The Steelers humiliated the Browns.
That barely-there introductory "paragraph" is indicitive of not only how irrelevant the Browns were in this game, but also how quickly it must be forgotten with a huge Thanksgiving Day tilt against the Ravens looming in a few days. We're getting right into this because we're already close to kickoff.
Ben: 22 of 34 for 217 yards and two TDs. No picks. No fumbles. No sacks taken. And the Browns only recorded two hits on Ben. Yes, that last bit shows how well the O Line played, but also how quick Ben was able to go through his progressions and make throws. A lot of the time Ben was looking for Antonio Brown, with 10 targets, and it's hard to find any fault with that seeing how Antonio has been a stud and workhorse all season. His long TD to Brown was arguably underthrown a bit, but with super-corner Joe Haden sticking as close to Brown as possible, there's no harm in letting the superior WR make the adjustment to beat the coverage. And you try flinging it 40+ yards in the air when it's 12 degrees in Cleveland. Ben made the air game work in the cold, found his receivers and most importantly, didn't mess everything up like his Browns contemporaries. 4.5 of 5 motorcycle helmets.
Le'Veon: Le'Veon Bell opened his game with a nice 13-yard jaunt on just his second carry and I was thiiiis close to marking him down for the first 100-yard game of his career. He finished with 80, which is one of his better outputs as a pro considering he's averaging 50-some a game. But what impressed me was on the Steelers' opening drive of the fourth quarter, Bell took the rock on five straight plays and eight of the first nine of the drive, gaining 25 yards and helping the Steelers take nearly eight minutes off the clock. With the lead. In the cold. That's how this team needs to move the ball in winter if they want to continue the success they've experienced these past three games. Sure, Pittsburgh doesn't have that power run game any more, but Bell is shaping into the kind of back that will pay dividends not only in the long term, but now when the team needs selective production. 3.5 of 5 helmets.
Defense: There was a lot of good and some concerning bad in this game. The good far outweighed the bad, considering the bad contained itself to one player and a garbage-time TD. Browns WR Josh Morgan decided to go HAM to the tune of 14 catches, 237 yards and that score in the closing minutes. Much of his damage was done after the game was far out of reach, so we'll take his production with a grain of salt. The Steelers and Browns still have another contest later this season, might as well let the young kid do work with the game already wrapped up to basically scout what he's planning on trying next time. Other than that, Pittsburgh held Cleveland to an opening-drive FG across two QBs. Because they knocked Jason Campbell around and out of the game, forcing Brandon Weeden's hand. The D made each QB put it on the ground, and Willie Gay took another errant Weeden throw back for six. Troy Polamalu was looking like the Troy of old with two forced fumbles. Jason Worilds was on meth or acid or something, with six QB hits. And Cam Heyward is becoming a supreme menace. 3.5 of 5 motorcycle helmets. I wanted to go 4+, but Josh Gordon had just so many yards.
The AFC: With the Bengals on a bye, the Steelers one-upped their division rival Browns with both coming in at 4-6. And the Ravens won, but thanks to their previous slide, still sit below Pittsburgh in the standings. I mean, as of prior to the completion of Titans/Raiders yesterday, here's how the AFC playoff picture looked:
Yes, that was the Steelers in the final wild card spot. They're still just on the outside now that the aforementioned Titans/Raiders game completed, but you have to like the ascension to potential playoff status after the hideous 0-4 team start. The Dolphins lost. There's a slew of teams huddled around that 5-6 mark, and a lot more will come in to focus following Thursday's Steelers-Ravens game. 0 of 5 motorcycle helmets for the rest of the AFC. A cherry-picked low rating in this recap so that I can feel even better about the fortunes of this Steelers season.
The Steelers must win in Baltimore on Thanksgiving night to follow up on this divisional win with another. Both teams sit at 5-6. Pittsburgh must pull out all the road team stops in order to get back to .500 and become a legitimate playoff contender.