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Steelers Must Not Run the Wheels Off Le’Veon Bell

By Chris Gazze
www.SteelerNation.com

With Le’Veon Bell only guaranteed to remain with the Pittsburgh Steelers for one more season, the shouts to “run the wheels off” Bell are getting louder by the minute.

It is easy to understand why after Bell turned down a deal worth more than $12 million per year, according to a report by Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. If he didn’t sign Pittsburgh’s offer this year, what makes anyone think he’ll sign a similar offer next year?

Rather than ease the load for Bell, get the most of his $12.12 million franchise tag this year and run him until the wheels fall off as head coach Mike Tomlin famously did to Willie Parker.

While this approach would probably get the Steelers the most value in terms of touches per dollar, it is not a smart approach and one that Tomlin needs to avoid in 2017.

Bell is one of the most well-conditioned, physically imposing running backs in the NFL, but also one who has not proven to be durable. He’s only played all 16 games in the regular season once and finally played in the playoffs for the first time in three opportunities last season.

Although not necessarily injury prone, Bell has suffered through a foot injury, multiple knee injuries, and a groin injury. With an average of over 24 touches per game over the course of his career, the chance of injury is there for each time he handles the ball.

Perhaps this was no more evident than in his suspension shortened 2016 season. After missing the first three games, Bell was a workhorse for Pittsburgh’s offense and averaged 28 touches in 12 regular season games.

By virtue of clinching the division with a Week 16 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, Bell got some much-needed rest after averaging over 39 touches over his previous six games.

Bell’s workload didn’t decrease once the playoffs started as he carried the ball 29 times—at one point running the ball 13 of 14 plays—for franchise-record 167 yards in the Wild Card round against the Miami Dolphins. He topped his own record the following week with 170 yards on 30 carries against the Kansas City Chiefs.

After years of waiting, Bell’s presence in the playoffs finally paid off, at least until the AFC Championship game. Following his fifth carry, Bell left the game with a groin injury. Although his absence wasn’t the reason the Steelers lost, it certainly did not help their cause.

Later, we would learn that Bell injured his groin against the Dolphins, per Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

“I continued to play on it,” Bell said after the initial injury vs. the Dolphins. “It wasn’t like it hurt my performance at that time, but I definitely felt it. I went through the week. I wasn’t telling anybody I was hurting, I didn’t want people to get nervous.”

And it didn’t hurt, at least until it counted the most. And people didn’t get nervous, particularly his head coach.

“He was doing a great job of managing it,” said Tomlin, via Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. “It didn’t cause him to miss any practice time, let alone game time. It was something to manage. When you look at the journey that is the season, I think just about every guy down there is dealing with and managing something in an effort to stay on the grass.”

Tomlin continued, “I was aware of it. It wasn’t significant to the point where it affected planning or the anticipation of planning in any way. It’s unfortunate that it became an issue in game.”

That says it all. Tomlin uses a heavy rotation with his defensive lineman and outside linebackers to help preserve their bodies, but it is not an approach he takes with his running backs. Just ask Parker or Rashard Mendenhall. Both backs had seasons with over 300 carries.

The history is there. Tomlin has run the wheels off his running backs one more than one occasion and it is something that he should anticipate and plan for.

Will it be difficult to take off a guy who averaged 157 all-purpose yards per game last season? Absolutely. However, it’s also a move that is necessary to keep Bell on the field when it matters most—the playoffs.

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What JuJu Smith-Schuster Brings to the Steelers Offense

Check out this article on GZ Sports Report

In the 2nd-round of the 2017 NFL Draft, the Steelers surprised many by selecting receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. After only meeting with the USC stand-out briefly at the NFL Combine, it didn’t appear that Smith-Schuster was on the Steelers’ radar at all.

Funny how quickly things change.

Fast-forward to the present and it is easy to imagine the potential impact Smith-Schuster can bring to the Steelers’ offense early on in his career. In a crowded stable of receivers, Smith-Schuster has the chance to make a name for himself early. This chance will likely come in the slot. With Antonio Brown returning on a new 4-year extension and Martavis Bryant’s return from suspension, the starting jobs are 100% secure at this point. Everything behind them, not so much.

Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter, and Cobi Hamilton will all be fighting for depth spots on the outside behind Brown and Bryant. The real competition, however, will be in the slot, where Smith-Schuster, Eli Rogers, and Demarcus Ayers will be battling it out for the starting job.

Rogers and Ayers compare to each other in very similar manners. Rogers (5’10”) and Ayers (5’9″) are both diminutive receivers that excel in space and create separation by using superior agility to evade defensive backs. While this is more of a traditional description for a slot receiver, Smith-Schuster breaks this stereotype by being the opposite.

At 6’1″, 215 lbs., Smith-Schuster is a big, strong, physical receiver that doesn’t get manhandled by defensive players often. Big slot receivers big pose a completely different threat to defenses than their tiny counterparts based on their ability to rely on crisp routes and to box out defenders when the ball is in the air. Smith-Schuster is no exception to this. He demonstrates a knack for being fearless across the middle of the field and is constantly aware of where defenders are around him. This allows him to find open spaces in coverage and make the catch when the ball is thrown his way. Additionally, he can stretch the field vertically, which gives the Steelers another danger down the field that isn’t Brown or Bryant. Rogers showed he could accomplish this last season, but there is no denying Smith-Schuster’s size bonus in this area.

Another strength of his game is his big, strong hands that seem to always find a way to grab the ball when it is in his vicinity. This is especially crucial for 50/50 passes where Smith-Schuster must find a way to go over the defender and fight for the ball so it doesn’t get knocked away or intercepted. While this can be useful in the slot, it also can be indicative of his ability to play on the outside, a place where he saw most of his time at USC.

Smith-Schuster lacks elite speed that most of the Steelers receivers possess, but this does not mean he won’t have the ability to also play on the outside at times if needed. Even though he doesn’t always get great separation from cornerbacks, his ability to be physical when the ball is in the air helps alleviate this deficit, as well as his great route running.

But back to the slot talk.

As a big, physical receiver, that does not always mean that you can block. This is not the case for Smith-Schuster. When watching him on tape, his blocking is reminiscent of Hines Ward and Anquan Boldin. He is selfless in the run game and could be the difference maker to spring a long run. Not only that, but by having a receiver that is able and willing to be a decent blocker means that defenses must respect this and adjust accordingly. Simply put, Rogers and Ayers, while both willing blockers, don’t have the size to be a consistently excellent run blocker.

Slot receivers also typically excel in their ability to make plays after the catch. Big slot receivers, while deceptively elusive, must make plays happen in other ways. A good way of examining this is with screen passes, something the Steelers are notorious for doing. Luckily for Smith-Schuster, he also did some of this in college. Small slot receivers typically rely on their agility and quick movements to make defenders miss on these types of plays. Big receivers, including Smith-Schuster, instead make an initial move at the line and then out-physical would-be tacklers. Smith-Schuster specifically has used a strong stiff arm to ward away defenders trying to make a tackle. This could give the Steelers another option in their screen game that they haven’t had or used since Ward was still around.

While Smith-Schuster should be able to come in and compete right away (and he likely will), how quickly he consistently sees time on the field over the likes of Rogers and Ayers will depend on how quickly he can build chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger. It has been well documented that Big Ben and Brown have a relationship unlike any other in the NFL. Will Smith-Schuster get to that point with Roethlisberger in one year? No. But he also doesn’t need to be there right now. Smith-Schuster’s work ethic and drive to succeed will make him all that more prepared to handle whatever gets thrown his way and to find a way to mesh with Roethlisberger.

Smith-Schuster has the chance to break the mold of recent “conventional” Steelers receivers. He is built and plays like a receiver we haven’t seen in the Black and Gold since Hines Ward and Jerricho Cotchery. His physical playing style will be more than welcome as a compliment on offense and as a different type of target for Big Ben.

It’s just a matter of “when”, not “if”.

Join the discussion at steelernation.com!

For future updates, follow me on Twitter at @GZSports_ZM and follow GZ Sports Report at @GZSportsReport or on Twitter at @GZSportsReport

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No extension for Bell; Will play 2017 on Tag

By Justin McGonigle

The Steelers and running back LeVeon Bell did not come to an agreement prior to the 4pm deadline set Monday by the league. Bell instead will sign his 12.12 million dollar franchise tag offer that was placed on him in February.

