Battle of the Backups: Steelers/Browns Game Recap

Don’t mess with our backup…

The personnel for today’s match was in doubt well into the week, but the smart money was on Landry Jones starting for the Steelers. The surprise was his backup—Ben Roethlisberger was dressed in the stead of a healthy but unrehearsed Michael Vick.

Josh McCown was the purported starter all week for the Browns, right up until he wasn’t, and backup Johnny Manziel got the start.

As anyone reading this is doubtless aware, Landry Jones played for what might generously be called two series. A short pass to Roosevelt Nix—surely someone the Browns hadn’t given a great deal of thought to—gained 11 yards, but after that it was two stuffed runs, a short pass, and a punt.

The Steelers defense was having none of that, and got the ball back on Manziel’s first pass attempt. This was another three and out, but in field goal range. In the meantime, Armonty Bryant shoved Marcus Gilbert right onto Landry Jones’ foot, and the Steelers kicked the field goal as another injured quarterback limped off the field.

The cameras immediately panned to Roethlisberger, who leapt up off the bench like a superannuated war horse who hears the bugle and starts warming up. In the meantime, those of us who live in our fears either stepped up their consumption of their anti-anxiety liquid of choice or just buried their head in their hands. I was one of the latter. I did not see this ending well. As Homer commented before the game:

There’s no need for a write-up before this game, because we all know that the Browns are lousy, that they match up well against the Steelers, and that the Steelers give us heartburn in every game that looks easy on paper. Sooo, get out the Tums and the nitro and let’s get ready for some fooop-bawwwwl. 

But end well it did. This was due in great part to a Cleveland team who seemed determined to present Pittsburgh with the game, gift-wrapped, no matter how much Pittsburgh might attempt to refuse the gift.

But the real story of the day, as the title indicates, was the play of the “back-ups.” Johnny Manziel made a few rookie mistakes, like, say, his first pass attempt of the game. But he played quite well overall, using the Oakland template to burn the Steelers defense for a lot of big gains, including a 61-yard pass play on their first real series, the most Cleveland has managed all year.

If I’m Coach Pettine, I would have a hard time justifying putting McCown back in. Manziel at least has the virtue of being exciting, and it’s possible he will develop enough with game experience to give Cleveland a fighting chance next season.

In the meantime, Ben is in. He was just the backup, but he did okay. By the end of the fourth quarter he had accumulated enough passing yards to set an NFL record for the most yards ever by a quarterback who didn’t start the game. It was only his second time as a backup. The first was at the beginning of his rookie season, when he came into a game after Tommie Maddox was injured and never looked back.

Roethlisberger also looked pretty good for a backup. He wasn’t as mobile as usual, but fortunately he was mobile enough against an ineffective Cleveland pass rush. He needed to be, too, as Cleveland sold out to stop the run. It is scarcely surprising that this would have been the game plan under the circumstances. But you would think Cleveland’s defensive coordinator might have made some adjustments at half-time, at any rate, under the circumstances.

Pittsburgh finally got a running game going near the end of the game, when a completely dispirited defensive allowed DeAngelo Williams and finally Jordan Todman to gain some yards. Prior to that point, rushing yards were thin on the ground on both sides—at 3:20 left in the 2nd quarter Williams had -3 yards rushing, on five attempts. Cleveland was worse, with -8 yards on four attempts. Both teams managed to pull into positive territory by halftime, with Williams getting six yards on two carries. He almost didn’t get the positive yardage, as the ball was popped out by a defender on the final three-yard run. Fortunately Heath Miller came in like Superman and recovered the ball before the Cleveland defenders could get to it.

So DeAngelo Williams ended the game with 54 yards, and he certainly earned them. He was pulled near the end of the game, and Jordan Todman got two carries for eight yards. But Williams had already done the heavy lifting. Cleveland didn’t fare any better in the second half. The final tally for rushing yards for persons other than Manziel was -2. Manziel had 17 yards in three rushes.

