that can be attributed to Roethlisberger having all day to make a throw, finding no one (really? No one was open after seven seconds?), and getting his ankle gruesomely rolled over.
- We've been kind of living on the edge, haven't we? Let's be honest, we knew Roethlisberger was going to suffer a pretty significant injury at some point. Probably will get another one at some point. That's just the way it's going to go. If Baltimore or New England end up beating Pittsburgh in the playoffs with someone other than Ben under center, then fine.
- What I do know, however, is when I saw Chaz in a stocking cap on the sideline, and I saw Ben reaching for his helmet, my only thought was "I wish I had a son right now. When I do have a son, I'm going to show him this replay, and explain to him what courage and leadership are all about." I'm sorry you're unlikely to walk when you're 60 years old, Ben, but I saw you do something normal people simply cannot do.
- In lighter news, Charlie Batch is literally half the size of Roethlisberger. It was like the Steelers subbed Roethlisberger out and put in a 14-year-old kid. A 14-year-old kid who doesn't look like he takes any snaps during the week. He looked confused and out of place simply handing the ball off.
- Pouncey's injury wasn't very different from Roethlisberger's. Chris Gocong got knocked over, and landed right on Pouncey's ankle when he was engaged with Phil Taylor.
- Obviously Roethlisberger came back in the game, but I'm far more worried about Pouncey right now. Chris Kemoeatu played perhaps the worst game of his soon-to-be-over career, and this team flat-out will not win with him at left guard. Way too many penalties, poor pass protection...if Pouncey's out for significant time, something will need to happen with Kemoeatu in order to compete in the playoffs.
- On the other hand, it may be nothing 10 days between games couldn't fix. Remember, Maurkice, R.I.C.E. - Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate. I think that's how it goes.
- Stanford G David DeCastro would look pretty awesome in black and gold. Definitely worth trading up for, Mr. Colbert. Please. Sir.
- Underrated play of the game: Jason Worilds sack/forced fumble at the end of the first half. McCoy is not easy to sack. He's elusive. Worilds spun off his block and got seven yards of steam built up. He didn't try to strip the ball, the force of his hit popped it from McCoy's hands.
- You think Roethlisberger playing on that bum ankle didn't inspire his team? Look at that first drive, watch how aggressively the line is blocking and how hard the backs are running. Brown dropped that third down pass, though. Things just never got back to the rhythm of the Steelers opening drive. Way too many dumb penalties (Kemoeatu, Gilbert, Foster) and poor execution, not to mention the turnovers.
- David Johnson clearly is motivated by the recent emergence of Wes Saunders. Without question, the best game of Johnson's career. I had flashbacks of Dan Kreider leading Jerome Bettis through the hole out of the off-set I several times during this game. Not sure I can remember the last time the Steelers used a traditional fullback (Johnson and Redman) as a lead blocker this often. Much of that was due to an overpowered offensive line, but it worked at times during the game.
- Oh, and then there's that Wallace guy and that Brown guy. Brown's third-and-long catch and run and Wallace's catch-and-run are both career highlights for the superstars. Too bad Wallace didn't get in, but you can't come much closer than that, and you can't expect a guy to score on that. Unbelievably talented playmakers. Mike Holmgren must have been chewing iron after seeing the Steelers bevy of offensive talent.
- I love the decision to go for it on fourth down. I love the play call. I don't care if it didn't work, I have more than enough faith in the Steelers defense - and no faith in Colt McCoy at his 2-yard line. Save it, Keystoners. Don't wanna hear anything about Arians for that. Credit Cleveland, Gocong and Joe Haden in particular, for some good ol' fashioned run defense. Excellent job, hats off to them.
- I'm sorry, but James Harrison's hit on McCoy was something out of a dramatic sports movie. Watching it again, I still feel guilty laughing at it. He completely destroyed him. I can't believe he came back in, he couldn't have known where he was. Harrison will be fined a significant amount, and some people are even talking suspension. Not sure I agree with that, considering the current standard for on-field suspension involves stomping on an opponent who's lying on the ground (Suh and Haynesworth are the only two under Goodell to be suspended for conduct on the field).
- We may not like it, but there's no way Harrison's avoiding a fine for that one. Poor technique on his part. He should be aiming lower than that anyway. If anything, one could argue he started to break down, and upon seeing McCoy release the ball, he held back, and just bumped him. I feel that was Harrison's intention, but the fact he headbutted him really makes it a moot point.
- Cleveland did everything they could to get William Gay locked in one-on-one coverage. Gay made them pay for it. His INT at the end gave him his first multi-interception season, and frankly, he should have caught the one in the end zone in the first half.
- That being said, and before we all read another "William Gay Redemption" story, McCoy made a horrible decision and threw basically a jump ball. Interceptions like Polamalu's are good plays, I expect any NFL corner to catch that duck in the air. Gay simply caught a horrendously poor throw. Way more McCoy's fault than credit to Gay.
- If we're going to credit anyone after that game, it's Brown. The balance he displayed on that catch was unreal. Swann-like.
- He went into the air to make the catch, and it was like he hit the ground, spun perfectly to get his shoulders squared and accelerated to full speed in one step. The fact he spun to the outside shows the level of awareness he has. He spins inside, Haden's right there to make the tackle. It's hard to imagine many other receivers in the league being able to do what Brown did in the second after that catch. I really don't see many of them.
- And Haden slipping had little to do with the catch. Brown flat-out beat him. He's their best cover guy. Haden may have been able to slow him down after the catch, perhaps prevent the touchdown, but Brown's route was sheer perfection. Sort of strange that such a perfect individual play ended a game chock-full of poor individual plays, but a win is a win. I'm going to keep repeating this until people clue into the fact this team really isn't going to blow many teams out.
- They will, however, overwhelm you in the fourth quarter. Another two takeaways, another one in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, they were negated by three red zone turnovers and a slew of stupid penalties.
- But, you'll go far in the NFL if you can win games in which you commit 12 penalties, turn the ball over three times (all in the red zone), go 2-for-8 on third down, and lose badly in time of possession (32-27) and plays (69-53).