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Amidst Dismal Season, Browns Crush Pittsburgh's Playoff Hopes in 13-6 Victory

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PITTSBURGH STEELERS (6-7) WEEK 14 CLEVELAND BROWNS (2-11)
VS.
6 13

In Eric Mangini's first home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, he came away victorious. There are a lot of players who deserve credit for the hard-fought victory -- one that just might have taken a lot of heat away from Mangini after the team's 1-11 start to the season. With games coming up against Kansas City and Oakland, who knows -- maybe we'll finish strong just like the Cincinnati Bengals did last season.

Let's get to the full review of the game, starting with the game balls for once...

WEEK 13 - SAN DIEGO CHARGERS VS. CLEVELAND BROWNS (COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)

AWARDING GAME BALLS:

  • Joshua Cribbs: Could it have gone to anyone else? Cribbs willed the Browns to victory with an outstanding punt return and terrific second- and third-efforts when taking snaps out of the Wildcat formation. I don't think any of his plays impressed me more than the one he had on 3rd-and-11 later in the game. The Steelers definitely knew we were running the ball there, but even with their tough run defense, Cribbs rolled through for a first down to move the chains.

    In the end, hopefully this is the defining moment that shows the staff in Cleveland that Cribbs deserves a new contract because he earned it. Mangini has already speculated this week that the team is considering giving Cribbs more action at running back. It's at a point now where Cribbs has made such a significant impact that even Brian Daboll is giving in and starting to feature him more.

GOAT OF THE GAME:

  • Not Applicable: I tried finding a goat for this game but couldn't. My closest stretch was to give it to Reggie Hodges for his lack of punts inside the 20 in the second half, but on the same token the punts resulted in ones that the Steelers couldn't return. There were some struggles on offense, but all in all the team didn't turn the ball over and made sure Ben Roethlisberger didn't have another late-game comeback against the Browns.

GENERAL THOUGHTS

    57183_steelers_browns_football_medium Joshua Cribbs celebrates after beating the Steelers for the first time in his career. Finally, his outstanding production against our hated rivals paid off.
  1. Taking the Big Man Down: One of the most frustrating things the past few years as a Browns fan has been watching our defense get to Roethlisberger, only for him to evade the tackle and beat us with his legs or a throw down the field. Heck, that's basically how Matthew Stafford beat us about a month ago.

    Things changed against Pittsburgh. I don't recall Roethlisberger escaping once, and as a result he was sacked eight times. In the past, eight sacks over a span of eight games would be a victory for the Browns. Having all of them against the Steelers? Outstanding.
  2. Benard Comes Through: In his first real action of the season, LB Marcus Benard sacked Roethlisberger twice. With the additions of Matt Roth, Jason Trusnik, and Benard, Mangini is starting to define the outside linebacker position for next season, erasing the thoughts of guys like Leon Williams or Alex Hall contributing there.
  3. Bowens > Barton: Although Eric Barton's season ended short, between the additions of David Bowens and Barton, Bowens has been the player who has had the most significant impact. Right now, he would be at the top of my list of linebackers on the Browns this year, even ahead of D'Qwell Jackson, in terms of performance. He joined the party of sacking Roethlisberger and also stepped in front of his final pass of the game to seal Pittsburgh's fate.
  4. Still Impressed With Moore: Although Moore only had two catches for 34 yards in his second game with the Browns, I came away impressed again. He was targeted several times by Brady Quinn, and on most of the throws, Moore had beaten the defender up the field but the throw was just a hair too tall or out in front. If Moore and Quinn work a little bit more on their chemistry, big things could be brewing between these two the rest of the season.
  5. Moore's Blocking? With that said, has anyone had a chance to look at Evan Moore's blocking? The Browns still have Robert Royal on the team and often went to a two-tight end set against the Steelers, hence the reason Brian Robiskie saw less playing time. Royal had one pass thrown his way and he didn't come away with it.
  6. No Intimidation: Not that our running backs have been fearful of the Steelers in the past, but it was impressive to see Chris Jennings step in and take full advantage of his playing time in a game that meant a lot to the team and the fans. After Cribbs' 37-yard run in the second quarter, Jennings was inserted into the game and carried the ball 4 times for 28 yards, including his 10-yard touchdown run around the edge. I'm a Jerome Harrison fan still and an pulling for his reps to stay high moving forward, but Jennings showed that riding the hot hand will pay dividends.
  7. Talk of the Media: After the game was over, all the media could harp on from this game was the Steelers' playcalling. All of the outlets used the Steelers' 3rd-and-1 play from the first quarter as an example, where Pittsburgh dropped Roethlisberger back to throw and he was sacked by Corey Williams. This is where the media can be a very annoying in my book. The Browns were torched through the air last week against the Chargers, and later on in the first quarter, the Browns stopped Rashard Mendenhall for no gain on a 3rd-and-1.

