No surprises in Pittsburgh as the Steelers hammered the Browns this past Sunday. With the return of their starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from his four game suspension, the Steelers look like a team poised to make a run deep into the playoffs. The Browns drop to 1-5 with the loss, and they will likely be watching the playoffs from their couches. Lets not get ahead of ourselves though, there is still plenty of football to be played and despite their ugly record, the Browns seem to be a team that is heading ever so slowly in the right direction.
We’ll start with the good, then we’ll get to the bad and the ugly. Above all else the Browns fans should be happy with the play of rookie QB Colt McCoy who held his own against the league’s top defense in his first NFL start. McCoy completed 23 passes in 33 attempts for 281 yards. He had one touchdown, but also two interceptions. To be perfectly honest, the stat line for McCoy looks a bit better than his actual play. Nearly all of his completions went to backs and tight ends and his lone touchdown came in garbage time. From just watching the game the Browns offense never really seemed to pose a threat to the Steelers defense. That’s not to say that McCoy did not play well. Just going out there and playing respectably is an accomplishment against the Steelers, whose defense is not only the best statistically, but at times is downright intimidating. McCoy stood his ground despite being sacked five times and hit many more. He made some excellent throws, and at times showed good athleticism and mobility. McCoy also deserves credit for his decision making, despite having two interceptions, McCoy faced a lot of pressure and for most of the game he avoided making costly turnovers. The rookie definitely looked to have some moxie and potential.
The bad would have to be the Browns defensive secondary who continues to struggle each week. This week it was the big play that hurt the Browns. Nine of Roethlisberger’s sixteen completions went for ten or more yards including a 50 yard pass to Mike Wallace followed immediately by a 36 yard pass to Heath Miller. These plays set up an 8 yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward that put the Steelers up 14-3 late in the third quarter and essentially sealed the victory. Corner-back Eric Wright continues to play poorly. He was caught out of position several times, and he missed a tackle on a third down play which allowed Ward to get into the end zone. If he makes the tackle on Ward, the Steelers would have been forced to kick a short field goal which would have kept it a one score difference. Look for Coach Eric Mangini to insert the rookie Joe Haden into the starting line up in place of Wright. Haden had an interception which he returned for 62 yards Sunday, and he has looked good as the nickle corner this season.
And now for the ugly, which was the two vicious hits delivered by Steelers linebacker James Harrison which knocked Browns wide receivers Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi out of the game. Both hits occurred in the second quarter of the game. Harrison, a former NFL defensive MVP, said of the hits “You don’t want to injure people/ But I’m not opposed to hurting anybody.” Both Harrison and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin believe both of the hits were clean and will not be subject to any league sanctions. Despite being clear helmet to helmet contact, the hit on Cribbs did not break any rules because Cribbs was the ball carrier on a running play. The league will take a close look at the hit on Massaquoi though, as it is against the rules to lead with the helmet on a defenseless receiver.
Whether or not Harrison ends up facing any discipline, the Browns should have been taking notes Sunday. It is no coincidence that the league’s best defense features intimidating players like Harrison. If the Browns hope to be annual playoff contenders like the Steelers, it would certainly help to develop the same type of punishing 3-4 defense that the Steelers are famous for. With a trip to the playoffs looking nearly impossible the Browns need to look towards the future. This means getting their promising young players such as McCoy, Haden and rookie safety T.J. Ward as much playing time as possible for the duration of the season.
About the Author
Written by Fran Berkman
Francis (Fran) Berkman is a graduate of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY with a BS in Human Development. He is currently working towards a master's degree in journalism at Hofstra University. He lives in Massapequa, NY.