The Pittsburgh Steelers earned a closer than expected win Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns, 14-3, but the big thing to come out of tonight’s game is the long-term status of Ben Roethlisberger’s left ankle. Roethlisberger was sandwiched between two Browns players on a sack in the second quarter and had a nasty turn of his left ankle.
After x-rays of Roethlisberger’s left leg showed no breaks, he returned to the game for the second half, but was clearly limited by the injured ankle. The Steelers ran the ball more than they have most of this year, and the passing game was much more focused on short quick passes designed to limit Roethlisberger’s need to scramble. When Ben did throw downfield, his accuracy was sometimes off.
No matter, though, as after the Browns had a Colt McCoy scramble touchdown taken off the board and settled for a field goal on their opening drive they struggled to move the ball effectively. The Steelers took a 7-3 lead on a Roethlisberger pass to Jerrico Cotchery the first time they had the ball and would have put the Browns away early but for Hines Ward and Heath Miller fumbles in the red zone. After Roethlisberger’s injury, the Steelers struggled to move the ball as well both with Charlie Batch and with an injured Ben, but a late Antonio Brown touchdown sealed the win.
1. Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers. Five catches for 151 yards and the game-clinching 79-yard touchdown, a spectacular play where he weaved and juked several Browns defenders. Mike Wallace is the bigger deep threat, but Brown may now be the Steelers’ top receiver.
2. Jason Worilds, LB, Steelers. Sure, he’s probably playing because of injury, but he had two sacks and a forced fumble and finished second on the team with nine tackles, eight of them unassisted.
3. Brad Maynard, P, Browns. He doesn’t have the league’s strongest leg, but he did a good job of pinning the Steelers deep.
1. Colt McCoy, QB, Browns. Two interceptions, no touchdowns, and few good throws. He struggled against the Steelers’ pass rush, struggled to read the coverage, and doesn’t have the arm strength to hit open receivers downfield. He no longer looks like a long-term answer at quarterback unless all of the pieces around him are upgraded.
2. Charlie Batch, QB, Steelers. If Roethlisberger is out for any length of time, the Steelers’ long-term fate may include missing the playoffs and likely won’t include a long trip there if they manage to make it.
3. Browns running game. Chris Ogbonnaya ripped off a 28-yard run on a nicely-schemed draw play to convert third-and-twenty. Beyond that, though, the Browns didn’t have a run longer than eight yards and Ogbonnaya, Peyton Hillis, and Montario Hardesty combined for 52 yards on 22 carries.