Review of Game #16 – Browns @ Steelers
Another horrible way to end the Browns’ season – a loss the Steelers, a 4 – 12 record, and rumors swirling around yet another coaching change. Thankfully, this year is now behind all of us – there’s no reason to believe anything will change in 2014, but for now the process begins. Before the draft, free agency, scouting combine, etc. commence let’s take a look at the regular season finale.
Offense: Jason Campbell had a suspect game by quarterback standards, the norm by his. The quarterback went twenty-three of forty-one for 240 yards and a touchdown. However, he also lost a fumble, was sacked three times, and tossed a costly interception. If he could have made a play here or there, the result may have been differently – but alas that is moot. Campbell’s future is unknown but he is likely on the way out – I wish him luck, as he played slightly better than I expected but not good enough to take the starting job.
On just eighteen carries, Edwin Baker led the squad with sixty-nine yards. I hope he sticks around with this franchise, as he can be an exceptional, complementary back. On Sunday though, he was unable to get into the end zone, something that occurred regularly over the past few weeks. In 2014, the Browns must get the right backs for the right system and utilize them better – I understand it will not be thirty-five carries, but at least 120 yards total as a team should be a weekly goal.
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before – Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron had solid contests while the other options were pedestrian. The duo combined for twelve grabs and 151 yards; these integral parts will be looking for reliable teammates who can advance the ball from the quarterback (whoever that will be). Josh Cooper had five catches for thirty-four yards, but was also a victim of a huge drop on fourth down. I would like for him to stick around, but it’s too soon the tell. As far as the rest of the guys go, expect a gigantic overhaul – including the releases (or trades, if possible) of Davone Bess and Greg Little and acquisitions of wide outs via the draft and free agency.
The offensive line consisting of Garrett Gilkey and Oniel Cousins (following the injury to John Greco) played no worse than the starting unit. The Browns surrendered three sacks and were average in opening holes for Edwin Baker. The status of free agent-to-be Alex Mack looms large; if he departs, this group could see up to four new starters next season. Mitchell Schwartz is also another wild card. Will he remain at right tackle? Or will the former second round pick slide inside and become a guard? Finally, will he be playing for another team next year? Many questions remain for the offensive line going forward.
Defense: On the bright side, the Browns did not allow a 100-yard rusher for the first time in three weeks. However, the combination of Le’Veon Bell, Felix Jones, and Jonathan Dwyer eclipsed 120 yards on the ground – not particularly acceptable by the defensive line. Billy Winn and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen paved the way for the group with a combined seven tackles and a sack. The rest of the guys upfront really amounted to nothing, unfortunately. Phil Taylor was invisible and Ahytba Rubin was only able to muster a single tackle. As injuries and atrophy mounted this season, the defensive line obviously weakened. They need to continue to build depth in the offseason.
The linebackers definitely came to play on Sunday. D’Qwell Jackson (in his possible last game as a member of the Browns) had nine stops, while Craig Robertson finished with six tackles and secured an interception. On the outside, Paul Kruger was able to accrue seven takedowns and Jabaal Sheard had four tackles and a pass defended. Despite this production, the group does not feature a dynamic athlete who the opposition has to prepare for. That includes Barkevious Mingo (at least up to this point), as the rookie only made a pair of stops. Like many positional groups, changes will be made here – but this area is harder to predict.
Without the services of Joe Haden, the secondary played a little better than I would have thought. The opponent passed for less than 200 yards, and never hit on “the big play”. The safeties of T.J. Ward and Tashaun Gipson had eight and six tackles, respectively, while the latter also had an interception. Given an opportunity to shine, rookie Leon McFadden defended a pass and had five tackles. The injury to Buster Skrine allowed Julian Posey and Jordan Poyer to see more action with the defense. The duo were adequate, finishing with three tackles each and preventing the Steelers from completing a deep pass. I’m intrigued to see the changes that will be made here next season (especially with T.J. Ward’s contract expiring), and we could find out sooner rather than later.
Special Teams: As anticipated, the special teams battle was not the difference in the contest. Outside of a fine Jordan Poyer punt return, the statistics between the two squads were similar. I hope a few playmakers stay healthy next season and the Browns can get back to dominating this part of games – the way they used to.
Coaching: Maybe Chud knew his job was on the line and he wanted to prove his aggressiveness, but the coach went for it three times on fourth down (and was not successful once). And now the franchise is looking for a new head coach. The Browns’ management has seen an entire calendar year at the helm; hopefully the correct changes are made in the coming months.