Posted on: December 28, 2008 5:29 pm
Edited on: December 28, 2008 5:55 pm

Steelers Sweep and Shut Out the Browns

They said it was a meaningless game…perhaps.  However, it was to be an opportunity for a team that was coming off of a stinging loss from the week before to gain confidence going into the playoffs   So on a bright Sunday afternoon, the Steelers faced the Cleveland Browns for their last game of the regular season. 

For as suspect as the Steelers offense had been called, perhaps it was good for them to play, especially starting the first quarter where the offense couldn’t seem to get anything going.  Somehow, we second guessed ourselves though, when the stadium went quiet and those of us at home watched with baited breath as the Steelers franchise quarterback lay on the field after a hit by two Browns defenders and a sigh of relief and a cheer going through the stadium as Ben Roethlisberger raised his thumb up as they were carting him off the field.  But let me digress a bit.

It was not a very good start for the Steelers offense.  An interception on Roethlisberger, then later, a beautiful touchdown pass from Ben to Nate Washington, negated on holding penalty.  Troy Polamalu would be denied a forced fumble by the referees and a defensive touchdown, would be called an incomplete pass.  But somehow, Willie Parker found enough rhythm and ran one in for his 24th career touchdown.  Hines Ward would not only have his 5th career season 1000 yard game, but would go on to complete a career 800+ possessions.  As Ben was getting into the groove, he would find himself out of the game, taken away to a local hospital by ambulance.  Byron Leftwich would come in and continue to take this offense down the field on the Browns, to include having a rushing touchdown on his own.

Defensively, James Harrisons presence was missed.  One would have to wonder if Browns running back, Jamal Lewis, would have met his 1000 yd season had the Steelers MVP been in.  However, defense held well today and shut out the Browns offense.  Romeo Crennell had hoped the wildcat offense could help the Browns fourth quarterback, however, the Steelers defense adjusted well and it would not be a good day for the kid from the Burgh in his first NFL start.  Defensive stud for the game was not a name well known throughout the season.  Tyrone Carter would replace safety Ryan Clark, who had dislocated his shoulder during the Steelers/Titans game.  Carter would come up with two picks, one which he ran back for a touchdown. 

Meaningless game, yes, probably.  Given the injury to Roethlisberger, in hindsight, was it a good idea.  I’m sure Ben would tell you it was a good idea and besides, as many analysts and players will tell you, an injury could occur on the first play or the fiftieth.  However, if coming off with not only a shutout, but also a sweep of the division (something that hasn’t been done since 2002), along with confidence going into the playoffs is meaningless, well then you have to be the judge on that one. 
Posted on: September 15, 2008 8:31 pm

Keeping a Hold of the Leash

It was a matter of bragging rights, a matter of pride.  For one team it would be to overcome a long time obstacle, for another it would be the opportunity to prove others wrong.  The fight was to proclaim, just who exactly was top dog.  It would turn into a battle, though not pretty by football standards, perhaps equivalent to a fight between junkyard dogs, to declare their dominance. 

In a game, where the Cleveland Browns wanted to prove that everyone was right, the ones that the media had touted as being the team to beat, and the Pittsburgh Steelers needed to remind everyone, that they were the AFC North Champions and for anyone to get that title, the Browns would have to get past them first.  In the past nine times they’ve met, the Browns had failed to do so. 

Fans expected a blowout and they got one, just not the type they expected.  It was expected for Derek Anderson to be able to beat the Steelers in the air.  However, Mother Nature in the form of Ike, had different plans.  Perhaps it was fitting, at least for Steelers fans, that 50 to 60 mph winds would force the game to the ground, or would it? 

