AFC North: Chris Rainey

PITTSBURGH -- He still uses his GPS to make his way around Pittsburgh, but rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier didn’t need nearly as much navigational assistance when he was on the Pittsburgh Steelers practice fields in late May and June.

Shazier started alongside Lawrence Timmons from the outset of offseason practices, and he looked anything but lost despite learning a new defense on the run.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
Joe Sargent/Getty ImagesRookie linebacker Ryan Shazier was a star in minicamp, but will his progress continue when the pads come on?
“He understands concepts very well,” linebackers coach Keith Butler said of the Steelers’ first-round draft pick. “He reminds me a lot of Larry Foote in terms of football intelligence, and he’s a very sharp guy.”

Not that Shazier will be exempt from the requisite rookie growing pains. Or that Butler wouldn’t prefer the Steelers easing the former Ohio State All-American into the NFL.

That is not an option in large part because Shazier’s speed and playmaking ability are both badly needed on a defense that slipped appreciably last season. Shazier, the Steelers’ most significant addition during the offseason, made it look easy at times during offseason practices. He turned in a couple of breathtaking plays, including a leaping interception of a pass that backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski thought he could throw over Shazier in the middle of the field.

The caveat with how good Shazier has looked: the 6-1, 237-pounder has only practiced with the Steelers in shorts. That changes Monday, when the Steelers don the pads at training camp following two non-contact practices.

If Shazier makes the same kind of progress at camp as he did during offseason drills he will start Sept. 7 in the season opener against the visiting Browns.

Here are the four other significant additions that the Steelers made during the offseason.

Offensive line coach Mike Munchak. The Steelers have too often fielded suspect offensive lines under coach Mike Tomlin, though constant injuries up front haven’t helped. A line that came together in the second half of last season will start a pair of former first-round draft picks and two second-round selections. Nobody is more qualified to bring the group together then Munchak. There are no excuses this season -- unless mass injuries consistently scramble the line.

S Mike Mitchell. As with Shazier, the Steelers added speed and a playmaker when they signed Mitchell to a five-year, $25 million contract in March. They badly needed both elements on the back end of their defense, and Mitchell will be a significant upgrade over Ryan Clark at free safety. He has aspirations of becoming one of the best safeties in the NFL, and the Steelers would love to see Mitchell achieve that goal in Pittsburgh.

RB/WR Dri Archer. The Steelers added a bolt of lightning to their offense when they drafted the ultra-fast Archer in the third round. He will return kickoffs and could allow the Steelers to relieve Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown of his duties as the primary punt returner. Archer’s speed and versatility gives offensive coordinator Todd Haley the kind of player he can use to exploit mismatches. If Archer is Chris Rainey 2.0 the Steelers will be more than happy with the investment they have made in the former Kent State star.

OLB Arthur Moats. The former Buffalo Bill has starting experience and versatility and gives the Steelers a promising option should there be injuries or ineffective play at outside linebacker. Moats can also play inside, though the Steelers are pretty deep there, and he is expected to establish himself as a core special-teams player. The importance of depth in the NFL can't be overstated, and the Steelers improved themselves in that area with the signing of Moats.
PITTSBURGH -- Kent State coach Paul Haynes and Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey shared a memory -- and a laugh -- recently when they recalled Dri Archer's 100-yard kickoff return for a Kent State touchdown last season in a game between the Mid-American Conference rivals.

"Dri went down his sideline and [Carey] said he was going so fast and he was just thinking, ‘We are so stupid for kicking to this guy,'" Haynes said. "They were the only team that kicked deep to us. Everybody else pooched."

That anecdote neatly distills why the Pittsburgh Steelers were enamored enough with Archer’s breathtaking speed and big-play ability to draft him in the third round -- yet also why taking him that high might be a luxury they couldn't afford after consecutive 8-8 seasons.

[+] EnlargeDri Archer
AP Photo/G.M. AndrewsThe Steelers hope Kent State's
Dri Archer can cause matchup problems for opposing defenses.
Archer already had been compared to former great kick returners such as Mel Gray and Gerald "Ice Cube" McNeil, and that was just in the Steelers' building.

