The AFC North and a first round bye were on the line as the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Cleveland Browns by a final score of 41-9 in a clash that would set the road map to Super Bowl XLV.
The Steelers had already clinches a playoff spot coming into the game, but the only thing separating the Steelers and Ravens atop the AFC North was Pittsburgh’s better divisional record. In order to secure the division and a much needed first round bye the Steelers had to beat the Browns in order to assure that the Ravens could not overtake them with a win of their own.
Two plays into the game, Pittsburgh had already intercepted Colt McCoy and thrown a 56-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace, setting the all time Steelers’ record for touchdown passes of 40 yards or more (8) by any tandem.
By game’s end, the Steelers seemed to do no wrong as they beat the Browns by 32 points. The Steelers brought much clarity to the playoff picture and what they are capable of doing as we look at the Week 17 version of “The Good, Bad, and Ugly”.
Roethlisberger only played one series into the third quarter before coach Mike Tomlin gave him the rest of the day off, but that was all he needed.
In just over two quarters of play, Roethlisberger led the Steelers to 38 points on 15 of 22 passing, for 280 yards, and two touchdowns.
His 141.3 passer rating reflects yet another game in which he failed to throw an interception. His ability to make better decisions with the football this season (only 5 INTs on the year) could prove vital to his team in the playoffs, as they have won games on ball control and defense for the majority of the year.
While Roethlisberger’s mobility is certainly no secret, what he has done with his legs in the latter half of the season has been remarkable considering the state of his broken foot. No.7 finished the game Sunday with 24 yards rushing and continues to contribute first downs with his legs at key times in the game.
With Roethlisberger at the helm it is impossible to count the Steelers out regardless of injuries to the offensive line, or any other position for that matter.
The Tasmanian devil was back in the lineup with a vengeance against the Browns after missing the last two weeks with an achilles injury.
Polamalu, like Roethlisberger, was pulled early in the second half Sunday. While the decision to play Polamalu was questionable in the first place, it’s hard to argue with the results.
Polamalu recorded his league leading seventh interception of the season on the Browns’ first offensive play of the day, and the Steelers never looked back. While he doesn’t accumulate stats for plays in which he doesn’t make a tackle or force a fumble, there is simply no way to measure the impact No. 43 has on the game for the Steelers.
The bye week will only better enable Polamalu’s healthy return as the Steelers get ready to host the winner of the Wild Card round at Heinz Field in two weeks.
The Steelers’ defense has been borderline dominant during the 2010 season, and the New Year hasn’t changed a thing.
While they are far from perfect, and have shown weaknesses that are exploitable (ala Tom Brady’s Patriots), the Steelers’ defense has ranked amongst the great run stopping defenses in NFL history.
The Steelers gave up just 43 yards rushing in their win over the Browns on Sunday, and in doing so broke two franchise records, and came within inches of setting new NFL marks as well.
The Steelers broke their franchise record of 1,125 rushing yards allowed in a season, set in a 12 game season in 1953, by allowing just 1,004.
The more impressive and most recent franchise record to fall was 74.7. As in 74.7 yards rushing allowed per game, a record set in 2001. The Steelers, who gave up just 62.8 yards per game this season, came within just 34 yards of breaking the modern NFL record (16 game season) set by the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.
While their pass defense has been shaky at best for most of the season, the Steelers’ pass rush has not only protected the porous secondary, they lead the NFL with 48 sacks.
The addition of Aaron Smith can only help the Steelers defense in the playoffs. The continuation of aggressive game planning will be the key to continued success in the playoffs.
Keyaron Fox & Co. Make a Special Teams Tackle Against Joshua Cribbs
There wasn’t a single return of any significance in Sunday’s game against the Browns, and the Steelers consider that a major victory.
Josh Cribbs has been at his best against Pittsburgh throughout his career. He had returned a kick for a touchdown in two of the last three seasons against the Steelers, and typically in the games that mattered the most to the Steelers.
While Steelers’ special teams coordinator Al Everest decided to squib kick the majority of the time, the coverage units smothered Cribbs each and every time he handled the football.
After being one of the worst kick coverage units in the league last season, Everest has taken on the job as coordinator and done well with new special teams standouts like rookie linebacker Stevenson Sylvester.
