The Pittsburgh Steelers handled the Cleveland Browns today 27-14. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had his second career 400-yard passing game and the Browns could not cover any Steeler in the open field as the Steelers amassed over 500 yards of total offense today on the hapless Browns.
For the first time since Week One, the Steelers played a solid fourth quarter. The Steelers did not give up any points in the fourth for the first time this season. Hopefully for the Steelers and Steeler Nation, this will become the norm.
For the Browns, this is the 12th consecutive loss to the Steelers. Since coming back to the NFL in 1999, the Browns have just three wins against the Steelers.
What once was one of the most heated rivalries in the NFL has become very one-sided. I have a feeling that the win streak will continue for a while until Cleveland makes some wholesale changes.
Some observations from the game:
1. Rashard Mendenhall is the starting running back (barring injury).
Willie Parker came back from his turf toe today and did not make a strong case to get his starting job back. Parker tripped on his own two feet while in the flat after catching a pass and fumbled later on the same drive.
While Mendenhall himself fumbled later in that bizarre third quarter, Mendenhall did things that Parker cannot do anymore. Mendenhall showed his pass catching ability out of the backfield, a talent only rivaled by third running back Mewelde Moore.
Mendenhall showed his ability as a downhill runner, picking up positive yards on nearly every carry. But what I believe separates Mendenhall from Parker (aside from age and all the other obvious things) is Mendenhall's ability to pick up the blitz.
It is often stated that for most young running backs, picking up the blitz is the toughest part of the pro game, often taking them off the field on third downs in favor of a more experienced running back.
I have not seen a young running back who has picked up the blitz as well as Mendenhall has the last three weeks in a long time. The only one that comes to my mind is Edgerrin James when he played for the Colts, perhaps Clinton Portis during his Bronco days.
I think on that ability alone, Mendenhall should get the majority of the carries and playing time. Parker is not a liability on blitz pickups but he has not done anything spectacular to get his starting job back either.
2. So much for being old and slow. Hines Ward shows he still has it.
Through six games, Ward is on pace to break his personal bests from the 2002 season when he had 112 receptions. Ward still knows how to get open as well as anyone in the league and it showed today.
Furthermore, since Santonio Holmes' drops and misreads in Weeks Two and Three, Roethlisberger has targeted Ward more often, trusting the potential Hall of Famer more often on crucial situations.
Today Ward went over the 100 yard mark for the third time this season and flashed some speed on a 52 yard catch and run. It's not about 40 speed, it's about game speed and Ward has that in spades.
3. Give Mike Wallace more touches.
During the draft in April, several websites had polls which asked which draft pick would have the biggest impact this season. I saw a lot of votes for Frank Summers and Joe Burnett , two guys who I thought would not even make the team out of training camp.
I honestly thought that given his speed and SEC pedigree, Wallace would have the biggest impact not as a receiver, but rather as a kick returner.
Wallace thus far has surpassed my expectations. Today, he had two catches for 50 yards and also had a 21-yard run on a reverse.
Wallace has made Limas Sweed expendable. My only wish is that Wallace would get more opportunities on offense. I do not think there are many cornerbacks that can stay with him on deep routes and on end-arounds like today, he has enough speed to beat the linebackers to the edge for positive yards.
With the hype for Mark Sanchez and Percy Harvin , Wallace's name is not being mentioned as a candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year, but he should be recognized. He is having a very good season thus far and he will only get better.
4. Finally, some balance on offense!
For once, I do not have much to grumble about offensive coordinator Bruce Arians . His play-calling for the most of the game was pretty good, getting the Steelers three touchdown drives and two drives ending with field goals.
Today, the Steelers attempted 38 passing plays and had 36 running plays. A balanced offensive play-calling like this would only be great for the Steelers and we can all hope that this continues, especially when the weather gets colder in November and December.
5. Steelers defense played well, but still needs some work .
Granted, the Steelers will miss Aaron Smith , the most underrated defensive player in the league. It was great to see All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu come back and have his second interception this season. However, the defense does need some work.
The Steelers did better this week on third downs than last week against the Lions. However, the Steelers had some problems when Cleveland playmaker Joshua Cribbs set up in the shotgun in the Wildcat formation.
Although Cribbs quickly showed he had problems passing out the formation, throwing an interception to Polamalu, the Steelers still had trouble stopping Cribbs when he ran out of the Wildcat.
Could other teams try this on the Steelers in the future? It is a copycat league and anyone who saw this game saw that Cribbs averaged over seven yards a carry out of the Wildcat. Granted, not every team has a playmaker like Cribbs on the roster, but it is something to be watch.
The Steelers special teams should also never kick off to Cribbs ever again. Cribbs has eight return touchdowns in his career, and half of them came against the Steelers. Sometimes a person just has your number, and Cribbs might just be a Steeler killer in the mold of Eric Metcalf.
The undefeated Minnesota Vikings will come to Heinz Field next week, which should be a great matchup. How much the Steeler defense will miss Aaron Smith will begin next week as a great Vikings offensive line will test the Steelers front seven constantly with All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson .
The Steelers, despite meltdowns and near-meltdowns this season, are 4-2. The Steelers have gotten some rhythm on offense in the last three weeks and their defense got their best playmaker back. Let's hope it all adds up to a win against the Vikings.
Next game: Oct. 25 vs. Minnesota Vikings @ 1 p.m. Eastern.