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Takeaways from Pittsburgh Steelers Week 17 win over the Cleveland Browns

The Pittsburgh Steelers took care of the Cleveland Browns 28-12 in Week 17. The win improved the Steelers to 10-6 overall, and helped them secure the No. 6 seed in the AFC Playoffs.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers took care of business in Cleveland in Week 17, defeating the Browns 28-12. The Steelers win, along with the Buffalo Bills 22-17 victory over the New York Jets, allowed Pittsburgh to claim the final playoff spot in the AFC.

Let's take a closer look at what went right and what went wrong for the Steelers on Sunday, and what it means for the team moving forward.


The Good

Antonio Brown snagged 13 receptions for 187 yards and a touchdown. The six-year pro put a bow on his prolific season in Week 17, tormenting Cleveland defensive backs throughout the game. Brown finished the 2015 regular season with 136 catches, 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 1,834 yards were the fourth most by a receiver in a season in NFL history behind Jerry Rice (1,848 in 1995), Julio Jones (1,871 in 2015) and Calvin Johnson (1,964 in 2012). Per Elias Sports Bureau, Brown is the first player in NFL history to record four games with at least 175 yards receiving in a season.

Ben Roethlisberger shook off two ugly interceptions and finished the game 24/36 with 349 yards passing and three touchdowns. The Steelers have leaned heavily on the arm of Roethlisberger in the absence of Le'Veon Bell. He leads the NFL in yards per game (328), and ranks third in yards per attempt (8.40). The ball was sailing on Big Ben for much of the game, particularly in the first half. But the veteran gunslinger kept his composure and led his team to a crucial victory.

Darius Heyward-Bey helped fill the void left by the injured Martavis Bryant, catching two passes for 74 yards. Heyward-Bey has been the stable veteran presence the Steelers hoped they would be getting when they signed him in free agency prior to the 2014 season. His 66-yard catch on 3rd and 2 set up a Chris Boswell field goal which extended Pittsburgh's lead to 17-9 midway through the third quarter.

The Bad

DeAngelo Williams exited the game with a right ankle injury in the first quarter. Williams was carted off the field and was spotted in a walking boot following the game. His status remains unclear heading into Saturday's Wild Card matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals. Judging by the video of the injury, and the fact that he's in a walking boot, it would be safe to assume he won't be available until the Divisional Round at the earliest.

Roethlisberger threw two interceptions, bringing his season total to 16. That's the third most in the NFL behind Peyton Manning (17) and Blake Bortles (18). It's an alarming statistic, especially when considering he's missed four games due to injury. He's now thrown six interceptions in his last three starts, and will have to do a better job of taking care of the ball in order for the Steelers to advance in the postseason.

Bryant was nearly invisible on Sunday, catching one pass for zero yards on three targets. He missed the entire second half due to a neck strain, but should be available for the playoffs. Bryant now has just two receptions for six yards in the last two weeks. The Steelers will need Bryant to be a significant contributor in order to make a deep playoff run, especially given Williams' uncertain status.


The Good

The Steelers defense sacked Browns quarterback Austin Davis seven times on Sunday. Stephon Tuitt recorded two of those sacks, while Lawrence Timmons chipped in with 1.5. With a shaky secondary, getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks has been paramount to the Steelers defensive success this season. Pittsburgh ranks third in the NFL in sacks (48), trailing only the New England Patriots (49) and Denver Broncos (52).

The defense forced four turnovers, and none was more important than James Harrison's interception from his own goal line early in third quarter. A touchdown would have given the Browns the lead, and shifted all of the momentum in Cleveland's favor. William Gay picked off Davis late in the fourth quarter, and both Lawrence Timmons and Anthony Chickillo forced fumbles that were recovered by Arthur Moats and Chickillo respectively. Chickillo's forced fumble came on a kickoff return with a little over ten minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

Tuitt and Timmons had great individual performances. Both were stout against the run, and got after Davis throughout the game. Timmons finished with 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a quarterback hit, while Tuitt recorded four tackles, 2.0 sacks, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits.

The Bad

Antwan Blake continues to get picked on in coverage. He allowed a 42-yard completion to former quarterback Terrelle Pryor, and was targeted by Davis throughout the game. The Steelers coaches like Blake's tenacity and continue to deploy him as a starter in the base defense. Brandon Boykin, however, has seen a significant increase in playing time over the last several weeks. The coaches seem to prefer Boykin and Ross Cockrell over Blake in the nickel defense due to their superior coverage skills. Boykin played 62 snaps against the Browns on Sunday, compared to Blake's 47.

Bud Dupree continues to be a non-factor. The rookie linebacker hasn't recorded a sack since the Week 8 loss to the Bengals. It appears Dupree may have hit the infamous rookie wall after failing to record a sack in his last seven games. He's been solid against the run, and has continued to generate pressure at times with his athleticism, but he'll need to develop a bull rush and more power moves to consistently compete with top-level NFL tackles.

For whatever reason, the Steelers middle linebackers have struggled to cover opposing tight ends, particularly in the middle of the field. Gary Barnidge caught eight passes for 66 yards, and is the latest in a long line of opposing tight ends to have productive games against Pittsburgh. Next up for the Steelers defense will be Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, who's caught 13 touchdowns this season.

Special Teams

The Good

Chickillo forced a fumble on a kickoff and recovered it at Cleveland's 28 yard line with 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The turnover set up a 21-yard field goal by Chris Boswell, which extended the Steelers lead to 28-12.

Ross Ventrone was promoted to the active roster on Friday following the release of Jacoby Jones. He made a nice tackle on special teams and helped down a Jordan Berry punt inside the Cleveland five yard line.

The Bad

Boswell missed a 48-yard field goal that would have extended the Steelers lead to 10-3 early in the second quarter. It's hard to be too critical of Boswell, given the cold and blustery conditions, and the length of the kick.

The Big Picture

The Steelers took care of their business, and got some help from the Bills to secure the No. 6 seed in this year's AFC Playoffs. Pittsburgh will travel to Cincinnati to take on the No. 3 seeded Bengals in the Wild Card Round. Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday January 9 at  8:15 PM EST. The game will be broadcast on CBS.

If the Steelers beat the Bengals, they'll travel to play the No. 1 seeded Denver Broncos. Kickoff for that game is scheduled for Sunday, January 17 at  4:40 pm EST.