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Defense keys 14-3 win

Posted Dec 8, 2011

STEELERS 14, BROWNS 3

Steelers’ record: 10-3
One year ago: 10-3
Series record (including playoffs): Steelers lead, 63-56

STORYLINE
Since the Browns returned to the NFL for the 1999 season, they have defeated the Steelers four times – in 1999, 2000, 2003 and 2009 – and each one of those team had a significant flaw. The 1999 loss was the first of six in a row, the one the next year was one of three straight to open the season, and the ones in 2003 and 2009 both were parts of five-game skids. The 2011 Steelers have responded to each of their three losses with a victory and came into this game against the Browns on a three-game winning streak.

TURNING POINT
On consecutive offensive plays spanning two series, the Steelers offense turned the ball over twice, and both turnovers came in the red zone. A lost fumble by Hines Ward at the Browns 15-yard line was bad, but after a Troy Polamalu interception gave the offense the ball back, Heath Miller lost a fumble at the Browns 9-yard line. What could have been a rout then turned into a nail-biter.

STAT THAT STANDS OUT
Since the Browns returned to the NFL for the 1999 season, they are 4-22 against the Steelers.

WHAT WENT RIGHT
* Damon Cromartie-Smith was signed to the active roster just hours before the game, but he made the tackle on Joshua Cribbs on the opening kickoff after a return of just 22 yards.

* This was not the way the Steelers would have preferred the game to begin, but for the second straight week the opponent had a touchdown taken off the scoreboard at the end of its opening possession. The Browns took the opening kickoff and drove 78 yards, with Colt McCoy completing 4-of-4 for 69 yards and then apparently running 2 yards for the touchdown. But a review of McCoy’s run placed the ball inches short of the goal line, Casey Hampton and Larry Foote blew up a third-down attempt by Peyton Hillis, and the Browns settled for a 20-ytard field goal.

* For the sixth time this season, the Steelers drove for a touchdown on their opening possession. Ben Roethlisberger completed 3-of-3 for 45 yards, including the 11-yard touchdown to Jerricho Cotchery on a play that looked awfully similar to his other touchdown catch this season.

* Whatever the injury to Roethlisberger, he returned for the start of the second half and was on the field when the Steelers offense took the field.

* Through three quarters, the Browns offense had accumulated 230 total net yards, but four times they had been forced to punt from inside Steelers territory. The Steelers led, 7-3, after three quarters.

* Browns wide receiver Greg Little came into Thursday night having dropped six passes over the previous two games. On a third-and-6 from the Cleveland 5-yard line, Little dropped another pass, and the Browns had to punt. Brad Maynard’s kick went only 33 yards, and the Steelers took possession at the Cleveland 38-yard line.

* After Mike Adams’ interception gave the Browns the ball at their 44-yard line with 7:10 left in a 7-3 game, the Cleveland offense moved to a first-and-goal at the Steelers 5-yard line. That turned into a third-and-16, and then William Gay intercepted Colt McCoy’s pass in the end zone that was intended for Mohamed Massaquoi.

WHAT WENT WRONG
* Things were moving along nicely for the Steelers offense as the game crawled into the second quarter. The Steelers already held a 7-3 lead, and they were marching toward another score. But after taking the ball deep into Browns territory, Hines Ward lost a fumble after catching a short pass. That drive ended at the Browns 15-yard line. Three plays later, Troy Polamalu intercepted Colt McCoy and set the Steelers offense at the Browns 10-yard line. After a false start penalty, Heath Miller caught a short pass from Ben Roethlisberger, but he also fumbled and D’Qwell Jackson recovered this one at the 9-yard line. That made two trips into the red zone where the Steelers got a grand total of nothing.

* The Steelers had the Browns in a third-and-20, and so they went to a four-cornerback, two-safety alignment. The Browns promptly countered with a draw play, and Chris Ogbonnaya raced 28 yards to a first down at the Cleveland 45-yard line.

* It was a first-and-10 at the Steelers 17-yard line with 6:09 left when Roethlisberger, unable to find an open receiver, was sacked by ex-long-time Steelers practice squad player Scott Paxson. Roethlisberger was helped off the field and directly into the locker room with what appeared to be an injury to his left ankle. At the time, Roethlisberger had completed 8-of-9 for 102 yards with one touchdown and a passer rating of 150.9.

* A few snaps after Roethlisberger was helped off the field, Maurkice Pouncey also sustained an injury to his left ankle. Pouncey stayed on the field and tried to continue, but he soon had to come off the field. He was replaced at center by Doug Legursky, and Chris Kemoeatu took over at left guard.

* It was first-and-goal at the Browns 2-yard line after Mike Wallace was ruled down after a review of a play that was called a touchdown on the field. Four straight times the Steelers ran Rashard Mendenhall – he gained 1 yard, lost 1 yard, gained 1 yard, and then was stopped for no gain on fourth down. That made three trips into the red zone where the Steelers got no points.

* Chris Kemoeatu’s third major penalty of the game was a holding call that nullified a 3-yard Isaac Redman run that had converted a third-and-1. That set up a third-and-11 from the Browns 39-yard line, and Roethlisberger’s pass was intercepted by Mike Adams and returned to the Cleveland 44-yard line.

PREGAME ROSTER MOVE
The Steelers issued the following news release several hours before kickoff of the game against the Browns:

“The Steelers have placed veteran nose tackle Chris Hoke (neck) and running back Jonathan Dwyer (foot) on their Reserve/Injured List, the team announced prior to Thursday night’s game versus Cleveland.

“Hoke, an 11-year veteran from Brigham Young University, has been a solid backup on the defensive line since he joined the team as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2001. Hoke has played in 114 games with 18 starts, recording 80 tackles, two sacks and one fumble recovery. The Steelers are 17-1 all-time in the regular season when Hoke started at nose tackle.

“Dwyer, a second-year player from Georgia Tech, had 123 rushing yards this season, including his first career 100-yard game. Dwyer’s 76-yard run during his 107-yard outing against the Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 6) was the seventh-longest run in team history. Dwyer was also doing well on special teams, recording two special teams tackles.

“Taking the place of Hoke and Dwyer on the 53-man roster will be linebacker Mortty Ivy and safety Damon Cromartie-Smith.

“Ivy, a first-year player from West Virginia and Gateway High, has been on and off the Steelers’ practice squad and active roster this season. He saw action in the New England and Baltimore games on special teams.

“Cromartie-Smith, a first-year player from UTEP, spent the entire 2010 season on the Steelers’ practice squad. He was released for two weeks earlier on this season before being re-signed to the practice squad.

“Ivy will wear No. 57 and Cromartie-Smith will wear No. 42.”

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