Sunday, November 19, 2006

Steelers @ Cleveland: Instant First Half Analysis

Early in the game (specifically the first quarter) this game was reminiscent of last season's first game against Cincinnati (i.e. the Bengals outplayed the Steelers during the first half but found themselves trailing because of missed opportunities). But it wasn't long before this game began to appear frighteningly similar to this season's game versus Oakland.

During the first quarter the Browns outgained the Steelers 81 yards v. 28 yards, had five first downs versus the Steelers one first down, and was 2-for-3 on third down conversions versus the Steelers' 0-for-2. However, a missed field goal by Phil Dawson kept the game scoreless. But then Ben Roethlisberger went to work.

Mr. Roethlisberger's fifteenth interception of the season -- albeit on a tipped pass -- was returned for a touchdown by Daven Holly, the third time that has happened this season. Then, following Sean Morey's 76-yard kick return, Mr. Roethlisberger threw his sixteenth interception of the season.

And just to insure that Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic is perceived as a equal opportunity critic, the Steelers' defense permitted the Browns to escape bad field position when Ike Taylor failed to adequately cover Braylon Edwards on his 63-yard reception, thereby converting a 3rd-and-13 from their own 18-yard line. Now, to the credit of the defense they stiffened, and forced Cleveland to settle for three points.

Then, to top it all off, Mr. Holly came up with his second interception (Mr. Roethlisberger's seventeenth of the season) and was very nearly the fourth touchdown allowed by the Steelers' offense (i.e. would have been a touchdown if not for the roughing the passer penalty).

Overall the defense is playing well. Cleveland's patchwork offensive line has not demonstrated an ability to consistently hold off the Steelers' pass rush. However, Cleveland quarterback Charlie Frye has done a good job of scrambling away from trouble (5 carries for 27 yards), and throwing the ball away when there wasn't a play to be made. Indeed -- excluding the long pass to Mr. Edwards -- the Steelers limited Cleveland's offense to 40 yards on 20 plays.

Of course the problem for the Steelers in this game is not the defense.

Ben Roethlisberger must pull himself together and stop turning the ball over. His first half statistics (4/11, 36 yards, 3 INTs, 0 TDs, 6.439 QB rating) are horrifying; and though it is unlikely to happen, Charlie Batch seems like a viable option at this point. In fact, Tommy Maddox seems like a viable option at this point.

For the few Steelers fans who still believed that the playoffs were a possibility things must seem bleak indeed.

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