But since NFL kickers have been able to boom the ball out of the end zone with regularity since kickoffs were moved to the 35-yard line, how much of a weapon will Archer be if teams simply decide to play keep-away?

That is what teams did last season when Archer managed just two kickoff returns for 128 yards and a touchdown. Haynes said Kent State didn’t even bother practicing kickoff returns once it became apparent that opposing teams weren’t going to let Archer beat them in that phase of the game.

Despite his limited opportunities last season, the Steelers placed a premium on Archer as a return man during their pre-draft evaluation of him.

"In my mind, return guys are starters," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. "His kick-return ability is unique. It really is special. Whatever he can add to us offensively, we see some value there."

Where exactly the 5-foot-8, 173-pound Archer fits into the offense remains to be seen. The Steelers feature Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown, and they have an emerging running back (Le'Veon Bell) and a bruising back (newly signed LeGarrette Blount).

"This is a guy that is going to create some unique opportunities for us from a package standpoint in terms of him getting identified," coach Mike Tomlin said. "Is he a running back? Is he a wideout? Regardless of position, I think he’s a playmaker. He's a guy that gets yards in chunks and rings up the scoreboard."

Williams
Blount
Bell
Such talk sounds great in May, but how will it translate in actual games when there are a limited number of snaps and Archer is not a primary option at running back or wide receiver?

"We are all going to work together to make sure this guy is in the right place," running backs coach James Saxon said. "The kid is a special football player with the ball in his hands."

Indeed, Archer rushed for 1,429 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior, leading the country with 8.99 yards per carry. His rushing totals plummeted to 527 yards last season, but much of that can be attributed to the fact that Kent State played him extensively at wide receiver to showcase his versatility to NFL teams.

"I think one of the biggest mistakes we made here is flexing him out," Haynes said. "We needed to keep him at running back just because we could have gotten him more touches. He has great vision, he has great feet, he has great burst -- all the things a good running back needs to be."

That includes strength and toughness.

It is easy to fixate on Archer’s size and speed and label him a gimmick player, but that evaluation doesn't fit. He ran the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.26 seconds) at the NFL scouting combine in February, but Archer also bench-pressed 225 pounds 20 times.

That's only seven shy of the combine bench-press total for defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, the 6-7, 352-pounder the Steelers drafted in the sixth round.

Haynes said Archer is strong and thick enough to absorb a pounding in the NFL, and Tomlin said, “He is not small. He is short.”

It remains to be seen how many touches Archer will get in an offense that returns all but one starter from last season.

Bell averaged 17.2 carries per game in 2013, and he is a legitimate feature back because of his pass-catching abilities. The Steelers also have to find carries for Blount, who as recently as January bulled his way to 166 rushing yards and four touchdowns while leading the Patriots to a playoff victory.

That leaves Archer as a situational player, albeit a unique one, and the Steelers didn’t get favorable results the last time they drafted a ridiculously fast player with plans to use his speed to exploit mismatches.

Chris Rainey, even before he fell out of favor in Pittsburgh because of off-field incidents, didn’t make much of an impact on the offense. In 2012, his only season with the Steelers, the former Florida speedster rushed for 102 yards on 26 carries and caught 14 passes for a mere 60 yards.

There might turn out to be no comparison between Archer and Rainey aside from sheer speed. And one thing Archer won’t have a problem with, Haynes said, is representing the Steelers -- on the field and away from it.

"You think of toughness, you think hard-nose, you think of discipline," Haynes said of the Steelers. "That’s why I think Dri is going to fit in so well there, because a lot of those things are how I would describe him. Besides the football, he’s going to be a great ambassador for that program.

"You don’t have to worry about him off the field. He’s going to work, he’ll study the game, he’ll surround himself with the great pros that are already there and teach him how to be a great pro himself."
videoPITTSBURGH -- The pick: Dri Archer, RB, Kent State

My take: The Steelers added more speed, and arguably the fastest player in the draft, when they took Archer in the third round Friday night. This seems like a little early to take a running back, even one who could add a dynamic element to the offense. Archer is a blur -- running backs coach James Saxon said the Steelers timed him in under 4.2 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine -- but he is also small. Not that the Steelers will ask the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder to shoulder much of a workload. Archer will be used as a situational back as well as a kick returner, and he averaged 7.8 yards per carry last season while also catching 25 passes for 327 yards.

