Sunday, November 24, 2013

Turnover-Free, Ball-Control Steelers Surging, Beat Browns 27-11

Remember the 1991 movie "Hook?" The Lost Boys are in obvious disbelief that the shadow-of-his-former-self Peter Banning that Tinkerbell has brought them is their Peter Pan. It wasn't until Pockets smoothed away the wrinkles and looked deeper that the real deal could be seen: "Oh, there you are, Peter!"

The first four weeks of the season were like Peter Banning -- 0-4, -11 in turnover ratio and in disarray on offense and defense.

Since then, the edges have been smoothed out, the team focused and galvanized and have turned around the turnovers. They're starting to look like a team who might just be a legitimate contender come playoff time.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Right?

"Can't," Roethlisberger said after being asked about playoff scenarios. "I'm not looking around. It's all about focusing on one game because that's all we can control, you know?"

For the most part, the Steelers have done just that and have shown a resilience in the past few weeks that has brought them back to, not just respectability, but a team with which to be reckoned.

They are +7 in turnover ratio in the last three weeks, are creating turnovers and controlling the ball, are protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (just one sack in two weeks and none Sunday) and at least are running the ball effectively (80 yards on 23 rushes for Le'Veon Bell). Just as we said in the pre-game piece, turnovers were key. -

They also have become very comfortable with Todd Haley's offense and are incorporating the no-huddle efficiently if not impressively.

"I think it’s growing on this team, I think it's growing on the city of Pittsburgh. I think everyone likes it," wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said of the no-huddle. "We've got one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He can throw. Why not use him? He likes it, it's been successful."

"We said coming [into the first] series 'no-huddle', but think all runs," Big Ben said. "Even on third down, run it. Even on the second series."

It worked yet again, but not just there. The Steelers No. 1 wide receiver, Antonio Brown, was again one of the stars of the game partly because of it. His anticipated matchup with the Browns cornerback Joe Haden was advantage: Brown. AB caught six balls for 92 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown pass.

After the game, Joe Haden was classy and succinct when speaking on allowing the score: “That’s a good receiver, a good quarterback, making a good play. I’m saying I got beat.”

In all, AB has posted at least five receptions in 11 straight games this season, which is a franchise record, and is only the fourth wide receiver in Steelers history with an 80-reception season (Hines Ward - 2001-04, '08-09; Yancey Thigpen - 1995; and John Stallworth - 1984).

The defense, though giving up 367 total yards and 237 receiving yards to Josh Gordon (most of which coming because of being down most of the game and Ike Taylor more-or-less giving up late), was viciously reminiscent of Steelers defenses of the past recording five sacks, nine quarterback hurries, four quarterback hits, forced and recovered three fumbles and had one partridge-in-a-pear-tree pick six. The wealth was spread evenly as well.

Cornerback William Gay notched the pick six, as well as a strip sack of Browns quarterback Jason Campbell, which led to a touchdown. Troy Polamalu forced a fumble (he has two on the day) and the Steelers' recovery led to a field goal. The Steelers sack attack of Browns' quarterbacks Campbell and Brandon Weeden were led by Al Woods' two sacks and by outside linebacker Jason Worilds' six QB pressures.

"I just enjoy being out there. Being out there consistently," said Worilds. It allows me to open up some of the things I do."

You want to be playing your best football in November and December. Though the pass defense is still a concern, the Steelers definitely are an improving football team.

It couldn't come at a better time, either, as the next two weeks are critical to the team's, dare we say, playoff hopes. They have the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving night, and in two weeks they host the Miami Dolphins.

Or as Sanders said following the game, "Right now we’re playing playoff football."

Oh, there you are, Steelers.


TIDBITS: Injuries: Steve McLendon (ankle) and Curtis Brown (knee); post-game press conference and highlights of the win -