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10-13-2010, 02:21 AM
Ben Roethlisberger's return a boost for Pittsburgh Steelers against Browns: Tony Grossi's Scouting Report
Published: Tuesday, October 12, 2010, 7:13 PM Updated: Tuesday, October 12, 2010, 7:18 PM
Tony Grossi, The Plain Dealer
http://www.cleveland.com/browns/index.s ... n_a_b.html (http://www.cleveland.com/browns/index.ssf/2010/10/ben_roethlisbergers_return_a_b.html)

BEREA, Ohio -- Defensively, the Pittsburgh Steelers are first in points allowed (50 in four games) and first in fewest rushing yards allowed (62.3 per game). The longest run against them is 12 yards. The most any back has totaled on them this year is 42.

Their pass rush is fierce and unpredictable. Their tackling is sure and punishing.


And the sky is blue. And the sun will come up tomorrow.

No, what's news in Pittsburgh this week is not the typically smothering performance of the Steelers' defense. It is the return to the field of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after a four-week NFL suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

As the Browns' luck would have it, Roethlisberger's original six-week suspension was reduced by two weeks by Commissioner Roger Goodell. It enabled him to not only make his 2010 debut against the Browns, but to do so after a week of extra practice with his teammates during the team's bye week.

Roethlisberger was barred from entering the Steelers' facility during the four-week suspension. He used that time to work out with his personal quarterback coach at a local high school.

Teammates and coaches were impressed with Roethlisberger's physical condition and throwing sharpness when he returned last week. It was verification, to them, that Roethlisberger was not just giving lip service when he vowed to make up for his off-field indiscretions by leading the team to the Super Bowl this year.

But he doesn't expect the excitement he holds for his return to have a pronounced impact on his teammates when the Browns arrive Sunday in Heinz Field.

"I'm excited," Roethlisberger told reporters in Pittsburgh this week. "If you have to use me coming back as motivation against the Cleveland Browns, we've got something going on, something wrong. It's a divisional game, an AFC North game. That's all the motivation any of us need, I think."
bigben-sack-bernard-to-vert.jpgThomas Ondrey / The Plain DealerBen Roethlisberger certainly hasn't forgotten last year's loss to the Browns in Cleveland, and he's full of praise for this year's defense. "They play as a group, they play as a unit and they do it at a really high level," he said.

Roethlisberger's motivation, other than to kick off his comeback on a winning note, comes from avenging his only loss to the Browns in 11 meetings. The Browns sacked Roethlisberger eight times under the lights and kept the Steelers out of the end zone in a 13-6 win in Cleveland on Dec. 10.

The game-time temperature of 15 degrees and wind-chill of minus-6 made it the coldest Browns-Steelers game in 116 meetings (counting playoffs).

The Cleveland win broke a 12-game losing streak to the Steelers and effectively knocked them out of the AFC playoffs. They won their last three games and did not qualify for postseason with a 9-7 record.

"They got after us," Roethlisberger said. "I never use excuses but I don't think the weather helped. You didn't see guys warming up. I was one. I warmed up in the tunnel. We didn't go out and warm up.

"That's not the excuse. The excuse is once we got on the field they just kicked our butt, point blank. Our preparation before the game wasn't where it needed to be and theirs probably was, and they came out and flat out beat us."

The Steelers had three practices during their bye, but did not work on the Browns. That starts Wednesday. Roethlisberger said he made a point of watching the Browns' 20-10 loss to Atlanta on Sunday.

"You know what? They're a lot better team than people assume and give them credit for," he said. "They do a lot of different things on defense, a lot of different looks and blitzes and schemes that kind of keep you on your heels. You gotta be ready for it."

At the time of Roethlisberger's comments, he was unaware that both Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace probably would miss the game with ankle injuries and Colt McCoy might make his first NFL start.

He sounded impressed with the 1-4 Browns.

"You sit there and look and you say, 'OK, you get Jake Delhomme.' And then he gets hurt. 'OK, you lose your starting quarterback, what do you have?' Well, Seneca Wallace has done an exceptional job," he said.

"Their defense, if you ask the random person on the street who's their best defensive player, I don't think they know many names over there, and that's kind of been their M.O. They play as a group, they play as a unit and they do it at a really high level. There's a lot of fire, a lot of intensity from those guys and their play shows it right now."

TONY GROSSI'S SCOUTING REPORT

Browns vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Sunday, 1 p.m. in Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Record: 3-1

Last game: Lost to Ravens, 17-14, Oct. 3, in Pittsburgh.

Coach: Mike Tomlin, 34-18, fourth year.

