Steelers Report Card: Game 13 vs. Browns

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The ankle injury to Ben Roethlisberger put a large damper on what started out to be a big night for him. He engineered a TD drive on the opening possession for the sixth time in nine games and completed 8 of 9 passes for 102 yards and an 11-yard TD to Jerricho Cotchery before he was hurt. But, after he returned, he had one TD pass overturned by replay and another for 79 yards to Antonio Brown. He finished with 280 yards passing.


After rushing for just 18 yards in the first half, Rashard Mendenhall had 57 yards on eight carries in the third quarter alone. He finished with 76 yards on 18 carries, his best performance since he had 146 yards rushing against the Jaguars. But he was stopped for no gain on three consecutive plays from the Browns 1. Don't forget, this was against a defense that had allowed eight 100-yard rushers this season.


Antonio Brown had five catches for a career-high 151 yards and the game-clincher -- a 79-yard catch-and-run TD. Mike Wallace made a great individual play on a 22-yard catch-and-run in which replay overturned a TD. But bad mistakes in the red zone: Hines Ward fumbled at Browns 15 and Heath Miller fumbled at Browns 8 in span of three plays. Those missed chances loomed even larger when Roethlisberger got hurt.


The Browns have the second-worst rush defense in the league, but the Steelers did not exactly exploit that. Sure, they rushed for 68 yards in the third quarter, but they couldn't create any space on four chances at the goal line. RT Marcus Gilbert had two false-start penalties and G Chris Kemoeatu had the hat trick -- two holding penalties and another for hands-to-the-face. They wiped out two third-down conversions.


The days of shutting down the opposing running game are over. The Browns rushed for 67 yards in the first half, 98 overall, though, to be fair, those totals were inflated by a 28-yard run by RB Chris Ogbonnaya against six defensive backs, But NT Casey Hampton made several big plays to blow up runs. Rookie DE Cameron Heyward was solid in his most extensive action after replacing Ziggy Hood (groin).


Big goal-line play by ILB Larry Foote to stop Peyton Hillis for 1-yard loss, right after replay overturned a Browns TD. Foote also had a half-sack. OLB Jason Worilds, who started his fourth game for injured LaMarr Woodley, gets better each game. He had two of the three sacks on QB Colt McCoy and several hurries. A helmet-to-helmet penalty against James Harrison on McCoy almost proved costly.


The Browns came in with only 23 completions of 20 yards or longer, second fewest in the league, but they had three of at least 25 yards in the first half. McCoy completed his first five passes for 94 yards and also had a 2-yard TD scramble overturned by replay. Troy Polamalu's interception and 33-yard return to the Browns 10 was wasted. But William Gay made a great interception in the end zone to snuff a late threat.


With so many injuries and mistakes, the Steelers could have used a big special-teams play like they received against the Bengals last week. But it never materialized, mainly because Browns P Brad Maynard was determined to angle-kick away from Antonio Brown. Even a sloppy reverse on the opening kick to start the second half was indicative of the way everything went on this night.


What looked like a big night quickly dissolved with two fumbles in the red zone and then the injury to Roethlisberger. The decision to go on fourth down at the goal line proved to be the wrong one, not to mention an unwise one. Also, why not replace Kemoeatu after two of his three major penalties wiped out third-down conversions and eventually resulted in an interception? They're lucky to get out with a win.


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