Review of Game #1 – Browns @ Steelers
It was the same book, different chapter scenario – the Browns managed to lose a close one in their opening game. Early on, it appeared this would be a blowout; however, the orange and brown clawed back to make it close. In the end, it was more of the same, as ONCE AGAIN the Browns are 0-1 to start the season. Let’s take a look at what went down…
Offense: After a forgettable first half, quarterback Brian Hoyer stepped his game up in the final two quarters. He finished the contest going nineteen of thirty-one for 230 yards and a touchdown. In some contests, this could be deemed good enough to win – which is how the coaches drew it up. However, a few plays were the difference, and Hoyer could not get the win. My confidence in the veteran increased significantly, but he must continue to prove he can perform – otherwise people will still want to see Johnny Manziel in games.
The Browns wasted some tremendous rushing performances in this contest. Terrance West, Ben Tate, and Isaiah Crowell each averaged over six yards per carry, and Crowell found the end zone twice. The veteran left the game at halftime and his availability going forward is unknown, but the pair of rookies appears to be able to shoulder the load. I believe this coaching staff will be determined to feed the ball to these guys all season long – hopefully it will be enough to get wins in the future.
The receiving corps only collected nineteen receptions, but they (specifically one guy) played better than I expected. Andrew Hawkins hauled in eight grabs for eighty-seven yards. He is definitely the go-to guy for now, and showed an ability to grab passes in tight spaces. Travis Benjamin, Miles Austin, and Taylor Gabriel each collected two receptions and look to be complementary pieces of this passing game. As far as the tight ends go, the trio of Cameron, Dray, and Barnidge tallied five receptions for ninety yards. While this area is still a work in progress, I believe they can hold their own in future games.
The offensive line got their act together later in this game, but Mitchell Schwartz’s performance is still alarming. Several times he got knocked backwards and defenders were able to easily get to Brian Hoyer. In the second half, he either got better or the coaching staff found a way to mask their weakness upfront (likely the latter). I expect more of the same type of play calling the rest of the way – to the limit the possibility of Schwartz hurting this offense.
Defense: Unfortunately, I was completely underwhelmed by the performance of the Browns’ defensive line. They surrendered a 100-yard rusher in Le’Veon Bell and never seemed to be in synch during this contest. Jabaal Sheard had a decent outing with three tackles, a sack, and a hit on the quarterback. The guys upfront never won the point of attack – I’m sure Pettine and O’Neil will challenge these guys to do that in the future. There is room to improve for this unit, and they must get better faster if the team wants to get into the win column.
The coaching staff vowed to get Paul Kruger back to his form while in Baltimore, and that is what happened in this contest. The veteran finished with five tackles, two hits on the quarterback, and a pair of sacks. Barkevious Mingo played decently; the linebacker had four stops and was around multiple tackles. Karlos Dansby collected six tackles and had the only real “stop” of the Steelers offense in the first half – without his interception, the game could have been much worse.
Justin Gilbert was the weak leak of the secondary and Big Ben attacked the rookie consistently. The Oklahoma State star was picked on a fair amount of times and was defeated with ease. I know he will get better over time, but that was tough to watch the eighth overall pick play against veterans. Buster Skine and Joe Haden were far from perfect, but the duo limited the opposition from huge strikes through the air. Tashaun Gipson left the contest in the first half, but Jordan Poyer and Jim Leonhard stepped up admirably in his absence at free safety.
Special Teams: Travis Benjamin had an ordinary day in returning kickoffs, but the Browns’ coverage units were far from great. The Antonio Brown stomp (at Billy Cundiff) really hurt the home team and the Browns benefited of the personal foul in the second quarter. Other than that, there were no huge plays for the special teams units – other than the field goal to lose the game.
Coaching: I loved to see the halftime adjustments made by this coaching staff. The group saw what worked and what didn’t – and tried to put the team in the best shape to excel in the third and fourth quarters. It was a tremendous success, outscoring the opponent 24-3 in that span. However, the coaches can only do so much – a team trailing by twenty-four in the first half has to be perfect to come back from that deficit. The Browns simply were not.