Everyone wants to clamor about Ben Roethlisberger's awesome return, therefore I am going to talk about the defense. Another fine performance by the defense that only surrendered 10 points to the Browns. I would argue that 7 of those points definitely came in garbage time when the win was already chalked up for the Steelers. Some people might parallel the late surge by the Browns to last year's defense that failed to close out games. That is why I was very intrigued by Phantaskippy's opinion on the matter:
You play to win the game.
I’m sick of complaining about garbage yards and points for the other team. I find the strategy pretty clear and effective. When there is limited time and a lead of two scores, the opponents next drive the Steelers only goal is to make you run clock.
Scoring doesn’t matter as much as keeping them in bounds while they march up the field. short gains that end up in bounds are super, they win the game for us. Mid range gains are good too, as long as they end up in bounds. long gains and getting out of bounds after 10 yards is bad. I blame fantasy football stats for the problem, the Steelers D might cost you a fantasy game, but they win the real ones. Our defense never went to our clock killer mode agaisnt Baltimore, that was Flacco making throws and the defense being tired. With Ben back they aren’t coming back from a three score deficit if we can run clock, because Ben will pull out a drive to finish the game.
Which is it? Is our defense failing to put teams away and giving up a lot late or are we allowing the other team to get yards at the cost of precious seconds?Let's start off by comparing the amount of yards gained and yards per drive in each quarter:
Clearly, the Steelers gave up the biggest chunk of Cleveland' yardage in the 4th, but the Browns also had twice as many drives in that quarter than any other. That allowed the Browns to rack up more yards, but keep a relatively similar yards per drive. This occurred, because the 4th quarter usually goes by slower than the previous 3 due to clock preservation strategies. The amount of yards we gave up compared to the others is substantial. However, there is more to those numbers than at the surface. Therefore, let's take a look at each one of those 4th quarter drives and get a bit more information on them:
|Drive||Game Score||Yard Start||Plays||Yards||Result||Start Time||Finish Time||Time Elapsed|
In my opinion, I would say that game was over when it got to 21-3, a three-score game. At that point, there was under 6 minutes left, the Browns had only scored 3 points all day, and had not even sniffed at our endzone yet. Additionally, they had only accumulated 188 yards of offense with a 4.2 yards per play average. If you do not already know, that 4.2 average is awful. The worst team in the league (Panthers) has a 4.0 average on offense for the season and the second worst (Cardinals) has a 4.4 average. From that point on, our goal on offense and defense shifted from worrying about the score to trying to take time off the clock. Now, that 1:41 may not seem like a considerable amount when you consider a quarter is 15 minutes long. However, with under 6 minutes to play and a three-score deficit, each minute becomes premium. Additionally, keep in mind that at this point Cleveland is in a hurry up offense, only passing, and always running for the outside to stop the clock. That makes 1:41 seem like a heck of a long time. Without considering the Steelers possessions, 3 drives of 1:41 would have taken 5:03 off the clock. That leaves 43 seconds of time, but the Steelers 3 and out late in the game took 1:39 off the clock. Therefore, I would argue that that 1:41 is a considerable amount of time.
Additionally, I would argue that the game should have been over at that point. The Steelers had a 3rd and short inside of Cleveland territory on the next series with 2:43 on the clock. Instead of giving Isaac Redman a chance to get the first, BA called for a deep pass. Why? If you run the ball there, at worst you get stopped and take the ball down to the 2 minute warning or force Cleveland to use a precious timeout. At best, you give the guy averaging 5.1 yards a carry, who is 2 for 2 on third down carries (6/7 on the year), a chance to put the game away. It did not end up hurting us, so "no harm, no foul" I suppose.
I think the defense played amazing and only gave up big yards when the game was already decided. With Big Ben back at QB, I think that we can easily win any game that we hold the opponent below 15 points. If we can get up early and pound the running game, there is no doubt in my mind that this defense can get the job done.