Steelers vs. Browns: Winners and Losers for Pittsburgh
Pathetic. It's the only word that can be used to describe the effort the Pittsburgh Steelers offense put out on the field in Cleveland this afternoon.
The Steelers couldn't move the ball through the air or on the ground and wound up turning the ball over a team-record eight times to a defense that was one of the worst in the NFL. The offense mustered only 242 total yards and put the defense in un-winnable situations, handing the Browns 17 points and the eventual win.
The Steelers now drop to 6-5 on the season, and with hope for the playoffs looking bleak, let's take a look at the winners and losers from this contest.
Loser: Charlie Batch
For those of you who thought the Steelers' backup quarterback situation was one of the best in the league, I hope you're rethinking that observation.
One week after watching Byron Leftwich flounder away what should have been a win against the Ravens, Steelers fans didn't think it could have gotten much worse, especially against a team like the Browns.
Batch was terrible against the Browns, and that's putting it as nicely as I can. Even in a game where the offensive line protected the quarterback rather well, Batch couldn't manage to hit even the simplest of throws and wound up under 200 yards through the air.
His most egregious errors, however, were his three interceptions that were, simply put, poor throws.
Steelers fans cringed when they saw Ben Roethlisberger go down against Kansas City, but no one could have predicted it could have gotten this bad. With a matchup in Baltimore next week, there's no way Mike Tomlin can justify putting Charlie Batch back on the field, even if Brian Hoyer doesn't know the full playbook.
Winner: Heath Miller
In a game where it was beyond difficult to find a positive on the offensive side, Heath Miller stood alone.
Miller continues to be the most reliable option for the Steelers in the passing game and may have been the only offensive player who didn't make a major mistake in this game. Miller finished the day with six catches for 63 yards, all while having to stay in and block on multiple occasions.
By the fourth quarter, it was pretty apparent that Charlie Batch was looking for Miller on almost every throw, and the team had success when the ball was in his hands. But with the difficulties up front, there's no way the Steelers can use him in the pass game as much as they'd like to.
Whoever is playing quarterback has to know where No. 83's route is going on every play. He's been arguably the best receiver the Steelers have had and played another good game on Sunday.
Loser: The Running Back Corps
There's a number of reasons the running backs were arguably the biggest losers of this game for the Steelers.
The most obvious of those was the unacceptable four lost fumbles by the unit throughout the course of the game. Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Rainey each fumbled twice (both lost one), while Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman each lost one.
The second reason this group is a loser against the Browns is that no one back separated themselves as the absolute starter. In fact, if anything, a few guys pulled their names from the running.
I'll be the first to say it, but I'm sick of looking in the backfield and seeing Rashard Mendenhall lining up with the first team. Not only did he fumble twice in just four carries, but he gained a pathetic six yards on his attempts. Granted, the line wasn't blocking that well, but Mendenhall just looked awful.
He's fortunate that both Dwyer and Redman had lackluster games themselves, but I don't see any reason Mendenhall should even be splitting time in the backfield. With an expiring contract at the end of the season, you'd expect to see some effort from No. 34, but that hasn't been the case this season.
Despite the fact that I mainly focused on Mendenhall, all of the running backs were, frankly, terrible in this game. If the Steelers can't run the ball, even with Big Ben at quarterback, I don't see much hope for this team going forward.
Winner: Emmanuel Sanders
When you check the stat sheet, it will say that Emmanuel Sanders had a fumble and accounted for the eighth turnover. But in reality, it was during the final seconds when the team was trying to make something happen and ran out of time.
Other than that, Sanders played a heck of a game.
He was the guy Charlie Batch targeted early on in the game and completely dominated Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown. Sanders finished the game with five receptions for a team-high 75 yards.
Sanders has done well in Antonio Brown's absence and has actually been the team's best wide receiver since being given the opportunity to start. He's been much better than Mike Wallace.
With Brown looking closer to coming back, don't expect Sanders' numbers to continue to be as they were today. But he's still going to be a reliable slot receiver for Pittsburgh.
Loser: Mike Wallace
When Antonio Brown went down with an ankle injury, most people expected Mike Wallace's numbers to explode. But that simply hasn't been the case.
In the three games Brown has missed, Wallace has only been able to compile eight receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown. Hardly the stud receiver who once demanded "Larry Fitzgerald money."
Those numbers were at their worst this week.
Wallace was targeted seven times against the Browns, but only caught one pass for nine yards and was, in one way or another, semi-responsible for two interceptions. The first was on a slant route that was thrown slightly behind him. Wallace bobbled the ball and it was picked. The second was a bad throw down the field that Wallace didn't fight for and allowed Joe Haden to grab the interception.
Two-and-a-half of those three games I mentioned earlier have been quarterbacked by Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch, so that has something to do with the decline in numbers. But Wallace hasn't done much to help his team either.
With his contract expiring at the end of the season and his high monetary demands, Steelers fans are getting a little tired of Mike Wallace's antics.
