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Labriola on win over the Browns

Posted Dec 9, 2011

Old, slow and done saved the day. Whatever chance the Steelers still have to pass the Baltimore Ravens and win the AFC North Division and then reap the postseason rewards that seem certain to be part of those spoils, they owe to their defense.

Besides the sheer embarrassment, losing that game to the Cleveland Browns would not have eliminated the Steelers from playoff contention because they came into it with a two-game lead over the next closest contender for one of the AFC’s two wild card spots.

But losing that game to the Browns would have ended their hopes of winning the division, to be sure, because, well just because if you can’t beat the Browns at home you’re not going to win a division championship. There’s probably a rule somewhere, or maybe Ed Hochuli goes under a hood, looks at who-knows-what for a while and then just comes out and declares it.

None of that matters today, because the Steelers beat the Browns, 14-3, to raise their record to 10-3 and assure themselves of no worse than a mathematical tie for another week with the other three horses in this race – the Ravens, Patriots and Texans. What’s at stake here are home games in the playoffs, possibly a bye in the first round of the playoffs, and maybe even the conference’s No. 1 seed, which comes with all of the above.

By the way, did I mention that this is all thanks to the defense?

Yes indeed, the group that Warren Sapp called old, slow and done – maybe his own last gasp to remain relevant and possibly separate himself from the countless other talking heads – is playing pretty decent football, and it has on a relatively consistent basis throughout a regular season now into mid-December. It might not be traditional Steelers defense, but it’s effective in the style of the NFL in which it has to compete.

There is no more shutting down of opponents in the NFL anymore, not quality opponents anyway. Pitch-and-catch is too easy and the rules are too friendly to shut people down on a consistent basis. Now you have to be satisfied with finding ways to keep the point total down, and the Steelers have done that. That they were able to do it against the Browns allowed the game to turn out the way it did.

Even though this Steelers defense isn’t one of those that dominates an opponent with takeaways and/or sacks, it’s a unit that defends every blade of grass and does a nice job of keeping the point total low.

And in today’s NFL, that makes the Steelers defense better than Green Bay’s, New Orleans’, New England’s, and maybe stubbornly I’ll still take this unit over the Ravens’. In today’s NFL, a defense can’t be expected to shut the opponent down, but it can be expected to be better than the opposing defense, because that gives your team a chance to win.

This Steelers defense is giving the team a chance to win, and it has been doing that all season.

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