Game #11 Review – Steelers at Browns
Another ugly victory for the Cleveland Browns; the Steelers were without a couple of their play makers and the replacements could not bridge the gap. The Browns were not impressive – they were simply less bad. The team was able to capitalize a few times on the multiple turnovers by the opposition and found the end zone twice; had these things not occurred and the Browns would have lost. Nonetheless, Jimmy Haslam gets a victory over the franchise he formerly was part owner of (hopefully this will be a regular occurrence).
Offense: Only passing for 158 yards and a returned interception (for a touchdown) does not equate to a good day for Brandon Weeden. The rookie also had two would-be interceptions dropped as well – it could have been even worse. Missing a few throws early did not help as well; Weeden would like to put this game behind him. Late in the game, the constant Steelers’ pass rush caused a Jim Everett-like “phantom sack” where Weeden chose to slide when defenders were not close by. One silver lining is that (pre-injury) the signal caller was at the helm for a victory. In the waning minutes, Weeden’s head bounced off an offensive lineman’s leg, and the quarterback was forced to leave the game. He likely succumbed to a concussion, but hopefully he will be back to play in the next game. Veteran Colt McCoy came in to replace the Oklahoma State athlete. The back up did not attempt a single pass – judging by the starter’s poor play, the coaching staff did not have confidence he could make a play either. Again, with Weeden’s status unknown, it may be McCoy who starts next week at Oakland. Regardless of who plays, the quarterback for the Browns must be better than Sunday’s performance.
Trent Richardson racked up eighty-five yards on the ground – it took the rookie twenty-nine carries to do so, though. He had several tough runs, including the fifteen-yard touchdown run. What was frustrating though, was Richardson’s decision making when the defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage. The rusher opted to go around the point of attack (which was typically behind the line of scrimmage) and attempted to bounce it outside in hopes to get a long game. The end result was a loss of several yards, which put the offense in a difficult situation. Montario Hardesty only had two carries but came away with fourteen yards; I would have preferred he run it a few more times in the second half to determine if he could excel in certain situations (but that was not in the game plan). In the receiving game, Richardson hauled in four passes for twenty-seven yards. These totals are not spectacular but are key for an offense that is struggling to move the football.
Once again, Josh Gordon proves he is the best option for the Browns’ passing game; the rookie had four receptions for sixty yards. He had a couple of nice catch and runs, and I hope the team continues to use him in multiple ways – not just deep routes. Mohammed Massaquoi played better than he has over the past few weeks; he finished with three catches and twenty-seven yards. I still believe he will not be a top two wide out on this team going forward, but the receiver still finds a way to contribute. Greg Little, who has been improving as of late, took a step back on Sunday. The second-year pro only was able to come away with a six-yard reception. The tight ends continued the streak of finding the end zone; Jordan Cameron had the score during this game. The young veteran had just two grabs but was responsible for the team’s first touchdown. I hope to see more production from the receiving unit as a whole, but it could be worse (see the 2011 season totals).
The offensive line had a difficult task of facing the Steelers and failed for the most part. The unit surrendered four sacks (the most since week 3 against Buffalo) and Weeden seemed to face pressure a majority of passing plays. Additionally, the guards (Shaun Lauvao and John Greco) were responsible for multiple holding calls, which killed a few drives in the second half. In the running game, Richardson and the other running backs were rarely greeted by an open hole to run through. Granted, the Steelers are ranked first in overall defense and first against the rush (4th against the pass), but they dominated a Browns’ unit that usually performs well. Hopefully this was an anomaly by the offensive line, and the issues from Sunday can be fixed going forward.
Defense: The front four completely shut down the running attack of the Browns’ opponent. Jonathan Dwyer led his team with just nineteen yards, while the opponent finished the contest with forty-nine yards on the ground. Phil Taylor was dominant in the interior on rushing plays and recovered a fumble. The touchdown at the end of the second quarter was extremely deflating though, as rookie Chris Rainey was stopped at the goal line but ran around the corner and scored – the Browns’ defenders failed to wrap up the rusher. I was rather disappointed with the pass rush from the defensive line, as well. Facing an offensive line that has been susceptible to sacks, the Browns’ pass rush was largely ineffective. Frostee Rucker led the group with three tackles – he also did not compile huge statistics and was rarely around Charlie Batch. Rookie Billy Winn had a decent outing; the rookie had a pass deflection and an interception. Jabaal Sheard could not get to the quarterback once again; he has shown some flashes of greatness this year but has yet to put together a dominant game.
D’Qwell Jackson had nine tackles for the Browns; the veteran led the team and had one of the many fumble recoveries for the defense. Kaluka Maiava played ok at times – the University of Southern California product came away with four tackles but once again was not a part of an impactful play. Craig Robertson had a less than stellar performance (especially in coverage of Heath Miller – who had six catches for sixty-three yards); the younger veteran had just two tackles but also had a fumble recovery. James Michael-Johnson finished the game with four tackles and had a stop for a loss – he appears to be on par with his counterparts; hopefully the rookie can continue to improve and eventually become a good-to-great linebacker.
Two of the biggest passing plays for the opponent centered on Sheldon Brown; the veteran was flagged for a pass interference penalty late in the second quarter and had an interception in the second half (both of which led to touchdown drives). Brown further cemented his place with the team – he is athletic enough to still be active in the secondary but should not be a full-time starter. Joe Haden had a pair of pass deflections and an interception; the veteran continues to be the leader of the secondary. Just as important, he did not give up a huge passing play – something that has reared its ugly head a few times as of late. T.J. Ward’s hard hits forced two of the many fumbles; the safety also had a pass deflection and four tackles. Usama Young sustained a head injury when colliding with Heath Miller; the free safety did not stand out much as a starter but was another member of the fumble recovery brigade.
Special Teams: Reggie Hodges had ten punts for just 383 yards; he was never able to flip the field during a game where field position was key. His only solid punt was the one downed at the three-yard line, which (for all intents and purposes) put the game away. Phil Dawson continues to be perfect for the season and all of his points were extremely important. In the return game, Cribbs did an adequate job, while Travis Benjamin had a nice sixteen-yard punt return. I look forward to see more of these throughout the season, as the rookie can become a spark plug for the offense.
Coaching: Following the returned interception for a touchdown, the Browns’ coaching staff called plays that are deemed to be extremely conservative. On second and third downs facing long distance to gain, the Browns chose to hand off the football as opposed to throwing to try for a conversion. They still seem to favor a field goal than trying for a longer touchdown, but it worked out in their favor on Sunday. Defensively, I thought Jauron made many great calls to make it hard on Charlie Batch and the opposing running attack. I would have liked to see more blitz packages including multiple players, but overall I cannot complain. The bottom line is the Browns finally beat the Steelers!