Big Ben is back, but don’t let his return obscure what it really means.
Run the ball, play defense, and you can do anything you want in the NFL. Forget Carson Palmer. They are the only reasons the 4-1 Steelers are looking like they’re going to run away and hide in the AFC North.
How was the Steelers’ 28-10 win over the Browns on Sunday different than the Bengals’ 23-20 loss in Cleveland two weeks ago? Other than the Browns were on the road and the Steelers faced a better but more inexperienced quarterback?
Roethlisberger threw for three touchdowns and 257 yards. Palmer threw for two touchdowns and 371 yards. Roethlisberger threw a 50-yarder to Mike Wallace and a 36-yarder to tight end Heath Miller. Palmer threw a 78-yarder Terrell Owens and a 42-yarder to wide receiver Chad Ochocinco. Roethlisberger completed 59.3 percent of his passes. Palmer completed 69.4 percent of his passes.
But in between, Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall smashed it 27 times while the Bengals’ Cedric Benson got 15 shots. Mendenhall only got 84 yards while Benson had 60 in his, which proves the theorem even if you can’t run it, keep running it.
Plus, the Steelers allowed Browns running back Peyton Hillis just 3.4 yards per carry on 12 carries. The Bengals had the same kind of numbers and gave him just 3.7. But he had those 27 carries against them and was able to deliver the coup de grace with a 24-yard run that took the clock for good. The biggest run Hills could manage against Pittsburgh was 14 yards.
The Steelers keep coming up with stops. The Bengals play good but inconsistent defense and are struggling with breakdowns at key moments. At the end of the half in Cleveland for a late field goal, for one, along with Hills’ big run. The same thing happened the next week against Tampa Bay at the end of the game after they played so well much of the afternoon.
Palmer’s numbers have sparked the wrong debate. There are those that want to argue that his skills have diminished even though just two weeks ago they were clearly on display and last week things collapsed around him just 2:28 away from another one of his fourth-quarter comebacks. The real debate seems to be their move away from the Steelers formula that worked for them so well last year and has brought Pittsburgh through the Big Ben crisis into first place.
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