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Steelers Hold Off Browns, Retain Hegemony Over AFC North

A big divisional win toinight for the Pittsburgh Steelers. It wasn't pretty, but that matters not. What matters is the W, the 2.5 game lead over Cleveland, and the noticeable improvement in several critical areas.  As is usually the case following a game, the following is a number of talking points for us, in no particular order.

* Like I did last week, let's start with the big three up front on defense: Keisel, Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton. Jamaal Lewis was held to just 38 yards on 19 carries. Derek Anderson is just not going to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in windy conditions when his running game is so ineffective. Everything starts up front with those three, and through two weeks, they look as good as ever.  I'm eagerly awaiting word on Keisel's calf injury. I shouldn't even pretend to play doctor, but it can't be more than a 2-4 week thing, at worst, can it?

* Sticking with defensive lineman, how about Shaun Rogers? Man oh man did he come to play tonight. That guy's a monster, and if you have DVR or TiVo, see if you don't cringe on the play where he just hammered Big Ben in his right shoulder just as Roethlisberger released the ball. It wasn't a dirty play, though it could have been called considering LaMarr Woodley was flagged for something similar earlier in the game. Anyway, if Rogers brings it like that all season, Cleveland will eventually get some rhythm on offense and string together some victories. Their defense looked pretty good tonight, and much of it started with Rogers, and his mate Corey Williams, up front.

* Random (greedy) thought here by me. Am I the only one who was pissed that the Texans scored a cheap 14 points last week against us? In my head, which is often filled with megalomaniacal thoughts regarding the Steelers, I see this defense having an outstanding points per game allowed figure by year's end.  That 17 Houston put up was cheap, and will certainly be higher than our yearly average.

* Jeff $$$ Reed. 48 yarder in swirling conditions. Right down the pipe. That kick was huge too in terms of the dynamics of the remainder of the game. He keeps coming through.

* On a similar note, tip your cap to Mitch Berger. 6 punts tonight, averaging 45.5 yards per. Of those six, four were downed inside the 20 yard line. That's great stuff. Berger most certainly played a role in this W.

* As did our coverage units. Joshua Cribbs had very little room to operate this go-around. What I saw was consistent discipline from all parties, staying in their lanes until just the right moment to swarm together to make a tackle. Outstanding. This, in fact, was one of those areas that was still a question mark. We're not out of the woods yet, as we'll be seeing plenty more good returners down the road. But again, so far so good.

* Aaron Smith is a great football player. Troy Polamalu deserves all the headlines and accolades he receives, but Aaron Smith really makes this defense go. (Along with Hampton in my opinion). He seems healthy and it's plainly visible in the way we're playing. With the encomium out of the way, I should say that, in all actuality, he was somewhat lucky tonight. On both his sacks I believe other guys led the charge, and he was just there to clean things up. But still, his presence is undeniably crucial for us.

* One more random thought: how incredibly vivacious does Dick LeBeau look in the sidelines at age 71?? My Lord. I mean, sure, 70 is the new 60, or whatever the hell they're saying, but wowzers, that man looks fit. For those who don't know, LeBeau is called Coach Dad by many on his defense. His players love to play for him, and I love to cheer for him and his players. Don't go anywhere Dick. You've got plenty of years left in ya.

* That was some strange stuff in the return game for us tonight. Can't say I was too impressed with Mewelde Moore and Rashard Mendenhall, but as John Madden noted, the windy conditions may be most detrimental to returnmen more than any other position on the field. In Moore's case, I t hought he actually did a good job getting out of harm's way and not taking an uncessary risk. Yes, he made it look painfully close to becoming disastrous, but at the end of the day, he avoided a costly mistake. That's what veterans do. In Mendenhall's case? Yikes. Not so savy. But in his defense, Carey Davis absolutely pummeled him going after the ball once it was loose. In Davis' defense, that's what he should do, go after the ball at all costs, but man, he sure almost made things worse. Mendenhall had a beat on the loose ball before Davis came crashing into him.

* Speaking of Madden, did anyone else notice that he couldn't contain his glee while rehashing that pulling block Kendall Simmons got to make on the Holmes reverse? Simmons, who faked like he was heading left to block, before circling around and pulling right, got to take on a wimpering CB in the flat. The CB just fell to the ground in self defense before Simmons could pancake him. The whole sequence nearly gave Madden the 4+ hour erection that Cialis warns against.

* Alan Who? Those who read here know I would never disparage Alan Faneca and what he did for this organizaiton. But wow, Chris Kemoeatu is playing great football. He had a couple issues in pass protection keeping the massive interior DL of the Browns out of Ben's face, but in the running game, he was outstanding.

* As was Kendall Simmons, Willie Colon, and not surprisingly, Marvel Smith. The Browns did finish with 3 sacks, but one of those was on Big Ben for sure. I was particuarly impressed with Smith and Colon in pass protection. On multiple occasions, they sealed the outside on crucial pass plays, giving Big Ben the time he needed to survey the field and deliver strikes. And in the running game, I thought our interior guys, including Hartwig, did a nice job. Hartwig was the only guy who was a bit overmatched tonight, but again, he did his job in the ground game, while doing his very best against two absolute beasts in Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams in the passing downs.

* 25 of 33. That's Ben Roethlisberger's passing line for the year. That's 75+% so far, with 3 TDs to 0 picks. Wow. Ben has the ability to take over games by himself, and now he seems to get when to step out of the way and let the defense take care of business when appropriate.

* One more thought about LeBeau. I thought it was brilliant to play the 'bend-but-don't-break' card during the Browns only meaningful drive of the game in the fourth quarter. A quick strike could have changed everything, but LeBeau forced Derek Anderson to earn every last yard on that drive. To Anderson's credit, he did a great job for the first 70 yards. But when you have to conver four or five tough 3rd downs in a drive, eventually your luck's going to run out, and you'll be forced to settle for 3 after having taken gobs of time off the clock. Very wise in my opinion, even if we had plenty of success with a bit more aggressive of a philosophy for most of the game.

* Props to Santonio Holmes for a big game. While Hines had the dropsies early on, Holmes was catching everything thrown his way, including an acrobatic bomb from Big Ben that led to Jeff Reed's 2nd half FG. Holmes will have better games numbers wise, but he was arguably our best offensive player tonight.

* Cheers to Bruce Arians for going back to Hines Ward after his second drop in the first half. Very next play after dropping a catchable pass in the endzone, Ben looks his way again. Perfect throw and catch and we're on the board first. Arians did the same thing during the preseason, calling Mendenhall's number after a costly fumble. I like that in a coach. 3 early TDs for Ward btw. Keep it up Hines!

* 2-0! 1-0 in the division and on the road. Enjoy it friends. This was Steelers-Browns football at its finest, with, of course, the better team coming out on top.  Good times to those of you who joined me in the open thread. I look forward to the next one. More coming on this impressive, albeit ugly, victory.