ReFo: Steelers @ Browns, Week 12
For those of you who enjoy sloppy play, this was the game to watch. Five Pittsburgh players conspired to fumble the ball eight times, losing five of them. But they weren’t the only guys to have fun, as both teams’ starting quarterbacks, who quite honestly looked like they should be playing on Saturdays rather than Sundays, turned the ball over four times through the air. Add to that the 18 combined penalties committed and you have one of the ugliest games of the year.
This loss knocks Pittsburgh into a tie with Cincinnati for the six seed in the playoffs, and second place in the AFC North. It would take an epic collapse on Baltimore’s part for the Steelers to claim the division, so the most likely path to the playoffs will be with a wildcard, making their Week 16 matchup with the Bengals that much more important. That’s nothing but a distant dream though if Ben Roethlisberger can’t find his way back onto the field soon.
The Browns can take solace in the fact that while their offense sputtered, their defense held strong all game and they got a win in front of their home crowd. And, while they won’t be making the playoffs this year, they showed off some talent defensively, even if their offense was rather unimpressive. The Browns lost their starting quarterback Brandon Weeden in the fourth quarter with a concussion, and while losing your starting quarterback is never a good thing (except in Jacksonville), they have a solid backup in Colt McCoy if Weeden can’t make it back in time for the Browns’ trip to the Black Hole next Sunday. With that, let’s examine some of the key performances in this game.
Pittsburgh – Three Performances of Note
Fumbling by Committee
Surely the best way to take pressure off a quarterback who’s played just 75 snaps since Week 4 of 2010 is to run the ball, right? Well the Steelers tried just that, and the results were devastating. Seven fumbles by Pittsburgh backs (the two by Chris Rainey were on short passes) forced Head Coach Mike Tomlin to abandon his plan early, though the endgame result of 2.5 yards/carry indicated it wasn’t going anywhere anyway. Rashard Mendenhall, whose fumbling issue has been well publicized, managed a pair of fumbles on just four touches. With Coach Tomlin so hesitant to put anyone in at tailback, fullback Will Johnson actually recorded the most snaps of any running back. In all, the quartet of Rainey, Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer, and Isaac Redman amassed a combined grade of -9.1. It’s hard enough for the Steelers to win without Roethlisberger, but putting the ball on the ground that many times in a game is simply inexcusable, and Pittsburgh’s running backs are probably in for a long week of practice.
A Bad Batch
With both Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich out with injuries, it was up to veteran Charlie Batch (-5.9) to lead the offense. When forced to move the team through the air, Batch struggled mightily. He was reliably off-target, and his QB rating of 38.7 really sums up his day. He threw three interceptions, and while one was the product of a dropped ball by Mike Wallace, he easily could have had another if T. J. Ward turned to locate an underthrown pass that ended up hitting him in the back of his helmet. It became painfully obvious that Batch lacked the arm strength to take advantage of what a deep threat Wallace can be, underthrowing him horribly on several occasions. Perhaps the most disappointing part is that he wasted a really solid day in pass protection from the Pittsburgh line — Batch was pressured on only five of his 35 drop-backs.
Usually, when a team commits eight turnovers it loses big. But credit is due to the Pittsburgh defense, which kept the Steelers in the game despite the wheels falling off the offense. No one outside of Brett Keisel and Jason Worilds got much of any pressure, but a stingy run defense more than made up for it. James Harrison (+3.0) had himself a dominant game, especially when the Browns asked their tight ends to try to handle him one-on-one. He lined up to the offense’s left on every running play, and Cleveland had no success there — on runs outside the left tackle, Browns’ runners picked up precisely 0 yards on five attempts. Lawrence Timmons (+2.1) put on a fine display as well, tying Harrison for the team lead with six stops. Ryan Clark led the team with 10 tackles as he came crashing down from his safety position quite often in run support.
Cleveland – Three Performances of Note
Though the longest reception of the day (27 yards) was given up by Sheldon Brown, he was far from a liability in coverage. Two of the other passes into his coverage fell incomplete, while he made a nice break on the third to intercept it. Joe Haden’s numbers tell the whole story — five targets, one reception for 4 yards, an interception and a pass deflection. He stuck with the speedy Wallace very well, even if Batch often helped out Haden more than his own receiver. Even nickel corner Buster Skrine (+2.7) rebounded well from an outing in Dallas in which he committed three penalties, as he surrendered 32 yards on the 27 snaps where he was asked to cover Pittsburgh’s receivers.
While it’s not something most quarterbacks strive for, a QB rating of 78.7 doesn’t usually mean a disastrous outing for the QB at hand. But Weeden (-4.7) had just that. Pressured on less than 20% of his drop-backs, and working with a receiving corps that dropped only one ball (which would have gone for negligible yardage anyway), Weeden’s stat line shouldn’t even look as good as it does. Though he threw one pick, he was helped out by a few drops by members of the Pittsburgh secondary that really could have changed the flow of the game. He had no luck stretching the defense. Beyond 10 yards in the air, Weeden completed two of seven for 30 yards.
It’s well known that Joe Thomas (+3.4) is one of the best pass-protecting tackles out there. Even so, it’s rather impressive when he has a perfect day protecting the quarterback, especially since he spent most of the day working against Harrison. On the other side, rookie second-round pick Mitchell Schwartz (+2.9) put in his fourth straight outing in the green. He allowed just a single hurry all game. Neither man committed a penalty, and if the Browns could load up on talent in the skill positions too, they wouldn’t have to waste these great performances from players on their offensive line.
— Brett Keisel had the pass rusher’s equivalent of a cycle — one sack, one hit, one hurry, and one batted pass.
— Neither team had a defender give up more than 50 yards into his coverage.
— Only one Pittsburgh defender played more than 10 snaps and did not record a single tackle. That man was Ziggy Hood. He played 53 snaps.
PFF Game Ball
He gave up just a single 4-yard reception and notched an interception to boot. The game ball goes to Joe Haden, who didn’t miss a beat returning from injury.