CANTON, Ohio- For once, the Cleveland Browns played like they actually wanted to beat Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, all that matters, in the case of the Browns, is the numbers on the scoreboard.
Pittsburgh won a well-played game 31-28 over Cleveland at FirstEnergy stadium this past Sunday. So here are the following points I wanted to share with all of you.
- At least for now, this Browns defense played just about as good as advertised for the most part. The Browns sacked Roethlisberger once for 8 yards. On the flip side, Pittsburgh sacked Kizer 7 times for 42 yards. The Steelers defense showed much improvement in its front seven from last year.
- Cleveland’s secondary outshined Pittsburgh’s secondary. The Steelers look for the deep ball now and it just wasn’t there. The Browns only allowed one big play in the passing game. Ben hooked up with Antonio Brown for a 50-yard pass. The Browns did force Ben into one interception and Roethlisberger never really looked comfortable in the pocket all game. Former Brown Joe Haden is lucky that Browns rookie QB DeShone Kizer is still learning on the job. Haden was beat many times, which is why the Browns let him go.
- I’ve heard some people criticizing the lack of protection for Kizer and run blocking for the running game. Hue Jackson had a very good counter to that. Without quoting him, he simply said that this was the first game where all of his starting linemen had a chance to play a full game together and to learn how to work together. I couldn’t agree more. It’s probably going to take a few games before this line gels. I would expect the line to improve gradually. The only question is, can they stay healthy? It’s hard to build chemistry when your men are getting hurt and missing 2-4 games.
- I loved seeing this new Browns front seven in attack mode most of the game. You can’t allow QB’s like Ben Roethlisberger much time to read a defense and expect good results. Most of the time, quarterbacks like him will find a way to make a play more often than not. You have to force elite quarterbacks like Ben to make quicker decisions than they want to. If they beat you then, you simply tip your hat to them.
- DeShone Kizer made the usual rookie mistakes. Missed a wide-open receiver in the end-zone and held onto the ball too long in hopes of making something happen. Roethlisberger did that a lot early in his career and to this day, he still does that from time to time. Then again, they all do. But, as the game went on, Kizer again looked more and more comfortable. Am I saying he’s the future? Not yet, but he certainly showed more signs of being that guy than Brandon Weeden, Charlier Frye, Manziel and so on. I loved how, when the pocket collapsed, Kizer stepped up and kept his eyes down field but still felt the pressure from behind enough, to just run with the ball and give himself up instead of taking a hard hit. In other words, Kizer played well in his first game. DeShone went 20-30 for 222 yards. He threw for one touchdown and ran for another. Kizer did make one bad throw resulting in a TJ Watt interception. All of his mistakes are things that can be worked on.
- I’m hoping that Cleveland will give Matt Dayes more touches. I really think he has good vision, balance and certainly speed. I actually like him more than I do Crowell. I have always felt that Crowell rushes to the line too fast and doesn’t allow the O-line to create holes for him to run in. I think Matt Dayes does that. I’m not giving up on Crowell, but I think he needs to be much more patient.
- Speaking of running backs. For a team that has consistently ranked at or near the bottom in rush defense, The Cleveland Browns looked much more improved in that area on Sunday. This is a team I expect to always give up at least 100 yards or more on the ground, game by game. Not this past Sunday. Pittsburgh has a great running back in Bell. Le’Veon Bell ran for just 32 yards on 10 attempts. That’s not what I’m used to seeing for a stat from a Browns rush defense. The crazy part, is that Cleveland was missing #1 overall pick Myles Garrett who, wasn’t drafted to stop the run, but showed in preseason, the ability to keep runners from getting out past the edge and force them back inside. I do wonder how different the game would’ve turned out had he been playing.
- It’s only one game and I’m not going to be too hard on him yet, but Kenny Britt MUST catch passes when the ball hits him right at the numbers. The Browns are depending on Britt to be a productive and reliable receiver for Kizer to take pressure off the young QB. Corey Coleman had a good game with 5 receptions for 53 yards and one TD. Seth DeValve also had a good game with four catches for 42 yards. The Steelers did have a good day with their receivers, but most of it was all under 20 yards. Now just think about this for a moment. Pittsburgh arguably has one of the top three offenses in the NFL, yet they only scored 14 points on this young and inexperienced Browns secondary. Again, how would this game have turned out if the Steelers didn’t score a touchdown on a blocked punt to start the game?
- I need some clarity from the NFL that I’ll never get. On the deep bomb from Ben to Brown late in the game, it was clear that Brown did indeed catch the ball. But, when he falls to the ground, the ball did come out. Do I consider that a completed catch? Yes. But in recent football history at both the college and pro ranks, ref’s have this new system that talks about completing the catch process. To me, it’s this simple If the receiver maintains procession and the proper body part is in bounce, it’s a catch. But, there have been times when they come up with some stupid thing of the receiver didn’t complete the process of the catch. A perfect example was about 3 or 4 years ago when Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions caught a touchdown in Chicago and the officials ruled it a non-catch because he did not complete the process of the catch. He clearly had possession and both feet in bounce. Trust me that this call was terrible because I watched it that day and as I’m writing this, I even went back to this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T19FUdG42EU and watched it again. No question in my mind that that was a TD catch. The Antonio Brown catch was more of a lack of completing the process of the catch than the Calvin Johnson catch. Again, I just wish the officials would clarify this stupid rule.
- Here are some players from later rounds that I possible wrote off, but when put in the right position, they can play. Joe Schobert looks extremely comfortable at middle linebacker. He had nine tackles. Seth DeValve also a 2016 pick had a good game. Derrick Kindred played safety but had an interception. Emmanuel Ogbah didn’t have a sack but did bat down a pass. And Ben Roethlisberger was sacked by Carl Nassib. None of them were first round picks.
- Pittsburgh won the game, but I had several Pittsburgh fans come up to me the next day at my job and ask me what I thought. I simply told them that the game was well played and it had the feel and looks of a classic Browns, Steelers game. All of them agreed. As a matter of fact, all of them actually told me that they had a case of the sweaty palms in the fourth quarter because they weren’t expecting Cleveland to play that well against a Pittsburgh team that is picked to make a run at the Super Bowl, yet they struggled against a young and inexperienced Browns team.
- A lot of positives came out of this game for Cleveland. Yes, they lost and the offense is still a work in progress, but for once in what seems like forever, the Cleveland Browns actually came out and played like they wanted to win this game and with 3:00 left in the fourth, Cleveland still had a shot to win the game.
Next Sunday, the Browns head on the road in the first of two straight road games. This Sunday, Cleveland will travel to Baltimore to play the Ravens, who shut out the Bengals in Cincinnati. Let’s see if the Browns can play just as well, if not, better against yet another AFC North rival.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Nick broulis