Bell now becomes the highest paid running back in the NFL eclipsing Buffalo running back LeSean McCoy’s 8 million per year salary. After missing the first three games due to a suspension in 2016, Bell ran for 1268 yards, caught 75 passes for 608 yards and a combined 9 touchdowns.

The Steelers worked until the final seconds attempting to finish a deal with Bell, but the two sides were unable to come to an agreement. With the deadline passing the Steelers won’t be able to discuss a contract extension with Bell until the conclusion of the 2017 season. If they are unable to reach an agreement then they will be able to franchise him again next season for 120% of his salary this season. That comes in at over 14 million.

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The Steelers’ Tight End Depth is a Free-For-All

Check out this article on GZ Sports Report

Heading into training camp, many of the Steelers starting positions are set and won’t involve any type of camp battles. Tight end is no exception to this. But just as many positions with depth that has yet to be set in stone, the depth behind starting tight end Jesse James is still very much in question.

During the 2016 NFL offseason, the Steelers made a splash by signing uber-athlete, vertical threat tight end Ladarius Green. On paper, Green possessed all of the traits that the Steelers would want in their big-play offense. Unfortunately, Green’s full potential will never be seen with the Steelers after multiple injuries derailed the young tight end’s time in Pittsburgh, leading to his release.

Jesse James showed plenty of progress as an all-around tight end during the 2016 season and figures to continue that development into 2017. While James doesn’t have the athletic traits that Green offered, he still is a huge target that will allow the Steelers to move the chains, similar to the type of impact that Heath Miller brought to the Black and Gold.

Behind James, things aren’t as cut and dry. As it stands currently, the players behind James are as follows:

  • David Johnson
  • Xavier Grimble
  • Scott Orndoff
  • Phazahn Odom

Each player listed brings a different set of skills to the table that could prove to be valuable to the Steelers offense.

David Johnson is the veteran of the group and, quite frankly, has the most secure spot on the roster of any of the tight ends on the roster not names Jesse James. Why? While he doesn’t offer much as a receiving threat, Johnson played a large role in Le’Veon Bell’s explosion last season. While Roosevelt Nix was one of the most underrated fullbacks in the NFL last season, Johnson served as the Steelers primary inline blocker, sometimes even when Jesse James was still on the field. His ability to seal the edge and quickly work up to the second level easily makes him the Steelers best blocking tight end on the roster. James is not far behind him blocking wise, but at this point it is safe to say that the Steelers will likely keep Johnson on the roster for the cheap amount that they signed him for until James can become a more refined blocker.

Xavier Grimble was the pleasant surprise of the Steelers tight end corps last season, showing flashes of playmaking ability that could lead to a more prominent role in the Steelers’ pass game this season. Grimble still has a long way to go as a blocker, but as we saw last season, the Steelers were not afraid to trot him out onto the field during two-tight end sets and send him down the seam. A perfect example of this came against the Steelers’ Christmas game against the Ravens when Grimble scored his first career touchdown by showing off great athleticism, speed, and decision-making. Grimble’s spot was far from secure before the Steelers released Green, but at this point, it appears that he will continue to be the Steelers #2 receiving option behind James. Although, his spot is still far from secure depending on what the Steelers see in their two undrafted free agents Scott Orndoff and Phazahn Odom.

Of the two, Scott Orndoff is almost the definition of a prototypical NFL tight end and might have the best chance at making the 53-man roster over Grimble if he performs well enough. At 6’5″, 253 lbs., Orndoff was asked to do it all while at Pitt, showing flashes as a receiver and as an inline blocker. While his yards per catch numbers at Pitt are unrealistic to replicate in the NFL due to the jump in talent and his athletic limits, he still has shown the ability to make difficult catches when needed and was a reliable route runner. When called upon, Orndoff was used as an inline blocker to lead the way for 3rd-round pick James Conner. But what really stands out to me about Orndoff is his resemblance to Steelers’ great Heath Miller in one important aspect of his game: Orndoff never shies away from taking a big blow from a defender down the field.Whenever he has the ball in his hands, he is not afraid to lower his shoulder and whenever he is evident that he is going to get laid out immediately following the reception, Orndoff hangs in there tough and makes the reception, sacrificing his body for the sake of the offense. That has “Steeler” written all over it. Orndoff has an uphill battle ahead of him to make the roster, but if you compare him to where Grimble was at this point last season, it appears that Orndoff has the leg up.