The Steelers tried this two years ago with ultra-fast Chris Rainey, and he was pedestrian even before they cut ties with him due to off-the-field issues. They must think Archer is a much better player, and his versatility and production at Kent State impressed the Steelers as much as his sheer speed. Archer rushed for 2,342 career yards and had 1,194 career receiving yards while also starring as a return specialist for the Golden Flashes. He should at least make an impact in the return game as a rookie.

Still waiting: Who would have guessed this? Two days and three rounds into the draft, the Steelers have yet to take a cornerback or a wide receiver. They have addressed inside linebacker, defensive end and running back, with only the middle position qualifying as one of serious need. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said he is not worried about the Steelers' depth at cornerback. "I feel good about the cornerbacks that we have, and we have more numbers there than people realize," LeBeau said. "We may have great players in the building; they just haven’t had the chance to show us they are greater."

What’s next: The Steelers will be plenty busy Saturday. They have one pick in the fourth round -- which starts at noon -- two in the fifth, two in the sixth and one in the seventh. The Steelers have made some late-round finds in recent years, getting wide receiver Antonio Brown, left tackle Kelvin Beachum and linebacker Vince Williams in the sixth round or later since 2010.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each AFC North team look at running back, and what still needs to be done?

Baltimore Ravens: Ray Rice is only 26, but he has taken a lot of hits. Although he put together a fantastic season, as usual, in 2012, he looked worn down late in the year and during the Ravens’ Super Bowl run. He has four straight regular seasons with more than 250 carries and has caught at least 61 passes in each of those seasons. Even though he is still extremely potent, Baltimore might be wise to deflect a few more early-down carries toward Bernard Pierce to extend Rice’s effectiveness. Pierce isn’t close to the receiver Rice is and is still learning pass protection. However, he was very impressive late in the season, and you could argue he was running more effectively than Rice in the postseason. A bigger back than Rice, Pierce averaged 4.9 yards per carry as a rookie and could make a big impact in games in which Baltimore has the lead. Bobby Rainey enters his second season as well. He is a shorter back with a thick build, good balance and good feet. Expect him to take a step forward in his second season, but he helps the Ravens mostly on special teams.

Cincinnati Bengals: BenJarvus Green-Ellis will open training camp as the Bengals’ top running back. But don’t expect him to keep that distinction for long, as Giovani Bernard is sure to pass him. Green-Ellis gets what is blocked, has some power to drag tacklers and is reliable with his ball security. What you see is what you get with Green-Ellis -- and it isn’t good enough. Bernard is an exciting prospect with loads of big-play ability. He can run inside with quick feet and more power than you might suspect, but is also very dangerous on the perimeter with his long speed and elusiveness in the open field. Green-Ellis will surely be superior to Bernard in pass protection to start the season, but Bernard is far more dangerous as a receiving option. Cincinnati also brought back Bernard Scott before the draft, but with the selection of Bernard, Scott’s roster spot is far from certain. The Bengals also drafted Rex Burkhead, who does everything well and is an underrated prospect overall. In time, I expect Burkhead to be a fine complement to Bernard as Cincinnati’s second running back.

Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson battled numerous injuries during his rookie campaign, and that is the only concern I have about this 21-year-old. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner has an outstanding history of utilizing a true feature back, and Richardson fits that mold with his rare blend of vision, power, lateral agility and speed to go along with excellent receiving skills. There isn’t much on Cleveland’s depth chart behind Richardson, so maybe the Browns will keep their eyes out for a veteran who gets released. For now, Montario Hardesty is No. 2. Injuries have been a big problem for him, but he does have a fair amount of ability. Also in the mix are Dion Lewis, Brandon Jackson and Chris Ogbonnaya. Jackson is bigger and runs with much more power than Lewis, but he isn’t as quick. Both do their best work on third down. Ogbonnaya is a big runner with some power, but he lacks any particular skill to wow you. A scatback with big-play ability would be a welcome addition here.

Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers used this year’s second-round pick on Le'Veon Bell, as they felt their running backs from 2012 were not getting the job done. Bell is very young, has good size and is quite established in the passing game, which is something Pittsburgh wasn’t getting from Isaac Redman or Jonathan Dwyer. Redman and Dwyer are similar players. They both have good size and initiate contact. They get what is blocked, but not much more, and lack dynamic qualities. They are backups in the NFL. Last year, the Steelers drafted Chris Rainey to help as a returner and add a running back/wide receiver hybrid to their offense. Rainey didn’t work out, but Pittsburgh signed LaRod Stephens-Howling this offseason for the same reasons. Baron Batch is also in the equation. His most notable contributions come on special teams, but he is a serviceable runner, receiver and blocker. The Steelers were in talks with Ahmad Bradshaw before the draft. With the selection of Bell, you would think that ship had sailed, but you never know. Bradshaw will end up somewhere this season. It is also likely that either Redman or Dwyer will be gone before the season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers signed a running back, but they're likely not done addressing that position this offseason.

The Steelers reached an agreement with LaRod Stephens-Howling, a free agent from the Arizona Cardinals. He won't compete for a starting job, but he'll serve the same role as Chris Rainey.

Stephens-Howling, a former star at Pitt, is an elusive back who can provide a big-play spark, whether it's as a runner or receiver out of the backfield. It's a bonus that Stephens-Howling can make an impact on special teams and has experience as a returner.

The Steelers could still draft a running back Friday night in the second or third rounds. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh still might have an interest in free agent Ahmad Bradshaw if the team doesn't draft a running back. Bradshaw has been cleared to resume all football-related activities after undergoing foot surgery this offseason.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have changed one small part of their draft process a year after having off-the-field issues with two picks, nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu and running back Chris Rainey. The Steelers have stepped up their interaction with prospects' families as part of their pre-draft evaluation.

In addressing how the team assesses character, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said the process has remained the same, starting with reports they get from colleges and then conducting interviews, whether it's at the NFL scouting combine or pre-draft visits, as well as background checks. The one change is speaking to the people closest to the prospect.

"Coach [Mike] Tomlin and I did a lot of follow-up work this past spring when we visited the pro days. We actually tried to be a little more proactive in trying to meet families," Colbert said. "It is something that Coach Tomlin started three years ago. After we draft players, we start to bring their families in to get to know the kids that we drafted. Sometimes you get the opportunity at a pro day and sometimes you don’t, depending on where the kid’s family lives. We did try to make a conscious effort to extend the program Coach Tomlin started three years ago."

The Steelers should be more careful this year in taking risks on draft picks after two of their first five selections in 2012 got into legal trouble. Ta'amu, a fourth-round pick, was sentenced to 18 months of probation earlier this month after he pled guilty to reckless endangerment, resisting arrest and drunken driving stemming from a police chase last fall. Pittsburgh suspended him for two games and waived him but re-signed Ta'amu by the end of the season.

Rainey, a fifth-round pick, was released by the Steelers in January hours after he was arrested for a second time on a domestic violence incident. He hasn't been signed by another team and remains a free agent.

Asked about the idea of visiting families, Tomlin said: "I just think it helps us develop a more complete picture about who and what a player is, and maybe more importantly, what he is capable of being. I think the more you look at where they come from and who they come from, it helps you paint that well-rounded picture."
Let's take a look at what's happening around the division in the wake-up call ...

RAVENS: Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata told USA Today that his injured left knee was feeling better. It was good sign that he was seen jogging through the team's New Orleans hotel Monday, less than 24 hours after he was unable to finish the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, safety Bernard Pollard played the majority of the season with six cracked ribs, according to The Baltimore Sun. "It's tough dealing with pain," Pollard said. "For us as football players, we know we're going to go through it."

BENGALS: Rookie linebacker Brandon Joiner has been activated off the reserve-did not report list after completing a prison term. The Bengals signed Joiner out of Arkansas State as an undrafted free agent last year, knowing he would be going to prison in Texas over a robbery that led to his indictment in 2008. He was placed on a reserve list and missed all of last season while completing his sentence. Joiner is expected to compete at strong-side linebacker.

STEELERS: The team placed running back Chris Rainey on waivers on Monday, according to Steelers Digest. The Steelers announced it was parting ways with Rainey on Jan. 10, only hours after his second arrest for a domestic violence incident. But Pittsburgh had to wait until after the Super Bowl to officially waive a player. Rainey has since pleaded no contest to a charge of disorderly conduct and paid nearly $500 in fines and court costs.

