Dupree keeps growing his game

A look at Steelers 27, Browns 24 in overtime via the magic of the DVR:

THIS BUD'S IN VIEW: Linebacker Bud Dupree  has been checking boxes ever since he was activated from the Reserve/Injured list on Nov. 19.

Dupree played for the first time on Nov. 20 at Cleveland.

He made his first two tackles on Nov. 24 at Indianapolis.

He started for the first time on Dec. 11 at Buffalo and registered his first two-and-a-half sacks.

And he came up with his first pass-defensed on Dec. 25 against Baltimore.

Dupree added to his budding resume by forcing his first fumble against the Browns.

It came on a sack of quarterback Robert Griffin III on second-and-9 from the Cleveland 19-yard line early in the third quarter and it appeared to be as much calculated as it was the result of brute force.

Dupree beat right offensive tackle Cameron Erving up the field initially and then turned sharply toward Griffin at the 10, attacking from the quarterback's right. Apparently sensing Griffin was unaware of the pressure, Dupree brought both hands down on Griffin's cocked right arm and the ball and knocked the ball and Griffin to the ground.

The Browns recovered, but the combination of execution and athleticism that forced the fumble was the latest example of what Dupree is capable of bringing to the Steelers' playoff table.

Observed CBS analyst Rich Gannon of Dupree: "He's got the quickness and the explosiveness back in his game."

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WHATEVER IT TAKES:** Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey's touchdown-saving forced fumble at the end of cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun's 67-yard interception return was an example of the value of hustle and never giving up on a play, one that can serve all of the Steelers well in the postseason.

Heyward-Bey was in a bunch-left with wide receivers Demarcus Ayers and Eli Rogers when the ball was snapped on third-and-11 from the Steelers' 46 with 3:40 left in the third quarter, then ran a shallow-cross along the 50 toward the Steelers' sideline.

Quarterback Landry Jones' pass was intercepted between the numbers and the Browns' sideline at the Cleveland 32, a long way from where Heyward-Bey was finishing his route.

Boddy-Calhoun weaved his way up the field and cut outside toward the Browns' sideline at the Steelers' 30, running around blocks by defensive lineman Tyrone Holmes (on tight end Jesse James) and linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. (on offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva).

Boddy-Calhoun got another block from defensive lineman Xavier Cooper (on center B.J. Finney) at the 8 and appeared to have a path to the end zone from there.

But Heyward-Bey came flying across the field and finally caught up to Boddy-Calhoun at the 3 as Boddy-Calhoun was extending the ball and diving toward the goal line. Heyward-Bey got his left arm on Boddy-Calhoun's left shoulder and the ball popped free.

Free safety Mike Mitchell summed up Heyward-Bey's effort best: "You gotta love football to make a play like that."

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RUN-GAME REMINDERS:** Cleveland finished with 231 yards rushing, which eclipsed the 222 Miami had amassed on Oct. 15 against the Steelers.

The Browns' ground game provided for the Steelers a final pre-playoffs lesson as to the importance of getting off blocks, maintaining gap-integrity and finishing tackles, all of which had cropped up as issues at times throughout the regular season.

Cleveland's three-play, 68-yard touchdown drive in 1:46 that tied the game at 21-21 with 3:28 left in the fourth quarter was particularly revealing. The Browns actually gained 72 yards on the ground on the march after Griffin was sacked by linebacker Ryan Shazier for a loss of 4 on first down.

On second-and-14 from the Browns' 28, running back Isaiah Crowell exploded for 67 yards, the longest run of the season against the Steelers (5 yards longer than Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi's 62-yard touchdown scamper).

Critical elements of the play included:

-A hole created by blocks from left tackle Joe Thomas (on Dupree), tight end Gary Barnidge (on Jones) and pulling guard Austin Pasztor (on linebacker Ryan Shazier).

-Linebacker Ryan Shazier taking one step too many to his right after bouncing off an attempted  block by guard Spencer Drango. Crowell ran behind Pasztor, between Barnidge and Thomas, then cut back on Shakier and through an attempt at an arm-tackle.

-Offensive tackle Shon Coleman getting free safety Mike Mitchell on his back and wide receiver Rashad Higgins maintaining a block on cornerback Stephon Tuitt, which gave Crowell a lane to exploit after the cutback on Shakier.

-Crowell cutting back from near the sideline to the middle of the field on pursuing strong safety Sean Davis (as Eagles running back Darren Sproles had done on a '73-yard catch-and-run touchdown in Philadelphia). Crowell eluded Davis at the Steelers' 38, and then cornerback Artie Burns, who over-ran the play, a few yards further down the field.

-Higgins' getting another block on Cockrell in support of Crowell's cutback on Davis.
Crowell got the ball to the Steelers' 4 and running back George Atkinson III took it from there.

Running out of the shotgun in a three-wide receivers, one-tight end, one-running back set against the Steelers' nickel defense, as Crowell had done, Atkinson ran through Shazier at the 3 and Mitchell at the 2 (both were unblocked on the play) and into the end zone.

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