When looking at all of the tight ends on the Steelers roster, Phazahn Odom stands above all of them when it comes to pure physical traits. At 6’8″, 250 lbs., Odom is a huge target that has shown the ability to display athleticism all over the field with ridiculous length and strides. If would-be tacklers try to go low to tackle him, he easily does his best Le’Veon Bell impression and simply steps over them. If they try to go too high on him, it proves to be too little to bring him down. While his receiving capabilities have been noted, Odom is still an extremely raw blocker that often avoids big contact with defensive players in the run game. Odom compares to Xavier Grimble coming out of college: an athletic tight end in the pass game and an abysmal blocker. With Odom, the Steelers might be enticed with his potential in the pass game as a pass target which is a large reason why they brought him on board in the first place. Odom has a chance at making it onto the roster behind James if his ability as a receiver proves too valuable to stash away, but realistically, he is the biggest long-shot to make the roster.

When the dust settles and the season begins in September, it can be expected that Grimble and Johnson will see the most time at tight end behind James. With Johnson’s blocking abilities and Grimble’s athleticism as a receiver, the Steelers have some solid choices behind James’ all-around game. Orndoff and Odom will both have their chance to prove their worth, but the practice squad will likely be the landing spot for one, if not both, of them.

At the end of the day, though, we won’t see who is backing up James until Week 1 and it will be one of the closely watched battles of training camp.

Join the discussion at steelernation.com!

For future updates, follow me on Twitter at @GZSports_ZM and follow GZ Sports Report at @GZSportsReport or on Twitter at @GZSportsReport

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Vince Williams Will Be Just Fine as the Steelers’ Starter at Inside Linebacker

By Zach Metkler of GZ Sports Report

Check out this article on GZ Sports Report

With the 15th pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, the Steelers selected Lawrence Timmons, who began his career as James Harrison’s backup at outside linebacker. By 2009, he had become the Steelers starter at inside linebacker and would retain that role for the next 8 seasons. During his 10 year tenure as a Steeler, Timmons put together 126 starts (including 112 straight from 2010-2016) while not missing a game since 2009 and only missing 2 during his career (both in 2009) 981 total tackles, 6 seasons with 100+ tackles (including 5 straight seasons from 2012-2016), 35.5 sacks, 43 passes defended, 12 interceptions, 1 touchdown, 13 forced fumbles.

At 31 years old, Timmons’ time with the Steelers came to an end this offseason after signing with the Miami Dolphins. Timmons had noticeably lost a step as he continues to age, but he will likely find a place in Miami as his career dwindles down.

In 2013, the Steelers used one of their two 6th-round draft picks to select Florida State inside linebacker Vince Williams. Hailing from the same Alma Mater as Timmons, Williams was expected to be nothing more than a depth inside linebacker and, at best, a two-down linebacker with plus run-stopping ability. After getting snubbed by not receiving an invite to the 2013 NFL Combine, Williams missed a golden opportunity to show his potential as an athlete on one of the biggest stages of the NFL offseason. A lack of a Combine invite paired with Williams’ below-average NFL size and lack of true “athleticism” led to his slide into the 6th-round.

Williams began his career as a surprise, starting 13 games during his rookie season in replace of the injured Larry Foote. After Foote departed for the Arizona Cardinals during the 2014 offseason, it appeared that Williams would step up to be the full-time starter next to Timmons in the middle in 2014.

That was until the Steelers used their 2014 1st-round pick on Ryan Shazier.

Almost immediately, Shazier was inserted into the starting lineup ahead of Williams and would remain there after showing flashes of the exciting playmaking ability that he showcased at Ohio State. From that point through the 2016 season, Williams would serve as the Steelers primary backup and rotational inside linebacker and would start just six games in relief of the oft-injured Shazier.

This has quickly changed heading into 2016.