Pittsburgh had the advantage, not just in history but also because they were facing a beat up Cleveland Browns, but injuries didn’t stop the Browns.  Their oline protected Derek Anderson from the rush of the Pittsburgh blitz, allowing Anderson only to be sacked twice, at the end of the game, both times by Aaron Smith

How much praise can be given to the Steelers defense?  After all, once again, this is the Steelers defense we know and still get excited for when they do well.  To watch Troy Polamalu all over the field, and with his interception in the endzone, all I could yell was “yes, Samson is back”.  To see Bryant McFadden come in with the other interception, in a ball that the wind destined for him, though Derek Anderson intended for someone else.  To do this, and also keep Jamal Lewis under 50 yds rushing, continues to prove Dick LeBeau’s defense is still one of the best in the league.  So I’m a homer, sue me.

I would venture to say that there was a collective moan when we found out about Ben Roethlisberger’s shoulder.  Despite the weather and the shoulder, and being hit several times by a Mack truck called “Baby”, Ben managed to execute the game and help lead the Steelers to their 10th straight win against the Browns, keeping Ben’s streak of never having lost in the state of Ohio since he started in the NFL.  Of course, another stud on offense would once again be Willie Parker.  Willie once again ran for over 100 yds, despite the Browns best effort to keep him from doing so. 

This wasn’t an all Pittsburgh game though.  Despite their injuries, the Browns showed up to play and promised a fight, and one would have to wonder, had weather not been a factor, how would we have seen this game turn out.  Both quarterbacks did better against the high winds and rain, and the tight ends on both side in the form of Kellen Winslow Jr. and Heath Miller made crucial plays and first down conversions for their respective teams.  Of course, Miller could be seen leading the way for Parker on at least one or two plays. 

Of course there were errors that fans of both sides were shaking their heads about.  Penalties kept possession time alive or backed up both teams.  Steelers return team was definitely questionable, with one muffed punt that could have put the Browns in scoring position had it not been for Lamar Woodley knocking the ball out of bounds.  We won’t mention the coaching errors, though for Steelers fans, they were able to laugh it off, watching an animated Tomlin on the sidelines when the Steelers were able to get the first down, despite calling the timeout.  Browns fans wouldn’t have the same reaction for their coaches decisions. 

At the end of the night, there would be no question though as to who, for now should hold the reigns of the AFC North, a tenuous tie with the Ravens right now, knowing that any given Sunday this could change out of their favor.  However, there is some satisfaction in tightening the collar and maintaining the hold on the leash that kept the Dawgs from getting out. 
Posted on: September 11, 2008 6:30 am
Edited on: September 11, 2008 12:59 pm

Prelude to the Pound

As a Steelers fan, no doubt that I’m ecstatic about how the Steelers started off their season last Sunday against the Houston Texans.  There was very little that I didn’t like about the Steelers play in that game, even the final quarter when the backups were sent in, well, maybe one, I would have liked to have seen a better return on the ball in punting and kick returns. 

By the end of the game, there would be no argument that the Steelers dominated the game on both sides of the ball.  Although the first game of the season is never a barometer of how a team does by the end of the season, it does give us an idea of attitude and ability.  Best things were to see Ben and his two go to men in Hines Ward and Heath Miller in sync with each other;  Fast Willie Parkers injury from last year, as of now is a memory; and the thing that I’m most excited about, linebacker Lamar Woodley’s comment that “we can do better”. 

This Sunday, in a primetime game, the Steelers will be traveling to Cleveland Brown Stadium for the first of two battles of the “Turnpike Rivalry”.  The rivalry that began in 1950, became more heated when Joe “Turkey” Jones, dumped Terry Bradshaw on his head, after a late sack, and now, in 2008, even more rabid when a tie-breaker between the Steelers and the Browns decided the AFC North Division Champion in 2007.

The Browns will be attempting to break a losing streak against Pittsburgh that started in 2003.  The Steelers will be out to make a statement that they are the team still to beat in the AFC North, to disprove the media analysts wrong.  Don’t let either teams play last week fool you though.  This is still a Browns/Steelers game, a divisional rivalry, and as with any team in the NFL, it’s the divisional foes that seems to give each other fits. 

The Browns have become a much better team with Derek Anderson under center and a healthy Kellen Winslow Jr. at tight end.  However, with key wide receiver Joe Jurevicius on the PUP list and the loss of  linebacker Antwaan Peek out for the season, the Browns have to and will be pulling from deep within them to prove they deserve the accolades they received last season.  They also know it won’t be an easy game for them.

