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Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall hasn't been as good this season as he's been in the past, but experience has told us opposing rushers don't have to be that good to dominate the Browns' troubled run defense. But tonight something changed. At least in the first half.
Unfortunately thanks to the injury to Roethlisberger, the Steelers started to lean more heavily on Mendenhall in the early second half.
Ideally, this would have handicapped the Pittsburgh offense. Instead, it just once again exposed the holes in the Browns' run defense, and demonstrated that apparently the Cleveland run defense is so bad, a quarterback only needs one leg for his offense to succeed because he can just lean on his top rusher.
The Browns were able to rein in Mendenhall in the first 30 minutes, limiting him to just 18 yards. But he'd racked up 76 yards by the end.
The good news was, the goal-line stand by the Browns in the early fourth quarter saw Cleveland stuff Mendenhall on both third and fourth down.
The Steelers went for it on fourth down, showing they don't respect the Browns' red-zone defense, and the Browns made them pay for it. It cost Pittsburgh a field goal, a foolish move in a game where three points could easily be the difference maker.
What we saw against the rush from the Browns defense in the first half and in the fourth-quarter goal line stand was encouraging.
Unfortunately, the Steelers adjusted to the Browns plans to contain the rush, and the Browns weren't able to counter. It's a step in the right direction for the beleaguered Cleveland run defense, but only a small one.
It was great to see the Browns fend off the run for half a game, but unfortunately for them, a football game lasts four quarters, not two.
The Browns have had trouble staying consistent through a whole game in every way; this is one more example of how Cleveland needs to play more consistent football if they want to be able to compete with tough opponents who are capable of both starting and finishing strong.
It was the pass, not the run, that killed the Browns this week, but the run defense still needs to improve. Dramatically.