Before the 2016 regular season kicked off, the Steelers rewarded Williams with a 2-year contract extension that translated to a 3-year, $5.5 million deal. However, this did not stop the Steelers from searching for further help during the 2017 offseason. After flirting with some high-profile free agent inside linebackers during the offseason, namely Patriots’ linebacker Dont’a Hightower, the Steelers ultimately signed no one. Following this, they chose to not pick an inside linebacker during the 2017 NFL Draft. This all made one thing extremely clear.

Vince Williams is their guy.

Williams’ playing style is that of a thumper due to his stocky, solid frame. There have always been questions about his ability to be a three-down linebacker in the NFL, as he lacks the desired athleticism that you look for in the position. But Williams’ work ethic and hard-nosed playing style will be more than welcome on the Steelers’ defense. Beyond that, I believe that Williams’ coverage skills are better than people have given him credit for. At worst, Williams will be no worse than Timmons in coverage, which realistically wasn’t that great over the past two seasons. But he can likely do much better than that. When dropping back into zone coverage, Williams reacts quickly and effectively when receivers and tight ends come into his zone. While his speed might prevent him from matching up one-on-one with fast receiving threats, the Steelers don’t need him to do that. Shazier’s athletic ability and safeties Mike Mitchell and Sean Davis’ ability to play in the box mean that the Steelers can free up Williams to do other things for the defense. Williams has the ability to be an effective blitzer up the middle through the A-gap because of his smaller frame and quick burst off of the snap. The Steelers have been using different blitzing schemes and Williams can fill the role that Timmons served in that capacity as well.

Against the run, it is obvious that Williams is a highly effective run-stopper. On the snap, he excels in making quick, split-second decisions to come down and fill running lanes like a torpedo. Throughout his time with the Steelers, Williams has also shown that he can deliver a big blow, especially on special teams. During his time as a spot starter, he has flashed the potential production that he is capable of. During a two-game span in 2016 replacing Shazier due to injury, Williams tallied 25 tackles and 2 sacks, with 16 of those tackles and one sack coming in one game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Shazier and Williams have the potential to form a lightning and thunder pairing on the inside that could be exciting to watch.

While Williams’ performance on the field is solid, it’s off of the field where he really shines. He is an unquestioned vocal leader in the Steelers’ locker room. In this capacity, he often makes comments about aspects of the league that he feels passionately about. One moment that comes to mind is when Vontaze Burfict openly celebrated injuring Le’Veon Bell after a controversial hit during a 2015 matchup with the Bengals that led to Bell missing the rest of the season due to injury. Williams came out and made comments about the issue and continued to stand by his beliefs even after being criticized by the media. Williams is firm in his beliefs and is willing to defend his teammates and handle media responsibilities in a critical but positive manner.

In short, Williams is a big part of the locker room and overall Steelers chemistry on and off of the field, which is huge for a football team that is trying to make another run at a Super Bowl victory. But at the end of the day, retaining a player like him and giving him a chance to hold down a full-time starting spot is a chance that Williams will take and run with.

Some players are naturally gifted and take starting spots with ease. Others must strive each day to get an opportunity to prove themselves. Vince Williams is a walking example of what hard work, effort, and patience can do for a player on the football field when becoming a starter in the league. Just like late-round and undrafted players before him, Williams has shown how being a late pick and developing on special teams and shining in the chances that you’re giving can often pay off handsomely down the road.

Some people will miss Timmons in the middle. Some people will wish that the team had signed a high-profile free agent. Some people will wish that the Steelers had drafted an early-round inside linebacker.

But rest assured, Vince Williams will be perfectly fine as the Steelers starting inside linebacker.

Join the discussion at steelernation.com!

For future updates, follow me on Twitter at @GZSports_ZM and follow GZ Sports Report at @GZSportsReport or on Twitter at @GZSportsReport

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Top 10 Steelers-Browns Games Since ’99

By Mike Ashcraft
SteelerNation.com

Rejoice, Steeler Nation.

We are just nine Sundays away from the start of the road to Super Bowl LII. Pittsburgh will open the 2017 campaign with a matchup against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 10.

Personally, I love that the season begins with an AFC North Division matchup. There’s always an extra buzz in the air when it comes to week 1 but playing a division rival just adds a little more importance to the day.