BROWNS: The Ravens won their second Super Bowl since relocating from Cleveland, and the Browns have yet to win a playoff game since rejoining the league in 1999. While this only adds to the sting, Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown believes Browns fans have to move on. "That's old news now," Brown told NFL.com. "Baltimore has proven themselves on the football field. We can't take that away. Art did not make the correct move in my opinion, at the time. It hurt the people, but now it's time to get over it."
It was just another uneventful day in the AFC North on Thursday. The Ravens are getting ready for Saturday's playoff game, the Steelers waived Chris Rainey after the running back was arrested on a battery charge and the Browns hired a new head coach. Yes, the sixth full-time head coach of the expansion Browns era is (drum roll) Rob Chudzinski. You can click on my late-night column right here. And don't forget about your wake-up call:

RAVENS: Another season of injuries has caused Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to contemplate his future. "It makes you think, especially now that I have kids, is this job worth the head traumas you're probably going to end up having when you're older?" Ngata told The Baltimore Sun. "I just think about being able to raise my kids, see them through college, see them have kids. It makes me think more about how much more I want to play." Ngata, who turns 29 later this month, is finishing up the second year of a five-year, $61 million contract.

BENGALS: Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden interviewed for the Cardinals' head-coaching job Thursday and said that his agent has been in contact with a couple other teams. There is a possibility he will interview with the Eagles next week, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. As expected, tight end Jermaine Gresham was added to the Pro Bowl team. A first-team alternate, Gresham replaced the injured Heath Miller.

STEELERS: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ron Cook makes the point that draft-day decisions are haunting the Steelers. "Who knew then that fourth-round pick Alameda Ta'amu and fifth-round pick Chris Rainey would be the players who caused the Steelers major headaches? Actually, [general manager Kevin] Colbert and [coach Mike] Tomlin should have known," Cook wrote. "At least they should have known, based on the players' history, that there was a good chance they would get into trouble again. Shame on Colbert and Tomlin if they were surprised by Ta'amu and Rainey getting in a jackpot again."

BROWNS: The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto says Chudzinski is Joe Banner's new Andy Reid. "(Chudzinski has) never been a head coach before. Of course, the same was said of Reid when he was picked by Banner in 1999 to coach the Philadelphia Eagles," Pluto wrote. "Reid was a relatively unknown quarterback coach from Green Bay. Reid didn't call plays for the Packers. He wasn't on anyone's hot list of coaches. But he turned out to be one the NFL's best head coaches for more than a decade."


The Steelers sent the right message in waiving Chris Rainey and it goes beyond just parting ways with a running back who was arrested for a second time on a domestic violence incident.

Rainey
Rainey
Pittsburgh kicked Rainey off the team only hours after he was arrested for, according to witnesses, slapping a woman in the face with an open hand. Along with the swift decision, the Steelers made it clear why they were waiving Rainey.

“Chris Rainey’s actions this morning were extremely disappointing,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said in a statement released by the team. “Under the circumstances and due to this conduct, Chris will no longer be a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers."

This is the Steelers' way of telling their current players and future ones that this type of behavior won't be tolerated, and even those who don't like the Steelers have to applaud the team for taking this type of hard stance. Pittsburgh also released nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu in November after his drunken driving arrest, but the Steelers did bring him back for the final game of the season (it was his first off-the-field incident).

It's valid to criticize the Steelers for drafting Rainey in the fifth round after an incident in 2010 when he was arrested for threatening his girlfriend. But, sadly in the NFL, you couldn't field a team these days if you didn't give second chances. The Steelers decided to take a chance on Rainey, and that mistake cost them a fifth-round pick.

Going forward, the Steelers need to either put a bigger emphasis on character or getting a better feel for players before bringing them to Pittsburgh. The arrests of two 2012 draft picks is an indication that something is wrong in the Steelers' pre-draft process.
Chris Rainey's arrest Thursday was the latest issue in what has been a rough rookie season for the Steelers' 2012 draft class:

First round: David DeCastro, G, Stanford. Severely injured his knee in the third preseason game and returned to play the last three games.

