The Pittsburgh Steelers earned an ugly 10-6 victory over the Cleveland Browns in a game so bad it was like watching the NFL version of a cripple fight.
Last year, the Steelers won a crucial late season game over Cleveland thanks in large part to some horrendous game management by head coach Romeo Crennel. Proving an old Dawg never learns pretty much anything, Crennel outdid himself last night. In a game plagued by howling wind (remnants of Hurricane Ike) and swirling rain, Romeo did his best to stymie any chance his bumbling offense had at putting points on the board.
The vaunted Cleveland offense has now scored a whopping total of 1 touchdown so far this season. As much as I’d like to credit the voracious Steeler defense, they mostly did it to themselves. The D-line did do a great job of stuffing the run but, as expected, the Browns superior offensive line pretty much kept Blitzburgh at bay. Receivers were open and QB Derek Anderson had time to throw. They just continually shot themselves in the foot time after time. One drive was snuffed by a poorly thrown INT to CB Bryant McFadden (who had an up and down game in his first start), while another was ended by resurgent S Troy Polamalu’s INT (#2 this year). That INT came after a chaotic drive to end the half where the Browns two minute offense more closely resembled a Chinese fire drill.
Worst of all was the gutless playcalling by Romeo and friends. On a day where people around the NFL from Redskins TE Chris Cooley to Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan showed enormous balls, Crennel kept his playcalling so conservative even Sarah Palin couldn’t believe her eyes. Down 7 with 3:39 to go and your offense knocking on the door, you don’t kick a FG. For one, you’re going to need a TD to win anyway. For two, you’re assuming that not only does your defense hold but they do so quickly enough that you don’t burn any time outs. That many assumptions makes an ass of u and… Well, just you.
So we had a game full of drives stalled with curious playcalling, many never getting off the ground due to penalties, and then the ones that failed due to drops. In fact, supposed “superstar” receiver Braylon Edwards had at least two big receptions slip through his butterfingers on the way to a miserable game.
Not to be outdone, the Steelers had a really messy game themselves. WR Hines Ward let several really catchable balls fall harmlessly to the ground. The team was flagged for 7 penalties for 60 yards. And head coach Mike Tomlin made a few bone-headed calls, namely an ill-conceived QB Sneak on third and short and calling a time out on a fourth down play where the Browns jumped off-sides.
Worst of all was the special teams play. They did an okay job covering punts and kickoffs but the run backs were brutal. RB Mewelde Moore employed the clever strategy of standing idle while watching punts hit the ground and then bounce 15 yards down the field. The Browns punter was averaging 50 yards/punt when he was kicking INTO 55 MPH WIND! On a late kickoff, RB Rashard Mendenhall (who strangely didn’t play at all on offense) did his best Barry Foster impersonation (in a bad way) by seemingly forgetting a kickoff is a live ball and then running into Carey Davis in an hurried attempt to field it. The sheer badassery of Mister Woodley managed to frighten the ball out of bounds before the Browns could recover it but that could’ve been disaster. Why can’t Santonio run back kicks?
Speaking of Santonio Holmes, his play was one of the lone bright spots tonight. He made several spectacular catches and was the go-to guy. Willie Parker chipped in with another 100 yard game. And the offensive line once again looked pretty good, especially the Tongan Bulldozer Chris Kemoeatu. C Justin Hartwig had some problems with DT Shaun Rodgers which isn’t much to be worried about because the dude is a freakin’ 350 pound behemoth. I don’t think many centers can handle him one-on-one.
Still, a win is a win and I’ll take it. The Steelers now take an early two game lead in the AFC North (really three games, due to the tiebreak) and with Baltimore and Cincinnati looking pitiful, putting distance between you and your chief rival doesn’t hurt. Speaking of hurt, Ben Roethlisberger’s post-game interview with Andrea Kramer was both hilarious and disturbing. She kept asking about the status of his sore shoulder and he kept blowing her off by talking about his offensive line. Usually a player will smile or something when they’re jerking around the media but Big Ben looked very serious. So either he’s comfortable being a dick or he was avoiding her questions because there really is something wrong. And with respect to the other 52 men on this team, that is the one player we absolutely can’t afford to be without.