I know, I know. It’s not the same as playing the Baltimore Ravens or the Cincinnati Bengals. Needless to say, the matchups against the Ravens and the Bengals have often provided much more intrigue and drama over the past 18 years. Those games have felt more rivalry-like because, quite frankly, Cleveland hasn’t exactly held up its end of the competitive bargain since reentering the NFL as an expansion team in 1999. Pittsburgh has dominated the series ever since, owning a 31-6 advantage.

Is it polite to kick somebody while they’re down? No. Am I going to do it anyway by ranking Pittsburgh’s top 10 wins over Cleveland since the Browns graced us with their presence with their return to the league in ’99? Absolutely.

HONORABLE MENTION: Jan. 1, 2017 — Steelers 27, Browns 24 (OT)
Pittsburgh truly had every excuse to not win this game. The Steelers were coming off an emotional 31-27 win over the Ravens on Christmas Day that clinched the division and the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs. With no way to improve their playoff position, Mike Tomlin wisely opted to rest Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey and James Harrison. The Browns, on the other hand, entered week 17 with a 1-14 record and the opportunity to lessen the stench of a putrid first season under head coach Hue Jackson.

Cleveland dominated the first half with more first downs (14-5) and more total net yards (202-52) while Pittsburgh failed to convert on third down and managed just eight rushing yards. However, as the saying goes, Browns gonna Browns, and Cleveland led just 14-7 at halftime.

The Browns had a chance to take a 21-7 lead in the third quarter when Briean Boddy-Calhoun picked off Landry Jones and raced toward the end zone. Darrius Heyward-Bey made the play of the game (and the hustle play of the season) when he ran down Boddy-Calhoun and knocked the ball out of his hands at the 1-yard line, with Jones recovering the fumble in the end zone for a touchback. Pittsburgh then marched 80 yards and tied it at 14-all after a one-yard touchdown plunge by DeAngelo Williams. The Steelers took their first lead of the game with 5:21 to go when Jones hit DeMarcus Ayers for an 11-yard scoring strike, but the Browns sent the contest to overtime when George Atkinson III scored on a three-yard touchdown run with just over three minutes left.

Cleveland took a 24-21 lead on the first possession of overtime as Cody Parkey drilled a 34-yard field goal. But wait! Cue up the dramatic NFL Films music because LANDRY FREAKING JONES would not be denied! Facing a 4th-and-2 from the Cleveland 32, he found Ayers for a gain of six. The next play, he struck for a 26-yard touchdown to Cobi Hamilton to win it for the Steelers.

Did I just spend too much time writing about my honorable mention game? Absolutely. Was it a meaningless victory? Pretty much. But, hey, Landry and the second teamers produced an exciting come-from-behind win and sent Cleveland into the offseason miserable. And, for that, this game deserves a note.

No. 10: Jan. 6, 2001 — Steelers 28, Browns 7
The Steelers and the Browns were slated to officially open Heinz Field on Sept. 16, 2001. However, the events of September 11 forced the postponement of all week 2 games.

Pittsburgh entered the rescheduled week 17 contest against Cleveland as AFC Central Division champions with a record of 12-3. With Jerome Bettis, Alan Faneca and Joey Porter inactive and starters such as Kordell Stewart, Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress playing sparingly, the Steelers still rolled to a 21-point win over the Browns. Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown, Troy Edwards returned a fumble 32 yards to the house for a score and Tommy Maddox connected with Bobby Shaw for a 40-yard scoring strike. The win marked Pittsburgh’s first of 16 over the Browns since Heinz Field opened.

No. 9: Sept. 9, 2007 — Steelers 34, Browns 7
The Tomlin era opened in Cleveland in week 1 in 2007. Roethlisberger threw four touchdown passes to four different receivers, Willie Parker ran for 109 yards and Pittsburgh’s defense held the Browns to just 46 rushing yards and forced four fumbles — three of which the Steelers recovered. The win gave the Steelers the lead in the all-time series with the Browns. After going 4-for-10 for 34 yards and throwing an interception, Cleveland starting quarterback Charlie Frye was benched and traded to Seattle two days later.

No. 8: Nov. 13, 2005 — Steelers 34, Browns 21
Stepping up in place of an injured Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh native Charlie Batch guided the Steelers to a win over Cleveland on Sunday Night Football. Batch finished 13-of-19 for 150 yards and ran for a score. Ward hauled in eight passes for 124 yards — including a 51-yard wide receiver reverse touchdown pass from Antwaan Randle El, a play the Steelers would use again in February to win Super Bowl XL over Seattle.

No. 7: Sept. 14, 2008 — Steelers 10, Browns 6
After finishing the 2007 season with a surprising 10-6 record and narrowly missing the playoffs, Cleveland entered the ’08 season confident it could challenge Pittsburgh for AFC North supremacy. The Browns had a chance to prove it with the nation watching on Sunday Night Football in week 2. With the two teams forced to battle 40-mile-per-hour winds in Cleveland, points were at a premium. Roethlisberger found Ward for an 11-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and Jeff Reed added a field goal with 7:58 to play in the third. Pittsburgh’s defense limited the Browns to 208 yards — including just 53 on the ground. Cleveland managed just two Phil Dawson field goals as the Steelers came away victorious.

No. 6: Dec. 24, 2005 — Steelers 41, Browns 0
The Steelers delivered the Browns a lump of coal on Christmas Eve in 2005 as Pittsburgh throttled Cleveland in a 41-0 shutout on the shores of Lake Erie. Roethlisberger passed for 226 yards and a touchdown, Parker ran for 130 yards and a score and former Brown Quincy Morgan even got into the act by hauling in a 31-yard garbage-time touchdown from Batch to rub salt in Cleveland’s wound. The highlight of the day was Harrison body slamming an inebriated Browns fan to the grass after the gentleman foolishly decided to run onto the field and into the Steelers’ defensive huddle to talk smack. Arguably the most symbolic moment of this rivalry in recent years.

No. 5: Sept. 29, 2002 — Steelers 16, Browns 13 (OT)
Sitting at 0-2 entering week 4, the Steelers were in desperate need of a win as the Browns came to Heinz Field. Cleveland broke a six-all tie to start the fourth quarter as Jamel White scored from four yards out to give the Browns a 13-6 edge. Stewart’s struggles through the first two games of the 2002 season continued. He had the Steelers driving for a score on the ensuing possession but threw an interception to Robert Griffith, which effectively ended his career as Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback. Bill Cowher turned to Maddox, his backup quarterback who had taken a journeyman’s road back to the NFL after briefly selling insurance and playing in both the XFL and Arena League before suiting back up. After Cleveland’s offense stalled on its next drive, Maddox connected with Burress for a 10-yard touchdown with 2:05 left, sending the contest to overtime. Pittsburgh won the coin toss and received the overtime kickoff, but Maddox promptly threw an interception to André Davis on the first play of the extra period, giving the Browns the football on the Steelers’ 34. Cleveland could not pick up a first down and was forced to settle for a 45-yard Dawson field goal attempt, which fell short, giving Pittsburgh new life. On the ensuing drive, Maddox completed five passes to drive the Steelers to the Cleveland six. On 2nd-and-6, Cowher sent kicker Todd Peterson out to try a 24-yard field goal to win the game. Peterson’s try was blocked by Cleveland, but John Fiala recovered the ball for the Steelers at the 13. Peterson then knocked down a 31-yard field down on third down to give Pittsburgh a wild win.

No. 4: Sept. 7, 2014 — Steelers 30, Browns 27
The Steelers scored 24 unanswered points in the first half to take a 27-3 lead into halftime of game one of the 2014 season. LeGarrette Blount ran for a seven-yard score, Roethlisberger hit Brown for a 35-yard touchdown and Bell rumbled for 38-yard touchdown. To add insult to injury, Brown even karate kicked Cleveland punter Spencer Lanning in the face on a 36-yard punt return in the second quarter (another symbolic moment in this rivalry). The Browns did not go quietly, though, stunning the Heinz Field crowd by scoring 24 unanswered to tie the game after a pair of Isaiah Crowell touchdown runs and a touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer to Travis Benjamin. The Steelers and the Browns traded four-straight punts until Pittsburgh got the ball back with 47 seconds to go. Roethlisberger found Markus Wheaton for gains of 11 and 20 yards to put the ball on the Cleveland 24, setting up Shaun Suisham for a 41-yard game winning field goal.

