Even though the Browns had the NFL's worst rush defense, Ben Roethlisberger attacked them through the air, passing for 417 yards and completing nine passes of 22 yards or longer. He passed for two touchdowns, giving him seven in the past three games, and had a third overturned by replay challenge. His only mistakes were overthrowing Hines Ward on an interception and losing a fumble.
It wasn't the kind of production anyone might have expected against a team that was allowing a league-high average of 170 yards rushing per game. The Steelers finished with 140 yards on 26 attempts, but their longest run was a 21-yarder on a reverse by receiver Mike Wallace. Rashard Mendenhall finished with 62 yards on 17 carries and had his fourth rushing TD in the past three games.
The Browns spent so much time rolling their coverage toward Santonio Holmes that Hines Ward, Heath Miller and Mike Wallace ran free all day. Holmes still managed to have 104 yards on five catches, but it was the third time this season Ward had eight catches, this time for a season-high 159 yards that included a 52-yard touchdown.
There were times when Roethlisberger had plenty of time to throw, and other times when the Browns had lots of inside pressure and repeatedly hit him. NT Shaun Rogers was disruptive early, and LB David Bowens, who had seven tackles, a sack, a hurry and a tipped pass wasn't blocked all day. That was one of the reasons Mendenhall and Parker didn't have a run longer than 11 yards.
The Browns tried to confuse the Steelers by using the wildcat package with Josh Cribbs at quarterback for 13 plays, and it seemed to work. Cribbs rushed six times for 45 of the 57 yards the Browns gained in the wildcat, including a long of 18. The Browns finished with 91 yards on 23 attempts. DE Brett Keisel batted a pass that he could have intercepted and recovered a fumble.
Derek Anderson was sacked only twice, both by Lawrence Timmons and each resulted in a fumble recovery. Still, he was under a lot of pressure. James Farrior was coming on blitzes more than usual and on three occasions hurried Anderson into quick throws. But he also missed a couple sacks, once when Anderson scrambled and lateralled for an 11-yard gain.
After dropping nine passes a week earlier, Browns receivers dropped four more against the Steelers. Still, Anderson managed just one pass that hurt the defense and that was 43-yarder to rookie Mohamed Massaquoi to set up their only offensive touchdown. Troy Polamalu had an interception in his first game back, but he showed little of his old explosion. Ryan Clark added a late interception.
Forget that the average starting field position on five kickoffs for the Browns was the 35. Joshua Cribbs, who had two kick returns of 90 yards or longer in a 2007 game at Heinz Field, had another for a 98-yard touchdown -- his third career scoring return against the Steelers. After the TD, the Steelers just tried to keep the ball away from Cribbs. They also allowed a 26-yard punt return to Cribbs.
The offense piled up 543 yards, their most in 14 years, and they did it with near-equal balance (36 runs, 38 pass). The decision to attack the Browns' secondary with big pass plays (nine of 20 yards or more) only made the performance more impressive. Of course, one of the best decisions was inserting Mewelde Moore to protect the ball for the final series after fumbles by Mendenhall and Parker.
Gerry Dulac can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .