Steelers prove (again) they're not equipped to defend championship
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is not blameless during the Steelers' slide
The Steelers have seemingly good numbers in all the right places -- but no results
All of the little things the Steelers did so well last year aren't happening this year
Lessons learned from the Browns' 13-6 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night:
1. If Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is Tweedledee, then what does that make Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau?
Say what you will about the Steelers' offensive struggles -- and Steelers Nation has spent much of the past month doing exactly that -- but perhaps the biggest deficiency the defending Super Bowl champs face is on the defensive side of the ball.
It's almost blasphemous for fans and even head coach Mike Tomlin to point fingers at the defense, because of its rich tradition and LeBeau's reputation as a defensive genius and innovator.
But how 'bout these for innovative thoughts: Could LeBeau be having a bad year? Could opponents be on to his schemes? Or is injured Troy Polamalu so good, he made LeBeau and his defense look a lot better than it really was.
The best-prepared, most productive defense on the field Thursday night belonged to Rob Ryan, a.k.a. Sam Elliott, and the Browns defense.
Fans complain about Arians' offense being too wide-open, too finesse and untrue to Steelers' roots. The fact is, the Steelers have no more red-zone power threat and Arians has gotten a lot out of his weapons.
Going into Thursday night, the Pittsburgh offense ranked seventh in the NFL and averaged nearly 23 points a game in November and December. The defense? It has collapsed consistently in fourth quarters and could well be the last defense left in the NFL that looks as if it has no clue against the Wildcat formation. The Steelers gave up 171 yards rushing Thursday night. To the Browns.
2. Boy, do stats ever lie -- the Steelers are proof of it.
The next time you hear the old cliché about stats being for losers, feel free to point to the defending Super Bowl champions.
Looking at numbers, you would think the team that just gave lowly Cleveland its second win of the year -- snapping a 12-game win streak against their rivals -- was not mired in a horrendous losing streak.
The Steelers are well on their way to having a 1,000-yard rusher, a 3,000-yard passer, maybe two 1,000-yard receivers and defensive stats that seem Steel Curtain-like. The Pittsburgh defense ranks in the top five overall, in yards per-game, rushing defense and sacks. The Pittsburgh offense ranked in the top 10 in virtually every significant category going into Thursday night.
The last time the Steelers had such individual and team success offensively, they went 13-3. This year, they are 6-7 and in need of miraculous things to happen just to make the playoffs.
3. The Hangover II: Another Steelers Super Bowl? Yeah ... that's not gonna happen.
This isn't the breakout comedy hit of the summer. This is real. And it just happened: Browns 13, Steelers 6.
There is such a thing as a Super Bowl hangover. No one will ever figure out what it is that consciously or subconsciously causes players and teams to lose their edge. Fattened contracts? Overconfidence? A sense of entitlement?
Whatever it is, there has been no team that more epitomizes the Super Bowl hangover than the Steelers, who went 8-8 after their 2005 Super Bowl and will be lucky to get to 8-8 this year.
Look at all the things that made the Steelers great last year. All the little things. They're all gone now. This is a team that has no focus, no hunger and flawed preparation. Those things are reflected in all the places where the Steelers have failed during their five-game losing streak. They were on full display Thursday night.
Special teams flopped. Tackling was horrendous, with the Browns gashing the Steelers defense for big runs all night. There were big plays and untimely penalties. And, after a season in which the Steelers gave up just two plays of more than 40 yards, they've given up eight in the past five games. Thursday night, they also gave up a 47-yard punt return and Josh Cribbs runs of 37 and 36 yards.
4. Ben Roethlisberger must drive Steelers fans to drink -- which, on Thursday night would have been the longest drive of the night.
He either gives Steelers fans Super Bowl rings, or rings under their eyes. Feast, famine. Big play, sack. It must be an infuriating exercise in futility for Steelers fans to decide if today will be a day when they love Big Ben or when they loathe him.
The fact is, the man just takes WAY TOO MANY SACKS. Of course, there's that argument that he can extend plays and make the offense sing. But Roethlisberger takes his offense off the field prematurely way too often by holding the ball, taking sacks and turning second-and-manageable into third-and-longs.
The Browns sacked Roethlisberger eight times Thursday night and pressured him numerous other times, including the clinching incompletion on the Steelers' final offensive play. There was a reason the Steelers went 3-for-15 on third-down conversions. It wasn't Arians' play-calling. Big Ben crippled his team's chances on too many drives.
5. Brady Quinn still isn't anything close to being the next Joe Montana, but he's not as bad as we thought. And if Quinn still doesn't work out, just put Josh Cribbs back there until further notice.
After a series of decent moments before Thursday, flexing his arm strength and making more plays with his arm than previously, Quinn reverted to a less-than-stellar performance.
The key element, however, was he didn't beat his team. Quinn went 6-for-19 for a measly 90 yards, but he had no severe mistakes. He also had Cribbs running the Wildcat and converting crucial plays all night.
Cribbs gashed Pittsburgh for 87 yards rushing and 84 return yards, adding a 9-yard reception.
The Browns and their fans needed this one, badly. Coach Eric Mangini needed it. In a frigid stadium where the wind chill was minus-12 and the Browns had not won in 10 tries, they got it, virtually ending the Steelers' season.
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