So how determined was Cleveland to not win this game? Well, by my count there were at least four touchdowns nullified by penalties or other dumb stuff. Their young kicker, who has been perfect this year, missed an extra point. The number of turnovers was crazy. The fumble on the first Cleveland play of the game was only the start. Manziel only threw one interception (but that was in the end zone.) However, there was another forced and recovered fumble.

This was after a Steelers touchdown. After Chris Boswell kicked a touchback, the Browns set up at the PIT 20, Johnny Manziel throws a pass to Andrew Hawkins, and he fumbles it as he’s being brought down. Jarvis Jones, who had a pretty disruptive game, recovered the ball. Maybe Keith Butler should rethink taking Jones’ snaps away and giving them to James Harrison. At least let’s see what we’ve got in this guy.

There was also the infamous Karlos Dansby penalty which negated a field goal, gave the Steelers the ball at the 4-yard line, and resulted in an Antonio Brown touchdown instead. Altogether Cleveland committed a boatload of penalties, a few of which were declined. But they still ended up with—get ready for this, because it’s crazy—12 penalties for 188 yards.

It makes you wonder whether a) they don’t like Pettine and are trying to get him fired, b) they have been told to lose out for the year so the Browns get the top pick, or c) they all had substantial money on the Steelers in this game. Or perhaps they are just bad. I hope not. Any of the other explanations would be more interesting.

I thought it was also interesting that Cleveland didn’t bother to use any of their timeouts towards the end of the game, not even when there were five or six minutes left on the clock. Yes, it was a heck of a lot of ground to make up, and the likelihood of them doing so was almost zero, but don’t you at least have to try?

But the Steelers’ offense was also in a giving mood today. Perhaps it was the upcoming bye week which messed with their focus. But Martavis Bryant made a beautiful catch on the sidelines for a long gain which would have been fabulous if he had just run out of bounds. Instead he tried to cut back in and the ball was stripped. Ben threw an interception which was strictly unnecessary. There were a few other opportunities to screw up, but the Steelers managed to step back right at the edge of the abyss.

And how about that Jacoby Jones? Does he have a secret mandate from the Ravens? He couldn’t have looked worse if he did. In fact, he probably would have looked better, as he would have had to try to make it look accidental. I know the Cleveland special teams unit is good, but this had nothing to do with them. He muffed two catches, dropped one on his way out of the endzone, and generally looked as if he had never done this before. The total yardage gained? 1 yard. And it was lucky it was a positive figure. Maybe my Dri Archer article from this morning is going to be moot, because maybe someone from the Steelers is going to be dispatched to Archer’s home to beg him to come back. This should be interesting. If Jones isn’t cut tomorrow I really want to know why.

This was an ugly, ugly game, with some exquisitely beautiful moments. My favorite moment was when Ben walked off the field at the end of it, all by himself, with no cart waiting. Actually, the kneel-downs before that were beautiful as well. I say kudos to Mike Tomlin for not attempting to score from the one-yard line with Cleveland down 30-9. I think he just felt blessed to get out of the stadium with a win and at least one functioning quarterback.

My second favorite had to be the Antonio Brown touchdown where he stuck the dismount. It was perfect, and gorgeous. If he isn’t the most exciting player in the NFL, he’s certainly in the top ten list.

Before we get into Homer’s comments, I have one further suggestion for the Steelers. Perhaps Landry Jones and Ben Roethlisberger should alternate being the backup and coming in off the bench. They certainly seem to play well from that scenario…

Here’s some of Homer’s commentary, in italics:

(12:31, Q1) Berry with 42 yard punt and no return to CLE 22.

Oh, dear God. Let’s stuff them and get the D off to a good start.

Woop….woop….woop….that got ball got all SLIPPY in Johnny Foop-bawwl’s dainty fingers. Moats picks it out of the air, and returns to the 13.

(11:06) Jones hurt. Limping off the field. 

Gilbert kills another teammate.

Boswell with FG. Jeez, is anything EVER easy with these guys?

(8:09) Travis Coons with 23 yd FG.  3-3. It’s never easy. 

(8:06) And then ALONG CAME BEN!!!

Ben with nice pass deep to Bryant TO 24. Led him perfectly. Bryant nearly broke it, but a shoestring tackle cost the TD.

Quick pass knocked down at LOS. Steelers have been very, very weak at the LOS. 

Boswell 34 yd attempt. Good.  

(:16) Timmons makes big stop on DJJ on 3rd and 11. Open field tackle saves first down.

Jacoby Jones drops the punt and recovers. Twitter from Dri Archer: “Miss me yet?”

So far, the OL has been dreadful. The only thing they’ve been able to take out is their own starting QB.

(9:33, Q2) Moats face mask on Manziel. 15 yards.  Just awful. Tried to remove his head. 

3rd and 7 from 39. Dupree and timmons and JJones bring it. Timmons with sack.

Now here comes Jacoby’s flying circus. He holds it at the 7.

(3:32) AB for the TD!!!

Ben to AB for TWO….. 14-3.  Mike Tomlin goes for two because he chooses not to live in his fears. 

(3:27) Browns first down pass complete…..FUMMM-BLLLLLE – Will Allen with the strip and Jarvis Jones with the recovery. At the 34.

(:42) TD to Martavis Bryant. He’s been open all day!!!! He beat Gibson like a rented mule. Although a rented mule could do a better job covering Bryant.  21-3.

So the cripple is 18 for 23 for 286 and 2 TD’s in the first half. Not bad.

(:37) Manziel runs delay…but almost hands off to a brick wall named Heyward.

Second half.

So we’re stuck again with Dan Fouts and that Ian Eagle or Giant Eagle or whatever his name is. And this sideline guy Evan Washburn, who has more 2 and 24 mascara than Tammy Faye Bakker ever had. 

(7:19, Q3) Manziel with two straight completions for first downs, and Mitchell is busy taunting and styling.  Stop it. 1st and 10 at CLE 41

Homer wants Mitchell to get off his lawn… 

(2:26) Manziel absolute magic. Gets away from Heyward and Jones and scrambles all over the place and heads for the goal line. Did he break the plane? Nooo.

First and inches…TD, but they held Arthur Moats and got caught.

First and ten.  Then illegal procedure. First and goal from the 16.

Ryan Damn Shazier with the sack right up the middle with big quickness.

Second and goal from the 25. 

Manziel stops the bleeding with a 6 yard dink and dunk. 3rd and goal from the 18.

Manziel 25 to 30….237 yards in 3 quarters….

3rd and goal from the 19…..12 yards to Hawkins.  4th and 7.

Manziel on 4th down…..CLE holding….Mitchell jumps the route and intercepts and didn’t even celebrate until after play. Returns to 9 yard line.  THAT DRIVE STARTED WITH 8:33 TO PLAY IN THE 3RD QUARTER…AND ENDED WITH 14:02 REMAINING IN 4TH QUARTER. IT TOOK UP 9:31 AND GOT NO POINTS.  That’s a really good way to keep Ben healthy.

(12:28, Q4) Jacoby Jones fumbles KO, and it hits the pylon. Touchback. Dri Archer, we hardly knew ye. 

(9:07) Manziel dinks and dunks down the field…using up time….gaining chunks of yards.

Allen makes huge but clean 4th down hit at 6 yard line. Real question about whether Gabriel broke the 5yd line for first down. Call is that he did. 

Benjamin drops sure TD on goal line… Saw Timmons.  3rd and goal from the 5.

Timing pattern to Benjamin, double covered and no way to get into corner. 4th and 5.

Mitchell defends Barnidge … great coverage….. they turn the ball over.

(2:56) D-Will up the middle for 12 and another first down.  Jordan Todman in for D-Will, who can take the rest of the afternoon off. Loafer.

Todman up the middle for two.  Two minute warning. 

With 1:16 left, AB draws pass interference.

Take the knee. 

HOMER’S REPORT CARD:  Like the Special Olympics, everybody gets a prize, except Jacoby Jones. 

Quarterback: Ben sets NFL record for most yardage in a game by a backup. A+.

Running Backs: D-Will got no blocking in first half. Ran well in the second half. B.