Steelers will be entering Cleveland with a primarily healthy squad, that could wreak havoc for the Cleveland defense.  Having given up 167 yards in rushing to the Dallas Cowboys last week, I see the Steelers offense using their dominating rush attack, against a team that struggles to stop the run.  If Romeo Crennell focuses on stuffing the run, then fantasy football freaks who have Ben Roethlisberger on their roster could have a very good day. 

However, there is one thing about the Browns that really scares me and that’s Joshua Cribbs.  Cribbs was a major factor last year in the game against the Steelers, having two runbacks for a touchdown, which put the Browns ahead.  Although coming back from a high-ankle sprain, watch for Cribbs to test a Steelers special teams defense that last year was at the very least questionable and inconsistent against good punt and kickoff returns.

The ability to pressure Derek  Anderson is not always a given either.  Anderson has the ability to pull a quick release to Winslow, and should one of the Steelers defenders fails to cover him, Winslow could prove devastating. 

In the end however, the Steelers homer in me says that Cleveland will have to wait till week 17 to break that losing streak against the Black and Gold, because it’s not going to happen this week.  Hopefully the Steelers team doesn’t go in as cocky as I am though, otherwise we could be crying in our towels.
Posted on: September 3, 2008 8:08 pm

2008-09 NFL Projections-AFC North - I'm a Homer

If you walked into my cubicle the first thing that you would see would be the Terrible Towel and a Steelers Pennant hanging from the wall.  There are a few things on my desk that denote I'm a Steelers fan also, a Steelers coffee mug, my Steelers pen and then my computer has my Steelers background on it. 

So as I finish up the AFC predictions, this one may seem like a homer pick and I know that there may be alot of gnashing of the teeth on this, calling me bias, perhaps names worse.  So yes, I do have the Steelers projected to win the AFC North.  In the end, I see the AFC North pretty much as last year, however, no tie breaker needed between the Steelers and the Browns.

AFC North.

#4) Baltimore Ravens - Joe Flacco is the starter.  A rookie quarterback in a division that promises to sport the leagues top defense again, and the Ravens will have to meet them twice.  If the Ravens were only a quarterback away from being very good again, then they wouldn't have been 5-11 last year.  No doubt that the addition of Flacco to the team was a major plus, but right now a rookie learning a new team under a new coach.  Baltimore's defense, still very good but have to wonder about their ability to stay healthy.  Don't see this defense taking the Ravens to the superbowl this year.

#3) Cincinnati Bengals - Okay so they have their troubles on defense, but they still have an offense.  Now if only they could sync up.  Carson Palmers too good of a quarterback to not have a good offense. 

#2) Cleveland Browns - Up and coming team, the glamour pick for this years AFC North division winner.  This year they have a schedule almost as difficult as the Pittsburgh Steelers, plus they haven't gotten past the Steelers since 2003.  Derek Anderson has proven to be a good quarterback for the Browns and they did make some good acquisitions on defense.  Question is are they good enough.  Now the Browns will be heading into their first game of the year a little banged up.  Browns will once again barely miss a wild card to the Buffalo Bills this year. 

#1) Pittsburgh Steelers - For the Browns to take the division, they'll have to somehow beat the Steelers.  The major thorn in the Steelers side last year when playing the Browns was Joshua Cribbs, not Derek Anderson.  Steelers return with promises of having a top rated defense again.  Despite the issue with the oline last year, Ben Roethlisberger was within the top 3 to top 5 quarterbacks in the league last year, breaking Terry Bradshaws record.  The offense lost very little (please don't talk to me about Alan Faneca, he was part of the porous oline last year), but gain what may be quite a bit in the wide receiver and rushing fields.  On defense, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark and Aaron Smith will be back and healthy.  Hopefully Dick LeBeau will gag Anthony Smith and help settle the young man down. 

AFC North Division Champions - Pittsburgh Steelers
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com