Final Score: Steelers 10, Browns 6
Same old Cleveland Browns? Maybe, maybe not. The Steelers were able to squeak out a victory to improve to 2-0 on the season and sit alone on top of the division with Baltimore still having to play their second game. Ben Roethlisberger was able to muster enough strength out of his injured shoulder (i highly doubt he has an A-C separation) to lead the Steelers to the win and threw the game's only TD pass to Hines Ward in the first half. Willy Parker continued his dominance against the Brownies with another 100+ yard rushing effort and the defense made big stops when they had to and held the Browns to only two field goals. This game might have been more about missed opportunities and costly turnovers by Cleveland than it was about Pittsburgh's efforts, but a win is a win. Here's the breakdown.
As stated, Parker led the attack with 105 yards on the night and had two key runs late in the game for first-downs that put the game on ice. Roethlisberger was good, not great... but very efficient in sloppy, windy conditions that made it difficult to throw the ball down field. He was 12/19 for 186 yards and 1 TD. The key is that he did not turn the ball over, which in inclement weather will usually win you football games. Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward each turned in nice performances catching the ball and the offensive line looked solid for the majority of the game.
The defense performed admirably, only giving up 6 points in the game. They were able to force 2 crucial turnovers which were basically the difference in the game. Troy Polamalu played a particularly spirited game and seemed to be all over the field. He was able to keep Kellen Winslow Jr. in check throughout the game, obviously frustrating him at times. Polamalu also made the game-changing interception in the redzone at the end of the first-half on what was a terrible decision by Browns' QB Derek Anderson. The Steelers completely shut down Jamal Lewis who only managed 38 yards on 19 carries in weather than was far more conducive to running the football than it was for throwing. Aaron Smith sacked Anderson twice during the game and seemed to play the whole game on Cleveland's side of the line of scrimmage.
Special Teams: A-
The best player on the field last season for Cleveland versus the Steelers was Josh Cribbs. The Steelers punt/kickoff cover teams did a fantastic job in not letting Cribbs get anything going all night. The Steelers won the field-position battle all night and Jeff Reed made a long field-goal in swirling winds that put the steelers up by 10 points. They still have not had any good returns, but the wind was such a factor that staying away from the ball on punt returns may have been the best strategy to avoid fumbles.
Overall Grade: B
The Steelers play the toughest schedule in the NFL this year and the sexy pick to win the division this preseason was Cleveland. The Steelers have a very early 2-game lead on the Browns in the division and a tremendously important head-to-head win tie-breaker. The two teams don't meet again until week 17 in Pittsburgh in what assuredly will be a snowy and blistery day. Next week the Steelers travel to Philadelphia to play a good Eagles team coming off of a tough loss in the MNF thriller to the Dallas Cowboys.
Player of the Game: Troy Polamalu with 4 tackles, a huge INT and great coverage on Kellen Winslow Jr.
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