The Cleveland Fumble Disaster: A Week 12 Analysis

Eight turnovers; that’s the only stat that really matters from Sunday’s horrific game between the Steelers and the Browns.

I don’t believe I’ve witnessed a more poorly played game in all my years of watching football, and considering how badly the Steelers needed this win, it’s hard for a loss to get more depressing than this.

The game really had everything possible that makes a game terrible: turnovers by the dozens, over 150 penalty yards, countless injuries and two offenses that barely combined to eclipse 500 yards.

There’s no question that there is a good team buried somewhere in this current incarnation of the Steelers, especially given the play of the defense, but it certainly wasn’t on display in Cleveland.

Many observers will be quick to write off the loss as a result of a “better than you might think” Browns team and the third string quarterback starting the game for Pittsburgh, but both of these issues miss what really went on in this game.

Instead, a combination of ineptitude on the part of the running backs and offensive line and some plain old bad luck doomed the Steelers.

Let’s get to the bad luck first. It’s insanely bad luck to have as many injuries on the offensive line coming into the game as the Steelers do in the first place, with Marcus Gilbert, Willie Colon and David DeCastro among the casualties, but to lose right tackle Mike Adams during the game as well is just insane. That forced Kelvin Beachem, nominally a guard, in at tackle, which played a big part in the running game’s absolute incompetence.

There’s also bad luck on the part of the fumbles, as it’s ridiculous that any team would fumble eight times in the first place, but to lose five of them on top of it all is cruel. Sure, you can make the argument that the Steelers’ backs and receivers should’ve held onto the ball better, and this is viable considering that they’ve struggled with fumbles in the last two weeks in particular, but losing the ball this many times is just comically unlucky.

Despite throwing three interceptions, I was really pleased with Charlie Batch’s play. He struggled when he tried to go down the field, but on short and intermediate routes he was excellent and seemed to have real chemistry with Emmanuel Sanders. It’s just a shame that the rest of the offense forced the team to play from behind so often and that Mike Wallace looked lost on the field. The guy was targeted seven times for just one completion, and even caused one interception by tipping the ball rather than making the catch. If he thinks that he’s going to get any kind of contract from the Steelers after the type of abysmal, lackadaisical effort he’s put forth in the last few games, he’s sorely mistaken.

Rather than focus on all these negatives, I would like to highlight how stellar the defense was in this game. It’s not like Cleveland’s got a good offense, but they still held them time and again, with only one score coming off a drive that didn’t begin with a turnover. James Harrison is really starting to look like his old self, recording a sack and nine tackles as he basically lived in the Browns’ backfield.

Ike Taylor absolutely blanketed Greg Little as well, coming perilously close to two interceptions, while Ryan Clark was similarly effective in both coverage and the run game.

In fact, the defense’s play is the only real thing that gives me hope for this upcoming Baltimore game, and really the rest of the season as a whole.

The Ravens struggled to score against a bad San Diego defense, and didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard last week against Pittsburgh’s defense, so I do at least some hope that the defense might be able to contain Baltimore and that Batch will be more competent (and healthy) than Leftwich was should Ben be unable to return.

It’s just the fumbles that can’t continue under any circumstances, and if this game doesn’t serve as a wake up call, I don’t know what will.

Suffice it to say that Mike Tomlin has plenty to be angry about after this week, and let’s just all agree to burn the tape of this game.

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