Browns Post-Game: Cleveland Ugly

<p>There is ugly, and then there is Cleveland ugly. In an uneven game, marred by penalties and suspect play calling, the Steelers finish a season sweep of the Browns, 23-20. The Steelers now have a strong hold on first place in the AFC North.</p>

RB Amos Zereoue racked up over 100 yards on the ground as the Steelers dominated the Browns, at least statistically. Despite falling behind 14-3 early, the Steelers never abandoned the running game and their patience paid off, this time.

What really turned a game around that was all Browns, was OC Mike Mularkey's decision to go with the no-huddle spread formation in the second quarter. Up until that point, LB Darren Hambrick and the Browns defense had the Steelers and their entire trick plays figured out.

But QB Tommy Maddox and WR Hines Ward soon had the Browns back on their heels, though penalties may have hurt Cleveland more than the actual play of Pittsburgh. The Browns were penalized 11 times for 86 yards. That plus three turnovers effectively handicapped the Browns.

Still, the statistics ledger was all Steelers. The Steelers had 25 first downs to the Browns measly 9. Furthermore, the Browns were just 2-7 converting on third-down, helping the Steelers to dominate the time of possession battle. But the Steelers struggled to cash in on a number of opportunities and the Browns were never really out of the game.

The Browns refused to let Maddox get comfortable and moved around Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren often, to confuse the Steelers offensive line. RT Marvel Smith was often a target and the Browns were able to get some pressure on Maddox early on. The pressure seemed to disappear after the no-huddle offense. Clearly, the Browns were not prepared for that.

What kept this game from turning into a rout was suspect play calling that did a much better job of keeping Maddox out of his rhythm than the Browns defense did. Cowher refused to bring in K Todd Peterson on a few long field goal opportunities because he seemed to feel the risk of missing far out-weighed the gain of a six-point lead.

Bill Cowher the riverboat gambler was on full display today, demonstrating why the Field Goal Bill talk was always utter nonsense.

While the offense bailed out the Steelers defense in the first half, the Steelers defense returned the favor in the second half. The Browns failed to get anything going on offense and the Steelers were able to sit on their lead. DE Rodney Bailey had a great game and despite some lapses in coverage, the Steeler secondary forced QB Tim Couch to hold on to the ball too long on a number of occasions.

The Steelers hardly looked like a playoff team today and the Browns gave the Steelers their best punch early on. The outcome says more about how far the Browns have yet to go than how good the Steelers actually are. Still, 5-3 overall and 4-0 in the division is a good place to be with the Atlanta Falcons coming to town.

A few injuries on defense for the Steelers, both in the secondary: safeties Mike Logan and Brent Alexander. Alexander's injury did not look serious but Logan appeared to injure the same hamstring that has been hampering his play all season. Logan may not play next week against the Falcons.

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