ReFo: Steelers @ Browns, Week 12
Steve Palazzolo highlights breakthroughs, struggles, and a rediscovery of sorts as he looks at some of the game's noteworthy performances.
ReFo: Steelers @ Browns, Week 12
After an 0-4 start to the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have stormed right back into the parody-driven AFC playoff race after easily handling the Cleveland Browns by a score of 27-11. Pittsburgh now gears up for a quick turnaround against their hated rival Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving night with serious playoff implications on the line.
The defense flashed back to the Steelers of old as they forced four turnovers and notched five sacks against Cleveland quarterbacks. Troy Polamalu was right in the middle of the action, forcing two fumbles, one of which he recovered on his own, on his way to a +5.6 grade. His playmaking ability proved to be the difference as the Steelers offense found themselves with good field position throughout the afternoon.
For Cleveland, their playoff hopes took a major hit as they came into the game with an identical 4-6 record as six other AFC teams, including the Steelers, but they were simply overmatched from the start and never really had enough life to mount a comeback. Their roller coaster season has taken a step back toward draft-watch status, but they have to be encouraged by the number of strong pieces they’ve been able to trot out throughout the year.
Here’s a look at the top performances form this AFC North showdown.
Pittsburgh – Three Performances of Note
After disastrous games two of the last three weeks, Polamalu bounced back Sunday with a dominant +5.6 outing. His forced fumbles were game-changers, first at the 1:51 mark of the second quarter as he stripped running back Chris Ogbonnaya and made the recovery. The play put a hold on the Browns’ two-minute drive to end the half while allowing the Steelers to tack on three more points instead on a Shaun Suisham field goal. Polamalu struck again in the fourth quarter as he sacked and forced the fumble on quarterback Brandon Weeden as he stepped up in the pocket, this time the ball recovered by defensive end Cameron Heyward. The Steelers were well in control of the game by that point, but the strip sack crushed even the slightest of hopes the Browns may have had to mount a comeback in the middle of the fourth quarter. In addition to the big plays, Polamalu graded at +1.8 in coverage, defensing one of the three passes thrown his way. It was a dominant all-around performance for the former Pro-Bowler.
While Polamalu was channeling his playmaking past, outside linebacker Jason Worilds is just getting in touch with his as he’s now put together back-to-back strong games after a slow start in his new starting role. His +3.3 overall grade matches a career-high set back in 2011 against the very same Browns, while his nine pressures (6 ht, 3 hu) represented half of Pittsburgh’s 18 total disruptions. He did most of his damage against right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, picking up three hits and a hurry his way, but he also got inside LG John Greco for a pressure while beating RG Shawn Lauvao to the outside on a spin move on his way to a hit. Worilds added some fine work in the running game, grading at +1.8, particularly against tight end Jordan Cameron as he beat him for stops at the 4:45 mark of the third quarter and later in the same quarter with 2:53 to go. When combined with Polamalu’s play, the Steelers had the two best defensive players on the field Sunday.
Gilbert Struggles on the Right
The Steelers offense didn’t do much to stand out, simply taking advantage of the turnovers and dedicating to an average run game. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert was the weak link up front, finishing at -2.5 overall, including -3.9 as a run blocker. He had a difficult time blocking DE Ahtyba Rubin, particularly in the fourth quarter as Rubin shed him for tackles on three occasions while moving him into a running lane on another. Gilbert’s worst block of the day came against rookie OLB Eric Martin who tossed him aside to make a stop. Sunday’s game was a microcosm of Gilbert’s season who has been stellar as a pass protector – +0.4 on Sunday moves him to +3.2 for the year – but his struggles continue in the run game where his -10.2 run block grade ranks third from the bottom among offensive tackles.
Cleveland – Three Performances of Note
Shaky at Safety
The Browns missed 11 tackles on the day with free safety Tashaun Gipson leading the way with four. He finished at -3.0 overall including -2.0 in coverage. The misses started early as Gipson whiffed on RB Le’Veon Bell at the 13:53 mark of the first quarter before bouncing off TE Heath Miller on a seam route with 0:37 to go in the first half. The shoddy tackling continued into the second half as Gipson had a chance to stop Bell short of the sticks after a screen pass, but the rookie running back spun off the tackle to pick up the first down. On the very next play, Gipson did a fine job of shedding WR Emmanuel Sanders to get in on another tackle attempt against Bell, but he was once again shrugged off for his fourth miss of the game. In addition to the misses, Gipson was easily looked off by QB Ben Roethlisberger at the 1:12 mark of the third quarter, leaving a wide open seam route that, lucky for the Browns, was underthrown. It was a rough game all around for Gipson.
Fantasy owners are well-aware of WR Josh Gordon’s huge statistical output as he finished with 237 yards on 14 catches, many of which came after the game was out of hand. Still, it was an impressive performance for the second-year receiver who continues to prove to be one of the league’s best deep threats. He beat CB Ike Taylor on the “go” route with 6:54 to go in the fourth quarter, but Gordon also showed his burst early in the first when he took a crossing route and beat CB William Gay to the corner for a big gainer. In addition to the big numbers, Gordon forced three missed tackles on the day while picking up 106 of his 237 yards after the catch. While Gordon certainly shined in fantasy leagues across the nation, LT Joe Thomas also deserves a tip of the cap for his quietly productive work grading at +4.0 in pass protection as he surrendered only one hurry on 58 attempts. He remains the top pass blocking offensive tackle in the league at +21.5.
Cameron’s Slump Continues
After a torrid start to the season, TE Jordan Cameron has posted three straight games in the red, including a -4.4 outing on Sunday. He dropped two of the nine passes thrown his way, finishing with only three receptions for 32 yards. He wasn’t much better in the running game, finishing at -2.9. He did have one impressive block against rookie OLB Jarvis Jones at the 4:08 mark of the second quarter, but that was about it for the day. Cameron had three missed blocks lead to stops and a number of others where he was unable to control Pittsburgh’s defensive ends and outside linebackers. Worilds got the better of him a number of times, generally getting inside to make an impact on the play. Cameron is still one of the bright young tight ends in the league, but the three-game slump is something to keep an eye on.
– Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger finished 2-for-6 for 58 yards and a touchdown on passes thrown beyond 10 yards.
– Browns QBs Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden graded at -1.0 and -2.5, respectively.
– Steelers WR Antonio Brown was targeted nine times against CB Joe Haden picking up five receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown, though Haden defensed two passes on the day.
PFF Game Ball
Two forced fumbles, a recovery, and stellar work in pass protection make Troy Polamalu the easy choice for Player of the Game.
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