Series record: Steelers lead, 60-56 (counting postseason).

Last meeting: Browns won, 13-6, Dec. 10, in Cleveland.

League rankings: Offense is 29th (eighth rushing, 32nd passing), defense is fourth (first rushing, 20th passing) and turnover differential is plus-7.

Offensive overview: In four games without Ben Roethlisberger, they ran 53 percent and passed 47 percent. With Ben last year, that ratio was 40-to-60. Three factors contributed to coordinator Bruce Arians' conservatism -- Ben's absence, different offensive line combinations and the emergence of rookie center Maurkice Pouncey. The No. 1 pick is stout up the middle and with hard-running Rashard Mendenhall apparently cured of his fumbleitis, the team rediscovered its power running game and may not be too anxious to give it up. The biggest beneficiaries of Ben's return are his favorite targets -- receiver Hines Ward and tight end Heath Miller. They combined for only 22 receptions and one TD without Ben. Long-ball threat Mike Wallace (23.4-yard average) has replaced Santonio Holmes. Wallace commonly runs past DBs, but doesn't run the inside routes or make the catches that Holmes did.
polamalu-pick-horiz-tenn-ap.jpgFrederick Breedon / Associated PressHealthy once again, Troy Polamalu once again leads a Steelers defense that seems as tough as any in recent memory.

Defensive overview: As good as they've been in recent years. They're limiting opponents to 2.6 yards per rush and 9.6 yards per reception. Longest run has been 12 yards. The most rushing yards so far was 42 posted by Atlanta's Michael Turner. Carnell Williams had 13, Chris Johnson 34 and Ray Rice 20. But they weren't able to defend their field at the end vs. Baltimore, and that's why they are not undefeated. Joe Flacco completed 4-of-4 for 40 yards and the winning TD in their last game. Big differences since Browns beat them in December is the return to full health of underrated defensive end Aaron Smith and safety Troy Polamalu. Outside rushers LaMarr Woodley (two sacks) and James Harrison (three) are terrors, of course. But the upgraded play of inside linebacker Lonnie Timmons has been noticeable and disruptive. Coordinator Dick LeBeau adds a new wrinkle every year. One new feature has ends Smith and Brett Keisel playing from a two-point stance in some sub defenses, further shrouding LeBeau's myriad blitz schemes.

Special teams overview: Scorched for four kickoff return TDs last year, the coverage units have been bolstered by the addition in free agency of former special teams captains Arnez Battle and Will Allen. As a result, the average drive start of opponents after kickoffs (22.6-yard line) is fifth-best in the NFL. Kicker Jeff Reed has missed four of seven field goals at home and is 8-of-12 overall with a long of 52 yards. Punter Dan Sepulveda is second in gross average (47.9 yards) and second in net (40.5). Antonio Brown has a kickoff return average of 31.3 yards and has a 89-yard touchdown return.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
harrison-farrior-08-horiz-ap.jpgTony Tribble / Associated PressJames Harrison (92) and James Farrior continue to be a dynamic playmaking tandem in the Steelers defense.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger: He'll be making his 2010 debut after serving a four-game NFL suspension for violating the league personal conduct policy. He's 10-1 vs. Browns after losing on Dec. 10, and 14-6 against other AFC North teams.

Safety Troy Polamalu: A true NFL MVP candidate when healthy, he leads the team with two interceptions (one in the end zone), but has yet to record a sack, quarterback pressure or forced fumble.

Linebacker James Harrison: The 2008 NFL defensive player of the year leads the team with three sacks, eight quarterback pressures and three forced fumbles.

Injury report: NT Chris Hoke (knee) missed the last two games and QB Byron Leftwich (knee) missed the last three.

Small world: Former coaches with the Browns include LB coach Keith Butler (1999-2002), offensive coordinator Bruce Arians (2001-03) and Assistant Head Coach/DL John Mitchell (1991-93). ... Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is from London, Ohio, and played for Ohio State. ... Quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner is from Cleveland. ... LB James Harrison is from Akron, attended Coventry High School and played at Kent State. ... QB Ben Roethlisberger is from Findlay, attended Findlay High School and played collegiately at Miami (Ohio). ... DB Will Allen is a native of Dayton, attended Wayne High School and played at Ohio State. ... LB Thaddeus Gibson is from Euclid, attended Euclid High School and played at Ohio State. ... DB Anthony Madison spent six weeks on the Browns' active roster last season. .. DL Nick Eason spent parts of 2004 and the entire 2005-06 seasons with the Browns.

-- Tony Grossi