Second round: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State. Placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury after starting six games.

Third round: Sean Spence, ILB, Miami. Tore multiple ligaments in his left knee in preseason finale and placed on injured reserve before regular season started.

Fourth round: Alameda Ta'amu, NT, Washington. Arrested for drunken driving in October, which led to his release a month later. He was later re-signed.

Fifth round: Chris Rainey, RB, Florida. Arrested for simple battery Thursday. He had 162 total yards and two touchdowns as a rookie. (4:12 p.m. ET update: The Steelers have waived Rainey.)

Seventh round: Toney Clemons, WR, Colorado. Signed off Steelers' practice squad by the Jaguars in November.

Seventh round: David Paulson, TE, Oregon. Finished with seven catches for 51 yards in 16 games played for Steelers.

Seventh round: Terrence Frederick, CB, Texas A&M. Waived by the Steelers at the end of the preseason and was later signed by the Giants.

Seventh round: Kelvin Beachum, G, SMU. Surprise of the draft class ended season with five straight starts at right tackle.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey was arrested Thursday morning in Gainesville for slapping his girlfriend in the face during an altercation over a cell phone, Gainesville Police told the Miami Herald.

Rainey, a fifth-round pick out of Florida who just completed his rookie season for the Steelers, was charged with one count of simple battery (dating violence), a first-degree misdemeanor.

Witnesses told police that Rainey and a female got into an argument because she took his cellphone and got into the vehicle of Rainey's roommate. According to the police report, Rainey went to the passenger side of the car where he pulled the woman out of the car and slapped her across the face. The woman was later identified as Rainey's girlfriend of nine months.

This isn't the first time Rainey has been in trouble. In September 2010, Rainey was arrested and charged with aggravated stalking. He reportedly went to a woman's house and the two spoke for 10 minutes and then the receiver was told to leave. According to a Gainesville, Fla., police officer, Rainey sent the woman a text reading "Time to die," which prompted her call to police. He had been dating the woman on and off for "about three years," according to the report.

Rainey's latest arrest raises character issues with the Steelers' 2012 draft class. Nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu, a rookie fourth-round pick, was involved in an embarrassing drunken driving arrest in October. According to police, Ta'amu was driving an SUV the wrong way at about 2:30 a.m. on Oct. 14 when he fled from officers and crashed into four parked cars, injuring a woman. He then tried to run away before he was restrained by four officers and arrested, authorities said. The Steelers released Ta'amu in November but re-signed him by the end of the season.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger put the blame on himself for Pittsburgh failing to make the playoffs for only the fourth time since 2001.

"A lot of it just has to do with me not playing well enough down the stretch," Roethlisberger said. "Fourth-quarter drives or last-minute throws, I'm just not making it happen, so my best answer would be that I just didn't play well enough."

It's easy to point the finger at Roethlisberger. He threw two interceptions late in games (in overtime in Dallas and with 14 seconds left against the Bengals) that led to losses the past two weeks. Roethlisberger did the right thing as a leader to take the blame. But it would be wrong for everyone to do the same.

Here's a quick list of who should share in the Steel City blame game ...

The defense. Yes, the NFL's top-ranked defense played a part in this disappointing season. For the second straight season, the Steelers didn't force enough turnovers. Pittsburgh took the ball away 16 times this season, which meant Roethlisberger had to continually drive the length of the field to score points. Only the Eagles, Colts and Chiefs forced fewer turnovers this season.

Offensive line. This banged-up group allowed Roethlisberger to get banged up again. Its failure to block the Chiefs led to Roethlisberger getting sandwiched on Nov. 12, when he injured his rib and shoulder. He was never the same after that, throwing six touchdowns and four interceptions in three games since coming back. Left tackle Max Starks has given up 36 quarterback hurries, eighth-most in the league.

Mike Wallace. His drops continually let down Roethlisberger. He is only credited with six by ESPN Stats & Information, but it seemed like a lot more. To Roethlisberger's credit, he never lost confidence in Wallace.

Greg Warren. For those who don't know, Warren is the usually solid long snapper. But Warren's poor snap led to the 24-yard field goal miss in last Sunday's three-point loss to the Bengals. You remember Roethlisberger's interception because it happened at a crucial time, but Warren's mistake was just as big in the Steelers losing an elimination game.

