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mesaSteeler
10-19-2009, 06:55 PM
Steelers still need to improve
Monday, October 19, 2009
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Matt Freed/Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09292/1006674-66.stm

Browns kick returner Joshua Cribbs runs by Steelers cornerback William Gay during a 98-yard kickoff for a touchdown during the second quarter of yesterday's game.

It says something instructive -- something good, actually -- about Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that he wasn't in any mood for pats on the back yesterday. Not after the 27-14 win against the sorry Cleveland Browns, a win that, combined with losses by the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens, left the Steelers sitting high and mighty again in the AFC North Division. Not after leading an offense that rang up a mind-boggling 543 yards, the most by the Steelers in nearly 14 years. Certainly not after throwing for two touchdowns and 417 yards, the second-best total of his spectacular career.

Big Ben? Satisfied? No way.

"It feels good to come out with a win when we have kind of a subpar performance on offense," Roethlisberger said.

It's nice to know that Roethlisberger knows the Steelers' offense still has to be better. The whole team does, actually. The defense and even the special teams, which gave up a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to Cleveland's Joshua Cribbs. So what if the Steelers beat up the Browns for their third consecutive win and their 12th consecutive win in the series? Everybody abuses the Browns. A much truer test of just how good the Steelers (4-2) are will come Sunday when Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson, a brutal defense and the rest of the unbeaten Minnesota Vikings come to Heinz Field.

"We win that one, we can forget about how we started 1-2," safety Ryan Clark said. "5-2 will be a good, solid record for us."

"That would give us a lot of momentum going into the bye week," offensive tackle Willie Colon added.

The Steelers can't turn the ball over four times against the Vikings and expect to win. Roethlisberger lost a fumbled snap yesterday and threw an interception. Running backs Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall lost fumbles.

Take away those turnovers and the Steelers might have had 700 yards. They might have won, 44-14.

"I acknowledge that ball security is something we have to improve at," coach Mike Tomlin said.

It's always a concern when Parker and especially Mendenhall, who has something of a history, fumble, but it's pretty hard to be too rough on Roethlisberger, especially for the interception. You pitch it 35 times, the other guys probably are going to catch at least one. Roethlisberger completed enough passes (23) for wide receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes to have 100-yard games and for tight end Heath Miller to come close.

"This is the best I've ever seen him play," Miller said.

"That's who this quarterback is. That's what this offense can do," duly impressed Browns coach Eric Mangini said.

Said the Unsatisfied One Himself, "We played OK. I still think we left some things out there ... I don't even think we know how good we can be. We just have to keep striving for excellence."

It would be nice if the offense gets there by 1 p.m. Sunday.

As for the Steelers' defense, well, it looked like the Steelers' defense of old ...

OK, it didn't allow the Browns to score in the fourth quarter.

That's a huge step forward, isn't it?

Really, it would have been a disappointment if the defense didn't dominate one of the worst offenses in NFL history. The Browns came in having scored an offensive touchdown in just two of their past 11 games. That they put together a six-play, 66-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter would have been a lot more troubling if the defense hadn't shut down primary runner Jamal Lewis (11 carries for 21 yards), forced two fumbles by quarterback Derek Anderson on sacks by linebacker Lawrence Timmons and came up with interceptions by safeties Troy Polamalu and Clark.

Was it good to see No. 43 back on the field or what?

"Loved having him out there again," linebacker James Farrior said of Polamalu, playing for the first time since his left knee was injured in the opening game. "I don't care if he makes a tackle or not. His presence just elevates everyone's play."

It was Farrior, who said after the Steelers' 28-20 win in Detroit a week earlier, "We're still searching for the [real] Steelers." Asked if he learned anything more about the defense on this gorgeous autumn afternoon, Farrior wasn't ready to go there.

That was the Browns, you know?

"We'll definitely know more next week," Farrior said.

All of us will.

The junior varsity portion of the Steelers' schedule is over. Games against the Browns and the Lions came at just the right time for a team struggling to find its way after that rough start. Now, the Steelers get to measure themselves against the Vikings, "the bullies on the [NFL] block," as Colon put it.

"I've never played against Brett," Roethlisberger said. "He's a guy I looked up to, so I look forward to that. They have a great defense, obviously. It's going to be a good challenge for us. We're going to have to be on our A-game on offense."

Not just on offense.

All the way around.
Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com.

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