Heath Miller makes a reception in front of Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson in the third quarter at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Ben Roethlisberger threw often enough early, and especially on first down, to give the offense a boost on a cold, windy day. Not only did he throw two touchdowns, he completed 16 of 23 passes for 171 yards in the first half that helped build a 13-3 lead. And, for the second game in a row and fourth time this season, he did not have a turnover. His second-quarter stretch when he completed 10 of 12 passes for 114 yards turned around the game.
The Steelers rushed a season-high 34 times, but still managed to finish with fewer than 100 yards rushing for the eighth time this season. What's more, they averaged just 2.5 yards per attempt. Le'Veon Bell, though, was effective in the first half when he needed to be, gaining 42 of his 80 yards on 10 carries. But Jonathan Dwyer was stopped twice on third and fourth down near midfield when the Steelers needed just 1 yard.
Antonio Brown had five of his six catches in the second quarter, including a 41-yard touchdown that gave the Steelers a 10-3 lead. But it wasn't just Brown. Emmanuel sanders had six catches, including a 4-yard touchdown, and tight end Heath Miller had five catches, four in the first half. One surprise: After catching five touchdowns in the past three games, Jerricho Cotchery was targeted just once and did not have a catch.
Roethlisberger was not sacked for the first time this season and that was something of a surprise against a Browns defense that had 15 players with at least one sack. Roethlisberger has been sacked just once in the past two games. The running game was solid in the first half, averaging 4.1 yards per attempt. But, for the second game in a row, they struggled running the ball while trying to protect a lead in the second half.
The Browns had 12 of their 19 first downs and 228 of their 367 yards in the second half after the Steelers had the game in hand. Al Woods came in after Steve McLendon was injured (ankle) and had a lot of production, getting two of the five sacks. And Cam Heyward continues to be a dominant factor, getting a sack and a fumble recovery. What's more, the Browns did not have a run longer than 10 yards and averaged just 3.4 yards per rush.
The way Jason Worilds has played the past two games, the defense doesn't miss injured LaMarr Woodley. Worilds had a team-high six quarterback hurries and forced quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden into several bad throws. Inside backers Lawrence Timmons (7 tackles) and Vince Williams (5 tackles) were part of a run defense that allowed a season-low 55 yards on 16 attempts.
The secondary forced all four turnovers that resulted in 17 points. CB William Gay forced a fumble that set up a touchdown and also returned an interception 21 yards for a touchdown. Troy Polamalu forced and recovered a fumble that set up a field goal and also forced a fumble on a sack that Cam Heyward recovered. But Browns receiver Josh Gordon had 14 catches for 237 yards, though 185 came in the second half.
Shaun Suisham converted two field goals on a tough day, including a 47-yarder, marking the ninth time this season he has not missed a field-goal attempt in a game. For the second game in a row, the coverage units did not allow a punt return longer than 9 yards. Punting, though, continues to be an issue, unless you consider Roethlisberger's pooch-punt of 28 yards that was downed at the 1.
After on 0-4 start, the Steelers right now find themselves as the seventh seed in the AFC. And even though five games remain, it is amazing they are in that position. They have won three in a row, five of their past seven and are getting big plays, not to mention timely ones, from the offense and defense. These have been the types of games that have derailed their season, and that they finally beat up on a team they should is a sign of a focused, business-like approach.
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