The Pittsburgh Steelers ended their 2012 on a winning note with a 24-10 victory over the rival Cleveland Browns. With the win, the Steelers avoided their first losing season under head coach Mike Tomlin.
While the end of the season brought a lot of disappointment for the Steelers, they went out with a solid performance.
Ben Roethlisberger led the struggling offense to three touchdowns in what was a very efficient day for the Steelers signal-caller.
Pittsburgh needed a lot from its quarterback, given the lack of a ground game. Though Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman rushed for a combined 78 yards on 17 carries, the rest of the team struggled running the ball.
But, it wasn’t an offensive player who earned the game ball for the day. Instead, it was several members of the defense who stood out against the Browns.
Steve McLendon and Cameron Heyward
While neither of these players dominated in the way you need to in order to earn a game ball, both Steve McLendon and Cameron Heyward played extremely well in their limited opportunities.
McLendon was only credited with a half a sack on the day but twice completely collapsed the pocket to create sacks. It is something he has seemed to do all year.
McLendon isn’t the prototypical 3-4 nose tackle, but he does bring the ability to get to the quarterback that the Steelers desperately need. He is on the verge of breaking out and becoming a very good player for the Steelers.
Meanwhile, Heyward got his chance to be an every-down player after Brett Keisel left the game with an injury.
Like McLendon, Heyward was excellent at collapsing the pocket. He pushed his lineman into the backfield multiple times to help make stops on running plays.
Heyward had four tackles and a half a sack but also freed up a lot of space for his teammates to make plays.
Lawrence Timmons had an excellent game but completely went off at the end of the game with back-to-back sacks.
Who earned the game ball for the victory over the Browns?
Timmons perfectly executed two blitzes and absolutely blasted the Browns quarterbacks on each play. He sacked two different quarterbacks because he knocked Thad Lewis out of the game on the first sack.
On the second sack, Timmons' hit on Josh Johnson forced a fumble which was recovered by Ziggy Hood.
Besides the sacks, Timmons recovered a fumble and did a great job shedding blocks to make an impact against the run. He had one tackle for a loss.
Timmons has had a quietly good year for the Steelers, and he put an exclamation point on it at the end with a huge defensive performance against Cleveland.
The pressure was on Cortez Allen after Keenan Lewis left the game, and Allen was up to the task with a terrific game against the Browns.
After having two interceptions last week, Allen continued to force turnovers with two forced fumbles which resulted in two Pittsburgh touchdowns.
These are the types of plays that the Steelers desperately needed from their defense to help the offense out. Not only did Allen put a halt to two Cleveland drives, but he also set up the offense with good field position.
Allen wasn’t perfect, allowing a number of receptions to go his way, but his eight tackles and two forced fumbles were a major reason why the Steelers came out with a win.
These types of splash plays from Allen were exactly what the Steelers have needed all season, and it is an encouraging sign moving forward. More importantly, it helped the team win on Sunday, and it earned Allen the game ball.