ReFo: Browns @ Steelers, Week 17
The Browns were without their top two quarterbacks and were forced into starting Thaddeus Lewis for the first time, while the Steelers had been dumped from the playoff race before the final game of the season and were just playing to end the season on a high note before regrouping in the off-season.
In the end the game was closer than it perhaps could have been given the disparity at quarterback, but the Steelers ran out comfortable victors and no other result ever really looked likely.
But let’s take a look inside the game and see what performances are worthy of closer analysis on an individual level.
Cleveland – Three Performances of Note
The Rookie You Don’t Hear About
With all of the attention being drawn to the glamor positions in the league, the one guy you won’t hear mentioned for rookie of the year is Browns RT Mitchell Schwartz, but on this performance, maybe that’s wrong. Schwartz ends the season as our 7th ranked right tackle and almost all of his negative comes down to three games from the first half of his season. Take those three games out of his grade and he would actually be the best graded RT in football this year and tie Michael Roos for 3rd overall in our OT ranks.
Obviously you can’t take those game away, but the point is after some inconsistencies early, he has had a very strong finish to his season, keeping a clean sheet in pass protection in this game and establishing himself in the run game as well against a Steelers front that has been able to stuff the run this year. Quarterback may still be an issue, but at least Cleveland look to have knocked this pick out of the park.
The Hornsby Curse
PFF founder in chief, Neil Hornsby appears to be able to cast the spell of doom on players with a mere endorsement. Once well enamored with Philip Rivers, he has now watched him sink to the depths in 2012, with one thrown away pass after the next. Recently he remarked what an interesting story LG John Greco was, only for us to see him in this game have his worst game in the NFL.
Greco was hurt in the game, but was struggling badly anyway, surrendering a sack, hit and hurry from his 27 snaps in pass protection and being flagged twice for false start penalties to really compound his bad day at the office. Greco has largely been an upgrade, making PFF’s Team of the Week multiple times since starting at LG, but clearly the moral of the story is that if Hornsby takes an interest in you, it’s curtains!
The Debut of Thaddeus
We couldn’t leave the game without looking at the performance of Lewis more closely. He attempted 32 passes and completed 22, throwing for 204 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but with one ugly interception. There was no area of the field that the Browns didn’t have him throwing to and he appeared to have the full playbook at his disposal.
I suppose the thing that stands out is what the Browns overall quarterback situation is like when Lewis can come in and look no worse than either McCoy or Weeden despite not really impressing either. He made a few nice throws with velocity and accuracy, but he completely failed to spot Troy Polamalu for his interception, who had run under the intended target the entire way, and there were a few more inaccurate, but far less harmless throws. The bottom line is that it was a relatively unremarkable debut that says more about Weeden than it does Lewis.
Pittsburgh – Three Performances of Note
The Steelers may have one of the league’s best defenses on paper, but it often doesn’t stack up on an individual basis and especially on the D-line, once one of the strongest parts of the team. Casey Hampton is all too often dominated after a great career, and it might be time to move on for both him and the Steelers. Steve McLendon only saw 11 snaps, but earned a sack and hit from six pass rushes and needs to be seeing the field more. Ziggy Hood is a perennial punchbag at PFF, but he actually had a reasonable game. He only managed one hurry from his 35 snaps rushing the passer, but he did make a few plays in the run game. Unfortunaty for him Cameron Heyward was far more dominant, and has looked a better option all season.
Heyward recorded a sack and two hurries, but was far more effective in the run game, matching the two stops of Hood, but controlling his man more often and playing at the line of scrimmage rather than being moved off it and managing to recover in enough time. The Steelers need to replace at least two of their three D-line starters, and they look to have the players in reserve to do so, but just show no inclination to make the switch.
It is great fun to watch the Steelers safeties when they are playing well. Both players fly to the ball like few others in the league and though there is some guesswork involved, especially where Polamalu is concerned, when they guess right it can be a sight to behold. Polamalu capitalized on a rookie mistake for his interception, but Ryan Clark was also very effective in the game, both tracking deep to cut off Josh Gordon a couple of times and also flying up to lay big hits on TE Ben Watson after short completions. The nature of the way the pair plays dictates that they get beaten on occasion, but on days like this where it all seems to come off, they can be great to watch.
Return of the Plax
During the game the TV announcers were making a big deal of Roethlisberger’s desire to keep Plaxico Burress around. He had told them that when Burress was sent packing he was just a young quarterback and not really confident enough in his own leadership and voice to step up and fight for keeping him, but this time around he wants to keep him, and Mike Wallace, around. But is it worth it, or is he just fighting for weapons as any quarterback might?
Well Burress played just 15 snaps in the game, but he was thrown at three times, once just out of his reach and the other two were caught for 24 yards and a touchdown. At this point in his career Burress isn’t going to set the league alight, but he does bring a size profile that the Steelers are missing without him, especially when Heath Miller is out, and he might be an interesting option to keep around on the cheap if they can, because he can still win a jump ball in traffic.
– Ray Ventrone got just one snap on defense, but he also made one of the plays of the game with a fake punt run for the Browns early in the game.
– After not missing a kick for 12 weeks, Phil Dawson missed his second in the past five games, falling to 93.5% on the season.
– Ben Roethlisberger’s numbers were excellent across the board but he took just two deep shots (20+) and his average per attempt was just 5.8 yards.
PFF Game Ball
Making a claim for the starting spot he deserves, Cameron Heyward earns the PFF Game Ball
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam