Against the Browns everything came together: the offensive line dominated, the passing game flowed and the running game clicked. It was enough to make you forget about the first half of the season and remember that the Pittsburgh Steelers are 4-1 in their last five games (although one could make a case that the one loss – that 27-0 drubbing that might as well have been 270-0 – was at least two or three times as bad as an average loss).
Given the Jekyll and Hyde nature of this year's Steelers, I have no idea if I should have high hopes for the next three weeks or if we'll soon see the team that laid an egg against the Raiders and Ravens. I know injuries and turnovers are the two most obvious reasons for how things have unfolded in 2006, but an inconsistent offensive line and a porous secondary also share some of the culpability.
Thursday night both units were near flawless. The offensive line owned the Browns. All night long. Consider this: Willie Parker broke Frenchy Fuqua's 37-year-old rushing record with 14:40 to go in the fourth quarter. Parker finished with 223 yards on 32 carries and he had runs of 39, 26, 20 and16 yards. The Browns? They managed 18 rushing yards the entire night. Reuben Droughns' longest run was six yards.
As cornerback Ike Taylor continues to live out the season in exile, Bryant McFadden has played solid back-to-back games. And while we've grown accustomed to seeing McFadden make plays, I was happy – although not all that surprised after the preseason – that Anthony Smith came in and seemed quite comfortable as the starting free safety. He did get beat on the Braylon Edwards touchdown, but that still doesn't take away from a great first-start performance.
I know we shouldn't put too much stock in a Cleveland offense most recently run into the ground by Maurice Carthon, but for the second straight week, the Steelers' defense has embarrassed the opponent and this time they were without Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu. I don't care who you're playing, that's pretty damn splendid.
With all of that out of the way, here are some random thoughts I scribbled down as the game unfolded:
There was none of that on Thursday. Partly because the special teams were great, and partly because Chidi Iwuoma was back. I only saw him a few times and I don't remember him making any plays, but the fact that he was out there somehow made everything better.
And if you don't think Chidi doesn't affect the overall special teams' morale, ask Mike Logan why he waited until Week 14 to make two bone-crushing hits while covering punts. And then ask Dennis Northcutt.
By the way, I know Skippy has had an unspectacular season, but the blocked kick wasn't his fault. Well, unless both Trai Essex and Max Starks getting blown up at the line of scrimmage was somehow Reed's doing.
After Pittsburgh let Plaxico Burress walk, there was some talk that they needed a tall receiver. Personally, I think height is overrated for wideouts, but if Washington continues to progress he'll be Big Ben's Big Target for the near future. And with Holmes already playing better than Cedrick Wilson ever will, it's now only a matter of time until he moves into the starting lineup … for good.
I know it's still early – and opposing defenses will have an easier time spotting Anderson's weaknesses as the game film accumulates – but if Anderson proves he can be a good NFL quarterback, the Browns have one less thing to worry about this off-season.
That said, I can imagine Anderson getting the following e-mail on Cleveland Browns' letterhead sometime this week:
Memo to Browns QBs:The great irony is that the Ravens drafted Anderson in the 6th round of the 2005 draft, put him on the practice squad and then the Browns promptly put him on their active roster.
Please do not throw passes to receivers running across the middle of the field … or anywhere near Anthony Smith. It hurts when he hits us.
Signed: Dennis Northcutt and Braylon Edwards.
But hey, Baltimore still has Kyle Boller!