All of the running backs. Roethlisberger had to carry the offense because he didn't get any help from his supporting cast. It didn't matter who the Steelers handed the ball off to -- Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Rainey -- Pittsburgh couldn't run the ball consistently, or at the very least, force defenses to respect the ground game. The Steelers are 26th in rushing yards per game (96.4) and per carry (3.8). Here's the most disturbing stat: the Steelers had as many fumbles (eight) as 20-yard runs.
CLEVELAND -- My thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 20-14 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Stadium:

What it means: The Browns (3-8) delivered a hit to the Steelers' hopes of capturing the AFC North, beating Pittsburgh for just the second time in 18 meetings. The Steelers (6-5) dropped into a tie with the Bengals and fell 2½ games behind the Ravens, who play at San Diego this afternoon. Pittsburgh looked ragged on offense without its top two quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich, who are injured. The Steelers' offense turned the ball over eight times, which included fumbles by all four running backs (Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Chris Rainey), three interceptions by third-stringer Charlie Batch and a game-ending fumble by receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The Browns' 20 points against the Steelers are their most in a game against Pittsburgh since November 2007, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Capitalizing on Steelers' mistakes: The Browns scored 17 points off eight turnovers by the Steelers. Two of Pittsburgh's turnovers (Batch's first interception and Redman's fumble) gave the ball to Cleveland deep in Steelers territory. Three plays after Sheldon Brown picked off Batch (his first interception), rookie running back Trent Richardson ran for a 15-yard touchdown to put Cleveland ahead 20-14 with 5:19 left in the third quarter.

Weeden hurt: Rookie first-round quarterback Brandon Weeden was hurt in the fourth quarter and left the game with a head injury. Colt McCoy played the final two series and didn't throw a pass. Weeden finished 17-of-26 for 158 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Batch struggles mightily: In his first start since last December, Batch was 20-of-34 for 199 yards. He was picked off three times, including twice in the fourth quarter. Batch's record as a fill-in starter for the Steelers fell to 5-3.

No whistle: Despite turning the ball over three times in the first half, the Steelers went into halftime with a 14-13 lead. After Brown's pass-interference penalty on Plaxico Burress in the end zone, Rainey got stuffed by Kaluka Maiava and D'Qwell Jackson on a run up the middle. But the whistle didn't blow, and Rainey bounced to the left side, where he scored easily.

Becoming offensive on defense: The Steelers' defense has been the best in the NFL in not allowing yards, but it has been among the worst in causing turnovers. That changed 71 seconds into the game when defensive end Brett Keisel tipped Weeden's pass and linebacker Lawrence Timmons returned it 53 yards for a touchdown. Entering Week 12, the Steelers had five interceptions. Only the Colts had fewer.

Still Mr. Perfect: Browns kicker Phil Dawson converted from 28 and 32 yards to remain perfect for the season (21-of-21). He extended his streak to 27 straight field goals, which ties his career long.

More injuries for Steelers: Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley injured his ankle in the first half and didn't play after halftime. Woodley missed one game earlier this season with a hamstring injury. Later in the game, rookie right tackle Mike Adams went down with a bad ankle injury. He was replaced by rookie seventh-round pick Kelvin Beachum.

What's next: The Steelers play at the AFC North-leading Ravens just two weeks removed from losing to them. The Browns travel to Oakland in search of their first road win since September 2011.
CLEVELAND -- The Pittsburgh Steelers gave the Browns the lead with three fumbles in the first half, but the Browns gave it right back on a questionable touchdown right before halftime.

Chris Rainey, the only Steelers running back not to lose a fumble, scored on a one-yard touchdown run with one second remaining in the first half to put Pittsburgh ahead, 14-13.

What made the score controversial was Rainey getting stuffed on a run up the middle by Browns linebackers Kaluka Maiava and D'Qwell Jackson. But the officials didn't blow the whistle, and Rainey bounced to the left side where he scored easily.

The Browns were upset because they thought Rainey's forward progress was stopped. But forward progress is not reviewable, so it couldn't be overturned by replay.

The Steelers got the ball to the one-yard line because Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress drew a pass interference penalty from Sheldon Brown in the end zone.

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