    Pittsburgh has struggled with short-yardage situations; you can't just pinpoint one play and say it's reasons like this that the Steelers lost. Why do I think the Steelers lost? Because the Browns' defense played a heck of a football game.
  8. Poteat's Best Game: If you're Pittsburgh, you know things are bad when Hank Poteat is easily sacking Roethlisberger. Poteat made a great play though in taking Roethlisberger down -- despite Roethlisberger rolling around to evade Poteat, Poteat did not over-pursue and came right back to drag Big Ben down for a loss of ten yards. The Steelers were pinned at their three-yard line, which led to the big punt return by Cribbs. Poteat also made several tackles as soon as the Steeler receivers caught passes, preventing them from getting any yards after the catch.
  9. Pitiful Special Teams: I don't know how a special teams unit can be so...inept (in reference to the Steelers). On four kick returns, the Steelers' longest return was 14 yards. To top things off, Phil Dawson wasn't even really trying to kick the ball away from them. The returners were so busy fumbling around with the ball or making poor reads of their blocks that they didn't get any positive yardage. Their longest punt return was three yards (out of two tries).
  10. Eric Wright's Coverage: I'm singling out Eric Wright for his solid man-to-man coverage all game long, but the entire secondary really did an impressive job, maybe minus Mike Furrey who had a little bit of trouble. After the Steelers got an early wide receiver screen play to work, then they came back to it, Wright drilled Hines Ward before he could make a move. Ward didn't do much smiling against the Browns, and that's because he couldn't make "the big play" that he usually does.
  11. All the Production, Only 13 Points: With all of Cribbs' success against Pittsburgh and Chris Jennings running the ball well, ideally the Browns would've put up more points. Brady Quinn only completed 31.6% of his passes. The wind can be used as an excuse, but it didn't seem to be a crippling factor. The important statistic that I continue to look at is the number of interceptions thrown. Quinn has not thrown an interception in his past four games, and that has come with him taking more chances and looking more confident in his decision making. He's had a few risky throws that could've been picked, but the fact remains that the turnovers are down and the production, while not leading to points all the time, is up.
  12. Field Position Game: Continuing the point above, the Browns played the field position game most of the first half and it paid off. The only reason Pittsburgh scored in the first half was due to a 15-yard penalty called for a late low hit to Roethlisberger. While the call was kind of "meh", it came from behind and seemed to fall in line with what the officials usually call. Reggie Hodges had a few punts inside the 20, and although I would've likes a slightly better second half from him, at least he's not shanking anything.
  13. Underrated Play of the Game: In the second quarter, the Steelers had moved to midfield before punting and pinning the Browns back to the 10-yard line. It was our worst starting field position of the game. Had we struggled to get a first down, perhaps a punt would've given Pittsburgh great field position and changed the momentum of the game. On first down though, Jerome Harrison ran off right tackle for five yards. The defender got his facemask though, tacking 15 yards onto the end of the play. Just like that, the Browns, in essence, started the drive at the 31-yard line. One play later, Cribbs had an 18-yard run, and the Browns were able to continue winning the battle of field position.
  14. Rob Ryan's Best Called Game: He couldn't have done it without the defenders executing too, but Rob Ryan's schemes were innovative and of the variety that fans will remember for quite some time. My only question is this now -- how can we have this type of pressure and coverage against the defending Super Bowl champions, but fall flat against an offense like the Lions' a few weeks back? The Browns face two poor offensive teams over the next two weeks -- the Chiefs and the Raiders. I've loved what Ryan has accomplished this year, but now it's time for him and the defense to put together an impressive string of multiple games.
  15. Other Teams: If other teams are looking for the weakness the Browns' defense had, it was guarding Heath Miller out of the backfield after pressure was brought. On Pittsburgh's final drive, Roethlisberger on a 2nd-and-10 completed to Miller for 11 yards. After being sacked by Kaluka Maiava to set up a 3rd-and-19, Roethlisberger dumped it underneath to Miller to create a manageable 4th-and-6 situation.
  16. Tomlin's Fault: Why did Tomlin call a few timeouts prior to the two-minute warning when the Steelers were driving? Roethlisberger was putting together the team's best drive of the game, and it seemed to give our unit a chance to regroup. I guess you could argue the other way too and say it doesn't make a difference (i.e. we gave up the game-winning touchdown against the Lions), but it just seemed like an odd thing to do given the history of Roethlisberger's comebacks.
  17. Brownies: I know that a lot of Steeler fans were annoyed with the commentating of Matt Millen, but I didn't mind it...compared to Bryant Gumble, Millen was like a godsend...despite the Browns using a two-tight end set, I still wanted to see a little more of Robiskie...Quinn is 1-0 in his career against the Steelers...the only time I saw Derek Anderson was after the game (no sideline shenanigans during the game).

Next up, the Browns battle the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs' offense has struggled this year, but running back Jamaal Charles has shown some explosiveness. It'll be important for the Browns' defense to not let their guard down on the road, although the Chiefs are only 1-6 at Arrowhead this year.