Winner: Lawrence Timmons
I've been as critical as anyone of Lawrence Timmons over his career, but 2012 will go down as the year he finally put it all together. Sunday afternoon was another great performance by the inside linebacker.
Timmons gave the Steelers their first score by intercepting a Brandon Weeden pass and returning it 53-yards to the end zone. Timmons finished the game with a team-high 10 tackles and deflected a pass to add to his stat line.
For a team that was really lacking in the leadership department, Timmons has stepped up well and helped fill that void. He could very well be considered the team's MVP and should garner a lot of Pro Bowl attention.
The Steelers need him to play well going forward.
Loser: Mike Adams
I've been pretty hard on Adams in his rookie season, mostly because of his blatant inability to pass protect, but I thought he was really starting to come around and mesh with this offensive line.
But after Sunday's game, he may not have another opportunity to play the rest of this season.
During a sack of quarterback Charlie Batch, Batch's shoulders and head were slammed into the back of Adams' legs, resulting in what appeared to be an ankle injury. Adams was brought to the sidelines and subsequently carted to the locker room.
With Marcus Gilbert still out and no real timetable on his return, the Steelers are getting pretty thin at offensive tackle. Rookie Kelvin Beachum replaced Adams and immediately was flagged for holding.
One option is starting Doug Legursky at guard and moving Willie Colon back to right tackle, but that could really kink the works along the front.
Adams was really beginning to pick up the offense and was actually playing some good football. Hopefully, he's not going to miss significant time.
Winner: Ryan Clark
Ryan Clark continue to play like an All-Pro on Sunday afternoon in Cleveland, finishing second on the team with nine total tackles. But it's the way Clark plays that garners so much attention.
With Troy Polamalu still sidelined with a strained calf, Clark has really taken over his role and is maybe playing better as a true safety. Clark has had exceptional speed and vision throughout the year and has been a big blanket for the Steelers defense.
The Browns only had a long rush of 15 yards, and a lot of that has to do with Clark in the defensive secondary.
If you ask me, there's no doubt at this point that Ryan Clark deserves All-Pro accolades for the way he's played this season. He's been a major reason this team isn't missing Troy Polamalu and, if he can stay healthy, should continue to have a great season.
Loser: Mike Tomlin
I balked at a few articles that asked the question, should Mike Tomlin be on the hot seat? Yes, I have disagreed with a lot of things he's done this year and the way he's coached this team, but he's won a lot of games here.
Sunday may have changed my mind.
If his seat's not hot, it's warming up. The Steelers continued to struggle in the same areas they have all season, and you have to wonder if Tomlin is losing his locker room.
The Steelers again were halted by penalties, being flagged nine times for a total of 68 yards. They also turned the ball over eight times. These are both discipline issues that Tomlin hasn't been able to address all year long.
But it's not just the penalties and turnovers that irk me. It's the way he's handled guys who make big mistakes in games.
Tomlin is known as being a players' coach and puts a lot of trust in his guys. But when his guys are underperforming, he refuses to pull them.
Rashard Mendenhall is a perfect example of this. He fumbles early and does actually hit the bench for a little, but is given a second chance despite playing as poor a game as he could imagine. The result? Another fumble by Mendenhall that is covered up by Will Johnson.
Tomlin also refused to bench Byron Leftwich last week when it was apparent that he was injured and couldn't move the ball.
There's no question that Tomlin has been a good coach for the Steelers, but he's got to make a statement here and now. Eight turnovers and nine penalties can not go unnoticed and somebody needs to pay.
Tomlin has to make an example out of one or a few players by sitting them down and putting the rest of the team on notice. Poor, undisciplined play will no longer be tolerated in Pittsburgh.
Winner: Dick LeBeau
Another week and another game where the Steelers defense played well thanks in large part to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
The Steelers may have given up 20 points to the Browns, but 17 came off turnovers where the defense was in nearly impossible situations. Cleveland started drives on the Pittsburgh 10, 31, 34, 40 and 44-yard lines in this game and still managed only 17 points out of those five possessions.
As a unit, Pittsburgh's defense allowed only 238 yards and sacked quarterback Brandon Weeden four times. It also scored the opening touchdown of the game on a Lawrence Timmons interception return for a touchdown.
The Steelers are playing some very good defense the last few weeks, but they haven't gotten much help on the other side of the ball. Credit Dick LeBeau for adapting this season and getting his unit back to where it needs to be.
Now has a sack in three straight games and has created chaos on a defensive line who hasn't played well this year.
Harrison finally got to the quarterback and played a nice game, recording nine tackles and four for a loss.
Continues to play well when given the opportunity with two sacks in Cleveland.
Just because you don't play doesn't mean you can't be a winner. With the way Batch played, he'll get a look in practice this week.
Failed to separate himself from the rest of the backs when given the opportunity.
Was targeted twice including one ball that hit his hands, but couldn't come up with a catch.
Another injury could sideline the plagued linebacker for some time.
Not only did he fumble twice, including losing one, but he took a big hit and left the game with a right leg injury.