Wide Receivers: The Browns’ game plan was to stop the run and force Landry Jones to beat them through the air. But they had to deal with Ben, who had no trouble finding AB and Bryant, and racked up 379 yards passing and more than 100 more yards in pass interference penalties. AB and Bryant badly abused Cleveland’s defenders. A+

Tight Ends: They blocked. Did fine. Didn’t get beat on pass pro. B.

Offensive Line: Good pass pro. Not much run blocking. Kept Ben alive. Which is more than I can say about Marcus Gilbert and Landry Jones, but that worked out well. C+

Special Teams: Jacoby Jones was awful. Boswell missed a PAT. But the punter and coverage units were excellent. D.

Defensive Line: Tuitt and Heyward put huge pressure on Manziel. McLendon and Shade Tree were excellent also. Cleveland had no running game at all. A-

Linebackers: They weren’t spectacular, but they did job all afternoon. Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones recovered fumbles. B.

Defensive Backs: Mitchell had an outstanding game, as did Allen. They were solid in the “bend, don’t break” department. B+

Coaching: Played perfectly the hand they were dealt. A. The best move of the day was activating Roethlisberger. From then on, they were playing with the house’s money.

Life is good. 

Momma’s Kind and Caring Report Card:

Effort: I’m sort of feeling like Homer. The defense gave up a lot of yards. The offense did some dumb stuff. But the Browns helped them out, and they are going into the bye week at 6-4. Well done, guys!

Citizenship: Arthur Moats sure doesn’t get it. He almost ripped Johnny Manziel’s head off. It has to go to Mike Tomlin, for not further humiliating the Browns at the end of the game. The fact it also reduced the chances of Ben getting further injured was just the icing on the cake.

Work Ethic: Has to be Antonio Brown. What with all the other work he does, he’s been practicing that flip into the endzone. Part of me wants to say “Don’t take the chance you’ll get injured and lose the ball”. Part of me watched in sheer delight. The latter won.


  • It’s a credit to Colbert that the team had such a steady, veteran backup QB for Jones. Some complained that he was a bit pricey or injury prone, but I KNEW he’d be able to step in when needed.


    • Absolutely. Sometimes it only makes sense to lay out the money for the very best. Now if we could get another guy like that to back HIM up, that would be even better…


  • I’m happy that our only apparent injury was to LanJo. Rest everybody up. Coach up the defense and hope we can go 5-1 or 4-2.

    I cannot understand why Ben didn’t start. He looked much better than he should have one week post-big-man-falling-on-his-foot. Anyway a win is a win. After we can Jones and Archer refuses to come back, where do we get our next return guy. Anybody up for a throwback? How about Dwight (Hands of) Stone?


    • I understand perfectly (or so I believe : ) It was the Browns. As Tunch Ilkin says, they will be smelling blood in the water. The Browns have roughed Ben up pretty good in the past, and they are pretty bad this year. (After today I would say “really bad.”) They know they aren’t going anywhere, but they surely wouldn’t mind taking the Steelers down with them. And assuming Landry could do enough to win the game, Ben has three weeks to further heal. If Landry is screwing it up you pull him and send Ben out. Win win…


    • i really hope ‘LanJo’ doesn’t become a thing.

      Liked by 1 person

    • As for the returner bit, why not Jordan Todman? He surely can’t be worse than Jacoby Jones has been.


  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    I know this is wrong of me but I pity Browns fans. Their team really should be better than it is performing. I hope this coach gets a second season to show he can’t right the sinking ship that is the Browns.


    • I totally agree, COSF. Watching the Factory of Sadness video makes me think of what it must be like to be a fan of a team that is so bad for so long. Sort of like being a Pirates fan after 1991. Every year there is the excitement of the draft and free agency and then the season actually starts and your dreams are ripped out of your chest. But it made it all the sweeter for those fans who stuck it out when the Pirates finally turned it around. Surely, somehow, the Browns will manage to do so one day. And then we’ll be lamenting that they aren’t an automatic W on the schedule anymore…


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