Typically, when two 4-6 teams meet in the NFL there isn’t much on the line in terms of playoff implications between the two teams. However, when the AFC playoff picture is as muddy as it currently is, there was plenty to play for between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns.
It has been well documented how dominant the Steelers have been over the Browns since the Browns returned to Cleveland, but some were saying that this was the Browns’ turn to take the next step and leapfrog the Steelers in the AFC North. Experts were talking about this being a statement game for Cleveland.
As it turns out, the Steelers were the ones that made a statement in this game. The Steelers were still looking for their first complete-game dominant performance this season until Sunday. Pittsburgh’s offense was efficient in every phase of their game. They capitalized when opportunities presented themselves, but most importantly, they did not turn the ball over.
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 217 yards with two touchdowns, and the Steelers’ running backs did their job in time of possession. Rookie running back Le’Veon Bell continues to improve as he carried 23 times for 80 yards while also catching two passes for 18 yards.
The matchup that almost everyone talked about heading into this game was Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown vs. Browns cornerback Joe Haden. Both played a great game, but Antonio Brown still caught six passes for 92 yards and a touchdown. Also, don’t look now, but for the first time this season, Ben Roethlisberger was not sacked through four quarters of football.
The story of this game wasn’t about the Steelers’ offense though. It was the Steelers’ defense that ran away with this game. The Browns did pile up yardage, but it was all meaningless as the majority of those yards were tallied after the game had been decided. The biggest difference in this Steelers defense and the defense in the first six weeks of the season is that they are now getting pressure on the quarterback and causing turnovers.
The Steelers sacked a Browns quarterback five times, caused three fumbles and returned an interception for a touchdown. Doing the job with substitutes, outside linebacker Jason Worilds proved he can certainly step in and play the left side when LaMarr Woodley is injured.
Troy Polamalu looked like the Troy that made him the defensive player of the year, and cornerback William Gay provided a fumble while sacking Jason Campbell and returned a Brandon Weedon pass for a touchdown. That was the Pittsburgh defense’s first defensive touchdown, and you could almost see the defense starting to get their swagger back.
Those crucial plays are coming to a team that has thrived on their defense making plays since 2004, when Roethlisberger was drafted.
The Steelers don’t have very long to sit back and enjoy this victory as they have to prepare for the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving night — another crucial AFC North matchup that will have serious playoff implications for both teams. It is safe to say that these Steelers are not the same team that started 0-4 this year. This team looks destined to make the remainder of this season one to remember for Steeler fans everywhere.
Jeff Hartman covers the Pittsburgh Steelers for RantSports.com and also contributes for the Penguins and Pirates. Follow him on Twitter @BnGBlitz