Report Card: Steelers earn a C- against the Browns
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Mike Tomlin said it doesn't matter who the quarterback is when a team commits eight turnovers, and he's probably right. But Charlie Batch was responsible for three of them with interceptions, none bigger than a sideline throw to Plaxico Burress that led to the Browns' go-ahead TD. The best thing he did was complete four passes for 52 yards and take the Steelers on an 84-yard TD drive at the end of the first half that gave the Steelers a 14-13 halftime lead.
All four of the running backs -- Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and Chris Rainey -- lost fumbles. Three came in the first half, leading to two field goals that gave the Browns a 13-7 lead. The only highlight in that half was Rainey bouncing outside for a 1-yard TD when it appeared he was stuffed for no gain. The fumble-by-committee approach resulted in a season-low 49 yards.
The only contributions came from TE Heath Miller (6 catches) and WR Emmanuel Sanders. Plaxico Burress didn't do much in his first game, other than draw a pass interference penalty in the end zone that led to the second TD. But he ran a soft route that allowed CB Sheldon Brown to cut underneath him for the first interception. Mike Wallace continues to be a no-show in the offense. He had one catch for 9 yards -- on the last play of the game.
The day began with G Willie Colon discovering in warmups he couldn't play because of a knee injury and continued with RT Mike Adams going out with an ankle injury. And it just continued to spiral downward. The running game averaged just 2.5 yards a carry and didn't have a gain longer than 8 yards. A big holding penalty by Adam's replacement, rookie Kelvin Beachum, wiped out a 33-yard gain by Miller in the third quarter.
Because of all the turnovers, the Browns ran 64 plays -- second most by an opponent this season. It may have contributed to some fatigue, too, because the Browns rushed for 108 yards -- 85 yards by rookie Trent Richardson. But the Browns had seven runs for zero or negative yards and averaged just 3.2 yards per attempt. DE Brett Keisel tipped the ball that allowed Lawrence Timmons to make a 53-yard interception return for touchdown. And he had one of the four sacks against QB Brandon Weeden.
Lawrence Timmons continues to make a number of big plays for the defense, starting with his 53-yard TD interception return for a 7-0 lead -- his second big pick in three games. Jason Worilds replaced injured LaMarr Woodley and made his presence known with several big plays, including a sack. And James Harrison started to look more like his old self with a sack and four tackles for loss.
It was the sixth game in a row the defense did not allow a quarterback to pass for more than 169 yards. Weeden had a 26-yard completion on the first play of the game and never had another longer than 18 yards. CB Ike Taylor had two passes defensed and allowed WR Greg Little to one catch for 6 yards -- the third time in six games he has held his receiver to one catch. Ryan Clark continues to be a stalwart against the run without Troy Polamalu.
The coverage units did a decent job making sure not to get hurt by Joshua Cribbs, who returned three punts for 27 yards. Drew Butler averaged 45.8 yards on six punts and had a couple big punts of 55 and 48 yards in the second half. But, without Antonio Brown, the Steelers are getting nothing from their return game. Rainey's longest return was 25 yards. And LB Stevenson Sylvester, who is supposed to be one of their top special-teams performers, continues to make penalties.
The season is headed in the same direction as 2009 when the Steelers lost to the three bottom-feeders in the league -- Oakland, Kansas City and Cleveland -- and missed the playoffs by one game. It's bad enough the offense has produced just one touchdown in each of the past three games. But losing five of eight fumbles and committing eight turnovers is inexcusable. So were the nine penalties for 68 yards.
First Published November 26, 2012 12:00 am