Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated their AFC North Division rival Cleveland Browns by a final score of 28-10 yesterday afternoon.
The Steelers amassed 378 yards of total offense during Roethlisberger’s return, controlling the clock for just under 32 minutes.
With the much-anticipated return of Roethlisberger, and the first career NFL start of college football’s all-time winningest quarterback in Colt McCoy, the game promised to hold more drama than it normally would when a 3-1 team meets a 1-4 division bottom-dweller.
That drama brings us to the Week 6 version of the good, the bad, and the ugly…
Ben Roethlisberger returned to a chorus of cheers and well wishes Sunday afternoon.
While he provided a few reasons for fans to wince after the opening introductions, he also provided the intangible aspects that few others can provide at the quarterback position.
The stats weren’t mind-blowing—16 of 27 for 257 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception—but the offense responded to him, and Roethlisberger has begun the process of shaking the rust loose.
While most of his numbers came in the third quarter, and his one turnover cost the Steelers at least a field goal on their best drive of the day, Roethlisberger has proven to offer the best of all three backup quarterbacks who played in his absence.
Roethlisberger may not run a sub-4.4 like Dixon, but he offers the mobility that Dixon provides with the ability to keep his focus downfield.
Take his mobility, add the mental approach of Charlie Batch, but make him even more unflappable under pressure and throw in the arm strength of Byron Leftwich, and Ben Roethlisberger begins to take shape.
Say what you want about his off the field issues, his “return to faith,” and the sincerity of it all, but his value as a quarterback to the Pittsburgh Steelers is undeniable.
Fans and football aside, if Ben’s newfound humility and his play against the Browns is any indication of where he truly is mentally and physically, he may be on his way to proving that redemption is available for those who are willing to make the necessary effort.
Rashard Mendenhall did more than carry the ball 27 times for 84 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s win against the Browns.
He carried the team.
The stats won’t get him an interview on any of the ESPN morning shows. But his 84 yards combined with his three receptions for 15 yards seemed like 150 yards rushing and 75 yards receiving to his team, because of the nature and timing with which they came.
Mendenhall defiantly refused to go down several times Sunday afternoon in spots where his team needed him most. Mendenhall, who is running with a toughness and desire unlike anything he has shown since his days at Illinois, seems to have learned the level of passion it takes to run the football successfully on the NFL level.
Whether it was fighting through first contact and moving the chains in the first half as Ben Roethlisberger relied on him almost exclusively as he shook off the rust, or employing the quick spin move to find his way out of a jam on his own goal line late in the game, Mendenhall made big plays in big situations all day long.
Lest we forget the efforts of Isaac Redman, who carried the ball in short-yardage situations and third downs for and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. His six carries for 31 yards kept the chains moving for the Steelers in key situations as well.
Redman is proving a valuable asset to the Steelers’ offense this season, as he continues to provide the short-yardage back they have lacked since the departure of Jerome Bettis.
If the Steelers can continue to run the ball effectively and regularly the way they proved capable of doing yesterday, their potent passing game will allow them the winning edge needed to close out games late by opening up running room in the fourth quarter.
For the second time in as many games, Mike Wallace has played his way on to the “A-List”.
His three receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown contributed to the overall outcome of the game, but his continuous deep-threat presence on the field provides an element to the Steelers’ offense that Randy Moss or DeSean Jackson give to their respective teams.
They find a way to get their numbers, but they also command enough respect on each and every play that they open up opportunities for their teammates to make plays as well.
As Wallace continues to get better and climb to a ceiling that has yet to be defined in his young career, the elements he is starting to bring to the game with and without the ball will continue to grow with him.
The return of Ben Roethlisberger is only going to add to Wallace’s big play capability, and with the ability to go down the field deep at any time, players like Hines Ward, Heath Miller and Antwaan Randle El will find more space and less coverage to work with as a result.
Once again, the Steeler defense held their opponent to under 100 yards rushing.
The new benchmark seems to be much lower for the defense in black and gold, however.
The Steelers managed to figure out a way to shut down the red-hot Peyton Hillis, who, aside from a 14-yard run, only managed 27 more yards on the ground.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the game defensively for the Steelers was the fact that they lost defensive linemen Brett Keisel and Nick Eason early in the game, and continued stop the run against one of the better offensive line/running back combinations they have faced this season.