After giving up an opening kickoff return for a touchdown that eventually led to a loss against the Jets, the kick coverage has been airtight. With the type of defense the Steelers continue to play, winning the field position battle only makes them that much better from an offensive and defensive standpoint.
When you think of the great wide receivers in NFL history several Steelers come to mind. Names like Lynn Swann, and John Stallworth have been enshrined forever in the Hall of Fame, and present player Hines Ward is soon to follow.
Another player is set to join this list, and he possesses the potential to surpass not only the likes of Swann, Stallworth, and Ward, but could eventually keep the company of Rice, Moss, and the likes of the greatest deep threats in the history of the game.
While the Browns’ secondary hardly strikes fear into the hearts of opposing offenses, what Mike Wallace did yesterday was merely an encore to what he has been doing all season for the Steelers.
Three receptions, for 105 yards, and a touchdown is becoming a normal box score reading following the second year receiver’s name, but what the box score doesn’t say is just what Wallace’s big play ability does to the game.
Wallace caught a 56-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger on the Steelers’ first play from scrimmage Sunday afternoon. The long strike not only shifted momentum, it broke the Brown’s defensive strategy, and whether anyone would admit it or not, every defensive back in brown simultaneously thought “Dang! This is going to be a long day.”
I have been hypercritical of the offensive line play in Pittsburgh this season, and it’s only right to give credit where it is due as well. The Steelers offensive line has played admirably in the last two weeks.
The idea that they are suddenly a squad full of Pro-Bowlers is a bit far-fetched after simply handling their business against the Panthers and Browns, but they handled their business none-the-less.
When you live and die by the long ball at times, you had better give your quarterback enough time to drop back and let your receivers get down field. For several weeks the Steelers gave Roethlisberger no time in the pocket and they failed to score an offensive touchdown in over 30 offensive possessions.
When the receivers have time to get in and out of their routes and Roethlisberger has time to set his feet and find those receivers, the Steelers have one of the more potent offenses in the NFL.
The key to the Steelers’ ability to make a deep Super Bowl run will be whether or not Pro Bowl rookie Maurkice Pouncey and his line-mates can find a way to stay healthy as a cohesive unit.
The Steelers defense, while aggressive and overpowering against the Browns, did not tackle well for most of the first half Sunday afternoon.
The score could have been much different in the early going against a better opponent as they continually missed open field tackles.
While the Steelers had four sacks in the contest, that number could have been in excess of seven had the Steelers tackled well. They will need to pay more attention to this aspect of their game in the bye week if they hope to fair well in the playoffs.
The Browns appeared to be on an upswing over the offseason with the addition of Mike Holmgren as President and GM, and the addition of some bright young talent, but alas the inconsistency of an Eric Mangini coached team forced them into mediocrity once again.
The Browns fired Mangini today after a short meeting this morning, and it should be highly unlikely that he would receive another job as a head coach in the NFL any time soon. Controversy, turmoil, and player unrest has been a typical everywhere that Mangini has been in charge.
The Browns have the capability to get better in a hurry under the right coaching staff after another solid draft from Mike Holmgren and company in the front office.
Despite his troubles late in the season, Colt McCoy has proven that he has the tools to be a starting NFL quarterback. A solid base of receivers and running backs led by Peyton Hillis, and of course the young players like rookie Joe Haden on the defensive side of the ball, make the raw potential of this team an exciting prospect for potential head coaches.
No doubt, the hiring of the next head coach is going to be a lynch-pin for the state of this team and the young players on it for years to come. The question has to be asked… Should Mike Holmgren take the job himself?
The Pittsburgh Steelers could not have ended the season in a better position. They entered the game coming off of a 10-day rest following their Thursday night rout of the Carolina Panthers. The opportunity to rest players and get healthy allowed players like Troy Polamalu to participate in Sunday’s game to limber up before another bye week going into the playoffs.
The dominating win to clinch the division and a first round bye gives the Steelers a sense of confidence and momentum that can be built upon in preparation for their next opponent.
Ultimately, the bye week gives the Steelers the ability to take yet another week to rest players going into a Super Bowl run. The additional rest should ensure the addition of Aaron Smith to the lineup as well. Giving the Steelers another Pro Bowl caliber player to work with in their 3-4 defensive scheme.
If the Steelers can manage to match their consistency on the offensive line, while continuing to build the intensity and fundamental aspects of their defensive game, the Steelers are in prime position to make some noise in the post season.
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