Game #16 Review – Browns at Steelers
Well, another season is in the books; a majority of the time it was not pretty, and once again the team ended with a losing season (5-11). Things could be on the upswing though – the Browns have a very young nucleus with a soon-to-be new leader at the helm. However, last Sunday, they were not able to produce a victory to close out the 2012 season. With all the impending changes going on in the organization – this contest will not be remembered for much.
Offense: It was an admirable performance by Thaddeus Lewis, in the veteran’s first-ever start at quarterback. The University of Duke alum threw for 204 yards and completed twenty-two of his thirty-two attempts; he could have played much worse. Lewis did have a costly interception in the first half, but the signal caller was able to find the end zone as well. The Steelers were able to sack Lewis three times – the nimble athlete was unable to get away from defenders a couple of times. The future remains a question mark for the reserve quarterback, but he did have a decent outing in the final game of the 2012 season.
Without the services of rookie standout Trent Richardson, veteran Montario Hardesty had to shoulder the load on Sunday. He did not have an impressive outing though, garnering just thirty-seven yards on fourteen attempts. Granted, he was facing one of the best defenses in the league, but Hardesty was only able to muster 2.6 yards per carry. Brandon Jackson, who has not been active a majority of this season (or last year, for that matter) did adequately considering his few attempts. The veteran accumulated fifty-four yards and averaged 6.8 yards per every carry; his future is remains uncertain but the back can be productive given an opportunity. Ray Ventrone had an excellent fake punt that went for thirty-five yards. It would have been nice to see more of these gadget plays this season, but the Browns did not attempt nearly enough.
The receiving unit for the Browns had an acceptable game yardage-wise but also committed a few mistakes. The two rookie targets, Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin, each fumbled the football after a reception – thus hurting the offense. It was surprising to see this, as the Browns have been good at holding onto the football this season. The duo did combine for eight receptions and eighty-two yards, but that paled in comparison to turning over the football. Greg Little (as I hoped) found the end zone once again; the veteran tallied three grabs for thirty-eight yards. With Jordan Cameron sidelined, Ben Watson was the main option at tight end on Sunday. The veteran from the University of Georgia finished with a team-high seven catches and sixty-four yards. No matter who the quarterback is, Watson will still find a way to get involved in the contest.
The offensive line continued their improvement in the running game. The team did not have a 100-yard rusher, but Hardesty and Jackson nearly combined for that total. Not heading into the playoffs, the team could have easily mailed it in – that includes the offensive line. That was not the case though, and veteran John Greco left the contest with an injury after competing hard all game long. James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons were in on a few sacks, but the two are expected to bring pressure consistently on the quarterback. With injuries occurring at the guard position, I hope the team looks to find depth this offseason (whether it is through free agency or the draft).
Defense: Athyba Rubin and Jabaal Sheard were the leaders of the defensive line; the pair were the strength of the interior and the outside portion of the unit, respectively. Rubin tied for the team-high in tackles with six, while Sheard had two sacks and was able to put two hits on Ben Roethlisberger. Frostee Rucker, Juqua Parker, and Phil Taylor each came away with two tackles – none performed exceptionally but were incorporated well in the contest. I have a great deal of faith in the defensive line going forward, it has been rather difficult for opponents to gain 100 yards or more on the ground (that has not been the case for a long time). Case in point, the leading rusher for the Steelers accumulated fifty-two yards, while the team had just ninety-one total.
Status quo occurred for the Browns’ linebackers – both D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson each had fine outings. Both totaled five tackles for the team; Jackson also deflected two throws by the home team, while Robertson had a tackle for loss. If they are teamed with a dominant linebacker next season, the unit has an opportunity to become a force to be reckoned with. As it is, Kaluka Maiava and L.J. Fort had quiet outings. They had just three combined stops for the defense; fortunately Fort was able to get to the opposing signal caller though. Combining with the defensive line, the front seven for the defense was able to prevent a rushing touchdown in this meeting. Assuming this can happen on a regular basis, the Browns’ defense can be one of the best in the league.
Multiple injuries to cornerbacks and safeties forced a bunch of young athletes to play in the secondary. As a result, the team allowed three scored through the air – this was the difference in the contest. Joe Haden and Tashaun Gipson lead the unit in tackles; they each had six stops for the defense. Eric Hagg had one of his better games of the season; the second-year pro had four tackles and was around the football on several plays. I was concerned the Steelers would throw at Buster Skrine several times, but that was simply not the case. The opponent only threw for 134 yards, but they did their job when it counted. Another solid cornerback and a safety are needed for the 2013 season, hopefully that can come to fruition (and one of the team’s glaring weaknesses will have been filled).
Special Teams: As mentioned, I enjoyed seeing the fake punt for the visiting team; Ventrone’s run set up the team’s only touchdown. They do not need to occur regularly, but the Browns need to employ them more regularly in the future. I was disappointed to see Phil Dawson miss a rather short kick (thirty-nine yards) early in the contest – the long-time veteran did make a fifty-one yarder, however. Reggie Hodges lost the punting matchup once again; he has had a poor season and will likely be looking for work in the coming months.
Coaching: Pat Shurmur was handcuffed with a third-string quarterback against one of the best defenses in the NFL. He pulled out a few stops, but it was not enough to score the upset. Unfortunately for him, he is no longer with the Browns – I hope the best for him in his future endeavors. Defensively, they put the team in position to win the game by keeping it close. However, giving up touchdowns over field goals in the redzone was a part of the reason why they left Heinz Field in defeat.