At game’s end the Steelers gave up only 70 yards rushing, 22 of which went to a scrambling Colt McCoy. If they can continue to escalate their ability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks with better containment, they will continue to succeed on the defensive side of the football.
Jeff Reed continues to leave kickoffs well short of the goal line, but the rest of the Pittsburgh Steelers' special teams unit rarely falls short.
While Browns punter Reggie Hodges was putting up lawn darts that more closely resembled a superb golf shot with backspin than punts yesterday, Daniel Sepulveda once again showed his wares consistently and effectively as well.
At one point, Sepulveda was forced to repunt three times do to various penalties. After pinning the Browns inside their own 10-yard line on the first two tries, Sepulveda hung a punt up in the stratosphere for almost five full seconds.
The result: An antsy Chansi Stuckey fumbles the kick surrounded by Steelers special teams coverage, and the Steelers recover the kick.
While kick coverage was a major concern in 2009, special teams coordinator Al Everest has taken a mixed group of inexperienced rookies and veteran special teamers and turned them into one of the best units in the league.
If placekicker Jeff Reed can manage to be consistent in field-goal situations for the duration of the season, the Steelers could possibly find themselves in the upper echelon of NFL special teams units.
The Steelers' defense was once again highly effective in their efforts against the Cleveland Browns.
But before they, or their fans, start chest thumping over a win against the worst team in the AFC North and a rookie quarterback, pass coverage remains a concern.
The Browns, with a rookie quarterback at the helm, managed to accumulate 281 yards passing and a touchdown.
While McCoy did throw two interceptions in the game, they had more to do with poor decisions by a young, inexperienced signal caller than they did from great coverage. Passes thrown into double coverage twice resulted in tipped balls that went in the Steelers' favor.
Perhaps the most perplexing stat from the Steelers’ win Sunday is 46.2. The percentage of third-down passes converted by McCoy and the Browns.
No team is perfect, and the Steelers are no exception to the rule. Their inability to cover when the pass rush does not provide instant pressure against solid offensive line units continues to prove to be the Steelers' greatest weakness moving forward.
The Saints and Patriots are waiting in the wings, and the Steelers are going to have to get better, specifically at the nickelback with William Gay, who was the primary source of letdown from a coverage standpoint Sunday.
Rookie Colt McCoy made his NFL debut for the Browns Sunday against the Steelers.
Despite the nerves and pressure, McCoy showed incredible poise and maturity in his first start, going 22 of 33 for 281 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
Despite having James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley head hunting all afternoon, McCoy never once seemed shaken or frustrated. Despite being sacked five times and hit nine more, his toughness that was once in question seems to be the least of the Browns' concerns going forward.
It could be that, other than the two poor decisions that led to Steeler interceptions by Ryan Clark and Lawrence Timmons, McCoy had no reason to be anything other than confident.
McCoy had as many running lanes as he did throwing lanes Sunday, escaping the Steelers’ pass rush for a total of 22 yards rushing.
Anyone who knows McCoy or hears him speak for five minutes for that matter can’t help but root for his success, but his performance has to fall in the bad category concerning the Steelers and their fans.
It may have more to do with the resolve and character of McCoy to take a beating and keep competing than the Steelers inability to rattle him. But for as many times as McCoy got hit, he had time to throw from the pocket on as many occasions.
While the ugly category has been reserved for the worst possible aspects of the Steelers’ performance thus far, James Harrison changed all that this week.
The dominance of James Harrison Sunday against the Browns was the kind of ugly you just couldn’t take your eyes off of.
His 11-tackle, 1.5-sack performance, which included a pass deflection and an additional three quarterback hits, fell secondary to the punishing hits that knocked his college teammate, Josh Cribbs, and wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi out of the game.
Whether or not there are fines to come from the two vicious hits that left Cribbs and Massaquoi dazed and confused remains to be seen.
However, no one can deny the fact that the silverback gorilla in shoulder pads had Browns players glancing over their shoulders all afternoon looking for the runaway truck with the big NO. 92 on it.
The Steelers can take far more positives than negatives away from Sunday’s game.
A win over a divisional rival in which you regain a franchise quarterback is always a great week for any team.
Throw in the fact that their 32nd-ranked passing attack was rejuvenated, the ground game continued to flourish under the circumstances, and the team continues to improve from week to week, and it’s easy to see why the Steelers are topping the NFL power rankings.