Scroll down just a bit and you'll see my keys to the game today. Let's take a look at how we did in the aspects of the game that I thought would be critical to our success:
Win The Pressure Battle
The Browns sacked Big Ben 4 times today, while the Steelers weren't once able to bring Derek Anderson down in the backfield. It seemed as if we were blitzing a healthy amount of the time as well, so kudos to Cleveland's much improved offensive line. It was disappointing that we couldn't bring Anderson down, but we did force a number of early throws by him.
Once again, the sack total could have been even higher had Ben not continued to exhibit unbelievable elusiveness and strength in the pocket. It wasn't the worst game of the year for our line, but it obviously wasn't one of their better showings either. I heard the commentators mention that only one other team (forget at the moment, will look it up) throws the ball further down the field than we do. Obviously such plays take longer to develop, and this unit just can't sustain their blocks for as long as the elite lines in football. Still, I can recall just about every member of the line making a significant contribution on at least one big play, so no need to be one-dimensionally critical.
Good luck Ike, Deshea, et. al
Pretty darn good job by the secondary containing the Browns aerial attack. Aside from the Browns' first drive of the game, they really weren't able to muster much of anything on offense. Derek Anderson finished the day just 16-35 for a meager 123 yards. Ike Taylor is playing so much better than last year it's not even funny. Good to see McFadden back out there and contributing as well.
Improved Kick-Off Return Coverage A Must
FAIL - MISERABLY
Apparently improving our kickoff coverage wasn't a 'must', because we were pathetic out there and still found a way to win. By the way, I hate that datruth4life was correct about Cribbs having a big impact on this game, but even when the truth hurts, he brings it, and our community is better for it. It's not just him of course that is appropriately critical while still remaining loyal, and I'd suspect that you guys will have plenty to say about the ST and the offensive line this week.
All Cribbs did was average 50 yards a pop today, including two 90+ yard returns. It was almost our downfall, and you can safely assume this team won't reach its championship aspirations if major adjustments aren't made.
Cleveland Must Win The Turnover Battle To Win This Game
Cleveland needed to make one more play on defense to win this game and they couldn't get it done. Big Ben was a big part of that though, as I noticed he was tempted on multiple occasions to try to force something down the field after being flushed from the pocket. He didn't, and instead checked down. With the hole we dug ourselves in the first half with the INT, special teams, and not finising off drives, we needed every last possesion to claw our way back into this one. Impressive job by Willie Parker, Hines Ward, Heath Miller, Nate, and Santonio not fumbling despite playing at such a remarkably fast pace.
As for our defense, Silverback was back at it again today, forcing two fumbles, one of which was recovered by Ike Taylor. That play was HUGE for us because we had just been forced to punt in the early part of the third quarter and momentum was not yet on our side. Stripping the ball from Jamal Lewis is no small task either, so nice work Mr. Harrison.
I'll finish for now by saying I'm happy we were involved in a tight game that we won. I wrote several weeks ago that we have been involved in very few close contests, so it's good to have this experience under our belt as we move towards the home stretch of the season. Much more to come on this one, but those are some of my initial thoughts on the game. What are yours?