Steelers Report Card: Game 5 vs. Cleveland Browns
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley celebrates after sacking Browns quarterback Colt McCoy Sunday at Heinz Field.
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It did not begin as an artistic performance for Ben Roethlisberger, especially when his third pass, from the Browns' 14, was intercepted and returned 62 yards. But he made enough plays to make his return a success, including a 29-yard touchdown toss to Mike Wallace on the series following the interception and back-to-back throws of 50 and 36 yards to set up the second touchdown.
Rashard Mendenhall had 38 of his 84 yards on two runs and had the first rushing touchdown allowed by the Browns in the past eight games when he scored on a 2-yard run in the fourth quarter. But maybe his most important contribution was in blitz pickup, part of the reason Roethlisberger was not sacked by the Browns. He also caught three passes for 15 yards.
There were big plays all around, from Wallace's 29-yard touchdown and 50-yard catch to Hines Ward fighting off cornerback Eric Wright on a sight-adjustment pass for an 8-yard touchdown. Rookie Emmanuel Sanders had his first two catches, both on third-down conversions. Tight end Heath Miller's 36-yard catch set up a touchdown, and he caught a 14-yarder for another.
The Steelers seemed to have little trouble figuring all the Browns' sub-package looks, and a lot of the credit goes to rookie center Maurkice Pouncey. He did a great job recognizing and calling out their three- and four-man fronts, which allowed Roethlisberger to make the protection calls and blitz pickups. Also, a nice job to pound out 121 rushing yards on 35 carries.
The Steelers played all but two plays without DE Brett Keisel, who injured his hamstring on the first play and did not return. The Browns finished with 70 yards rushing on 22 attempts, second most against the Steelers this season, and Peyton Hillis' 14-yard run was the longest against them in five games. But no back has rushed for more than 42 yards in five games.
James Harrison took out two of the Browns' top offensive players -- wide receivers Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi -- with debatable hits in the first half preventing the Browns from using their Wildcat package for the final 2 1/2 quarters. Harrison finished with a team-high 10 solo tackles, 1 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble. Lawrence Timmons had 11 tackles, 2 sacks and an interception.
Quarterback Colt McCoy did not play like a rookie his first NFL start, throwing for 281 yards and completing six passes of 20 yards or longer. He did most of that without two top receivers, Cribbs and Massaquoi. But he also threw two interceptions, one by safety Ryan Clark, the second setting up the final touchdown. Bryant McFadden continues to see lots of throws, but makes lots of tackles.
It is good news any time the Steelers face the Browns when Cribbs doesn't return a kickoff for a touchdown. He had just one return for 26 yards before leaving the game. Otherwise, the biggest plays were reserved for a pair of rookie linebackers -- Stevenson Sylvester for delivering a big hit and Jason Worilds for recovering an onside kick in the fourth quarter.
It shouldn't go unnoticed that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians never got away from the game plan of trying to run against the Browns, even when yards were hard to come by. Of course, having Roethlisberger back gave him the luxury of calling back-to-back long passes when the offense was backed up at its own 4. The decision to dress Sanders looked like a good one for Mike Tomlin.
First Published October 18, 2010 12:00 am