No. 3: Nov. 11, 2007 — Steelers 31, Browns 28
This exciting win at Heinz Field helped the Steelers clinch to the 2007 AFC North crown in their first season under the leadership of Tomlin. Pittsburgh had to rally back from a 21-6 second-quarter deficit after Derek Anderson threw three first-half touchdown passes to Kellen Winslow, Lawerence Vickers and Braylon Edwards. Roethlisberger pulled the Steelers to within five after finding Ward for a 12-yard third-quarter touchdown, then gave Pittsburgh a 24-21 lead by scrambling 30 yards for a go-ahead score in the fourth. On the ensuing kickoff, Cleveland returner Joshua Cribbs dropped the football, picked it up, dusted it off and raced 100 yards for a touchdown to put the Browns back in front, 28-24, with 11:14 to go. The Steelers got the ball back, and Roethlisberger calmly drove them 78 yards in 14 plays on a drive that covered 8:01 and ended in a two-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller to put Pittsburgh back in control. Pittsburgh’s defense forced Cleveland to three-and-out on the next drive, but the Steelers had to give the ball back to the Browns after Cleveland made Pittsburgh punt with two minutes left. Anderson found Joe Jurevicius for 16 yards and Winslow for 13 as the Browns drove to the Pittsburgh 35. Facing a 4th-and-7 with 10 seconds left, Cleveland sent Dawson on to a try a game tying 52-yard field goal, but his try came up short and the Steelers came away with a big come-from-behind win.

No. 2: Jan. 5, 2002 — Steelers 36, Browns 33 (AFC Wild Card Playoff)
The only playoff matchup between the Steelers and Browns since Cleveland’s return to the NFL was insane. The Browns sent many fair-weather Steelers fans scampering for the Heinz Field exits in the third quarter when Dennis Northcutt hauled in a 15-yard touchdown pass from Kelly Holcomb to give Cleveland a stunning 24-7 lead over Pittsburgh. But wait! As I stated earlier, Browns gonna Browns. Maddox cut Cleveland’s lead to 10 with a six-yard touchdown pass to Burress. A 24-yard Dawson field goal gave the Browns a 13-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but Maddox connected with Jerame Tuman for a three-yard scoring strike on the next drive to make it a 10-point game again. Unfortunately, Holcomb threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Andre’ Davis on Cleveland’s ensuing drive to give the Browns a 33-21 lead. Perhaps Browns were not going to Browns? Think again! Maddox and the Steelers put together a 10-play, 77-yard drive in just 2:24, culminating in a five-yard touchdown pass to Ward to make it a five-point game. At this point, the schlubs who abandoned the Steelers in the third quarter were trying to bust back into Heinz Field to witness an epic comeback. Pittsburgh’s defense forced Cleveland to punt on the next drive with 2:35 to go. Maddox calmly guided the Steelers back down the field by completing passes of 24 yards to Burress, 10 yards to Ward, 17 yards to Burress and seven yards to Ward. That set the stage for a three-yard touchdown run right up the gut by Fuamatu-Ma’afala to give the Steelers a one-point edge with 58 seconds left. Cowher opted to go for two, and the Steelers took a three-point lead when Randle El completed a two-point conversion pass to Tuman. Cleveland got the ball back at its own 24 with 50 seconds left, and Holcomb could only manage to get them to the Pittsburgh 29 as time ran out, sealing an improbable win for the Steelers. It is my hope that this game continues to cause psychological harm to Cleveland fans to this day.

No. 1: Sept. 12, 1999 — Steelers 43, Browns 0
Admittedly, it was difficult for me to rank the playoff win No. 2 on this list. However, I just had to give the No. 1 nod to the game that (re)started it all with these bitter, old AFC rivals. Sept. 12, 1999. The city of Cleveland was unbelievably hyped. The Browns were back after a three-year absence! The first game was against the rival Steelers on Sunday Night Football in a brand-new stadium! Drew Carey was in the house! All the Steelers proceeded to do was absolutely stomp the Browns on their opening night party. Richard Huntley was the star of the show, scoring three touchdowns as Pittsburgh blanked Cleveland in a 43-point shellacking. Yes, the Browns were back. But, the Steelers were also back, to dominating their turnpike rivals on a regular basis.

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