It was a miserable start for Ben Roethlisberger, who completed only four of seven passes for 27 yards and was sacked five times before the final series of the first half. All told, he was sacked a season-high eight times. One of the few bright spots came when he managed to get a field goal at the end of the first half by completing three of five passes for 43 yards. He was 18 of 32 for 201 yards.
The Steelers made no attempt to control the ball on the ground against the Browns, who allow an average of 152 yards rushing per game. Rashard Mendenhall carried just eight times for 28 yards in the first half, only 12 carries for 40 yards after three quarters and finished with 53 yards. He also had a 17-yard catch-and-run, but he dropped a wide-open pass on third down.
Santonio Holmes surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for the season on a 24-yard catch that helped set up a late field goal in the first half, but it was drops in the red zone by Hines Ward and Heath Miller that prevented a possible touchdown. Holmes finished with six catches for 93 yards. Miller had five catches for 59 yards, but he had two drops. Ward had four catches playing with a bad hamstring.
Could it get any worse? The Browns had eight sacks, their most in seven years, after getting just 24 in their first 12 games. They had five in the first half, including three on third down in the first quarter when the line failed to make protection changes. And the Steelers had only 44 yards rushing in the first half against the league's 29th-ranked rush defense.
The Steelers gave up 171 yards rushing, the most this season, and had problems again with Joshua Cribbs in the wildcat formation. The Browns rushed for 104 in the first half, including a 37-yarder by Cribbs out of the wildcat. On top of that, Jerome Harrison's 10-yard touchdown run to the corner was the first rushing touchdown by a Browns running back this season.
James Farrior missed a big tackle on a 37-yard run by Cribbs, then five plays later took a bad angle and was beat to the corner on Harrison's 10-yard touchdown run. And where was James Harrison, who was blocked out of the play on several big plays? LaMarr Woodley atoned for a facemask penalty with his seventh sack in five games and a batted pass on the same series.
For a change, the defense kept the big passing plays to a minimum. The longest was a 37-yarder to rookie Mohamed Massaquoi, and the victim was Ike Taylor, who rotated only one series with Joe Burnett. The catch-and-run on third-and-13 set up the Browns' second field goal. Brady Quinn had 81 yards passing in the first half, but finished 6 of 19 for 90 yards.
Cribbs had a 55-yard punt return in the first quarter -- longest against the Steelers this season -- that led to a field goal. Tyrone Carter's holding penalty negated a fumble recovery at midfield on a Daniel Sepulveda punt. Mewelde Moore was used as the kick returner because Mike Tomlin wanted a sure-handed receiver in the wind, but he fumbled two attempts that cost the offense field position.
Tomlin's threat to make changes amounted to playing CB Burnett for a couple of series, which just produced another undesirable pattern of behavior. He didn't even use Burnett after Taylor got beat for another long pass. To run just 12 times in the first half and only 15 times in three quarters against one of the league's worst rush defenses -- and with 45 mph wind gusts -- was inexcusable.
Gerry Dulac can be reached at email@example.com .