Downing the Browns and Eyeing the Broncos: A Week 17 Analysis and Wild Card Preview

The regular season is officially over, and what better way to end it than with yet another win over Cleveland, as the Steelers took down the Browns 13-9.

The team’s performance was a little shaky, but also pretty typical for a team that was banged up, and for the most part, checked out. Given that the Bengals couldn’t help but avoid their inevitable ability to choke when it mattered, this game had little actual relevance, and merely helped the team secure a 12-4 record for the season.

There wasn’t much to take away from the game itself. While many have been sounding the alarm that the knee injury Rashard Mendenhall sustained in the game is a severe blow to the team’s playoff hopes, anyone that’s watched this team knows he hasn’t been particularly effective this year.

After putting up back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, he fell to just 928 yards this year, while averaging just 4.1 yards a carry. Isaac Redman has undoubtedly been the better running back this season, and this injury just cements the fact that Mendenhall will most likely not return to Pittsburgh when his contract is up next year.

Despite his two costly fumbles, Redman looked good in this game, and he is certainly capable of filling in for this playoff run. The bigger concern is whether he can sustain a starter’s workload, but so long as the team can get Mewelde Moore healthy to spell him, then they should be just fine at running back. If the team is forced to continue to use unknowns like John Clay behind him, they might be in some trouble, but it looks as if everything should be ok.

Ben looked shaky early, but seemed to be rounding into form by the end of the game. He was still erratic on deep throws, but that’s hardly anything new for this season.

The defense played well enough, although they seemed to lose focus at times, at least until the Browns reached the red zone. Otherwise, the secondary smothered Cleveland’s putrid receiving corps, and was able to get decent pressure on Seneca Wallace.

Since there isn’t much to take away from this game, it seems more pertinent to focus on the upcoming playoff game against Denver.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I wanted a first round bye and the division crown as much as anyone, but a visit to the slumping Broncos is a decent consolation prize.

The Tim Tebow experiment seems to be finally running out of steam now that the fans have realized the harsh truth that Tebow is, indeed, not a quarterback. Last I checked, being able to complete a pass more than five yards downfield is a pretty big part of playing under center, and Tebow doesn’t seem capable of doing so.

Moreover, while the Broncos’ defense was a major contributor to their recent success, they haven’t been the same recently. Von Miller’s hand injury has slowed him considerably, and the rest of the defense seems tired. They’ve slipped to the bottom half of the league in both passing and rushing yards allowed after previously performing extremely well in both categories.

The most concerning element of the team has to be the running game. Willis McGahee has found the fountain of youth in Denver, and their solid offensive line has enabled them to run more than any other team in football. However, with a passing game that is barely functional, the Steelers should be content to put eight in the box on every play and dare Tebow and his motley crew of receivers to beat them.

Troy played a fair amount on the line in this last Cleveland game, and you should expect a lot more of the same against the Broncos. If he plays like we know he can, he should be the deciding force in disrupting that run game and flustering Tebow.

It’s certainly concerning that Ryan Clark will have to sit out, but the team was certainly prepared for this eventuality, and Ryan Mundy has been an able back up so far this year. Denver’s receivers shouldn’t pose much of a challenge anyway, so if Clark had to miss a game against any team, this is hardly poor timing.

Personally, I can’t wait for this game. The Steelers have a sizable advantage, and I look forward to show Tebow what a real NFL defense looks like as he’s knocked out of the playoffs.

The bigger issue is that team’s fate once again has far too much to do with the Bengals. Cincinnati will be facing off against the injury plagued Texans, and should be able to win that match up. So long as Pittsburgh advances, that would set up a match up with Baltimore in the second round, which is far too soon for my liking.

Instead, I’d love to see Houston win and give the Steelers another shot at the vulnerable Patriots, and postpone a game against the Ravens to the AFC title round.

So, I return to the more familiar refrain of “Boo Bengals!” and await the action in Denver.

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