The Pittsburgh Steelers needed to win today to keep their slim postseason hopes alive.
Although they didn’t play their most complete game of the 2013 regular season, they did more than enough to emerge victorious over the Cleveland Browns this afternoon.
As I stated before, the win itself wasn’t particularly sexy. Outside of their opening drive in which Ben Roethlisberger connected with Jerricho Cotchery for a nine-yard touchdown, Pittsburgh’s quarterback was quite pedestrian and mistake-prone. Big Ben only went 19-of-31 for 179 yards against a Joe Haden-less defense, and he threw two interceptions.
Thankfully for Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown proved to be a wonderful safety valve (nine catches for 87 yards) in the passing game. Moreover, Le’Veon Bell and his offensive line did the dirty work well on the ground. Bell totaled 90 yards rushing on 22 carries, and the former Michigan State Spartan had an incredible touchdown run in the second quarter.
Marcus Gilbert whiffed, like he has done so many times this season, badly on a block after Bell received a hand-off from the shotgun formation. To his credit, the rookie executed an excellent spin move, evaded the defender and powered his way into the end zone. Bell ran with a great deal of power this afternoon, and Jonathan Dwyer and Felix Jones chipped in some tough runs (21 rushing yards total) of their own.
The biggest reason why the Steelers jumped to a 20-0 lead today was because of the play of their defense. Now I understand that Jason Campbell is not exactly a threat at the quarterback position. Nevertheless, Pittsburgh’s defense did an excellent job of bending but not breaking.
They stopped the Browns three times on fourth downs, sacked Campbell three times, allowed only 79 rushing yards and a garbage time touchdown to Fozzy Whitaker on a 35-yard catch-and-run with just under three minutes to play. Although Lawrence Timmons had a fantastic game once again (eight tackles, 1.0 sack, two tfls and an interception), rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones made an enormous impact.
Jones led the team with nine tackles and deflected a pass intended for Josh Gordon in the second half. The rookie also supplied adequate pressure off of the edge, and he definitely looked like he turned a developmental corner in Pittsburgh’s season finale. Good things could be on the horizon for Jones, and I am intrigued to see him continue to improve next fall.
The defense also forced two key turnovers as well. A sack strip by Brett Keisel, which was recovered by Chris Carter, in the first quarter thwarted a Cleveland drive in Pittsburgh’s territory. Then Timmons’ interception sealed the game on a desperation drive by the Browns on their final drive of the 2013 regular season.
Overall, the Steelers took care of their own business and kept their postseason dreams alive. Granted, it will take a miracle for the Kansas City Chiefs’ backups to send Pittsburgh to the playoffs, but it was still nice to see the Steelers finish on a high note.
Sadly, a long winter of “What Ifs?” will surely be on the horizon for Pittsburgh’s players and coaches if the Chiefs are unable to come through.
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