Report Card: Steelers earn a B- against the Browns
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After a slow start, Ben Roethlisberger managed to throw three touchdowns and finish with a passer rating of 120.3 -- his fourth highest of the season. But he and the passing game looked disjointed at times against a Browns secondary that was without three starters, though Roethlisberger was without his two leading receivers, Mike Wallace and Heath Miller. The Steelers did not manage a first down on their first three possessions and converted just 5 of 13 third-down chances.
It was a typical but fitting end to the season for a unit that struggled to find consistency and identify a feature back. Jonathan Dwyer had two runs of 12 yards on the second TD drive and finished with 52 yards on 11 carries -- and that was the highlight. Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman chipped in with a couple of nice plays, but there hasn't been a consistent effort by a running back since Redman in Week 8 against the Giants.
The loss of Wallace and Miller had a significant effect on the passing game, which managed a season-low 134 yards. Six players tied for the lead with two catches, and no receiver had a catch longer than 16 yards -- the first time this season the Steelers did not complete a pass longer than 20 yards. Antonio Brown, TE Leonard Pope and Plaxico Burress each had a TD catch. Burress made a nice catch for his 12-yarder, which makes the decision to not dress him last week for a game against the Bengals all the more absurd.
Injuries to David DeCastro (stinger) and RT Kelvin Beachum (head) caused more juggling on the offensive line, which has been a recurring theme the second half of the season. Ramon Foster had to move to right tackle and struggled with edge rushes by Jabaal Sheard. The Steelers averaged 3.3 yards per carry and didn't have a run longer than 12 yards. And, once again, they were stopped twice on third-and-1 in the first quarter.
If the Steelers were trying to become the first team in 21 years to finish No. 1 in pass, run and overall defense, they certainly didn't play that way. The Browns had 80 of their 138 yards rushing in the second half, though 35 came on a fake-punt run. It was the second-highest total they have allowed this season. Throw in a 25-yard run, and the Browns finished with an average carry of 5.3 yards -- tied for the second-highest average allowed this season.
The defense looked disinterested on many occasions against a team using a practice-squad QB, which might explain why the Browns had 320 yards and 18 first downs. It was only the second time in the past 11 games a team gained more than 300 yards against the defense. Lawrence Timmons had two late sacks, the latter forcing a fumble, and giving the defense a season-high four takeaways in what was too little, too late.
CB Keenan Lewis didn't last longer than the first quarter with his knee injury. And that allowed Thad Lewis to complete 11 of 18 passes for 119 yards and accumulate 10 first downs in the first half. But Cortez Allen forced two fumbles to set up two touchdowns, giving him five turnovers he has helped create in the past two games. And S Troy Polamalu continued his solid play with an interception. But it's all window dressing in a season of disappointment.
Not being prepared for a fake punt by a struggling team is inconceivable. And it's worse when the 35-yard gain leads to a touchdown that ties the score. After missing two field goals for the first time all year against the Bengals, Shaun Suisham kicked a 41-yard field goal. Drew Butler had a 60-yard punt in the first quarter, but he followed that with a 31-yarder that led to a Browns missed field goal.
This was foreign territory for the Steelers -- playing a regular-season game that meant absolutely nothing. But Mike Tomlin played to win, and that approach at least allowed the Steelers to go into the offseason without a losing record. What the Steelers managed to do against the Browns -- force turnovers and convert them into touchdowns -- is something they couldn't do all season. And not turning the ball over is something they rarely did all season, too.
First Published December 31, 2012 12:00 am