Browns come home with everything but a win
It was a tale of two halves for the Cleveland Browns in their opening game on Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Unfortunately this tale had an ending that is all too familiar to Browns fans.
The Browns rallied back from a 27-3 halftime deficit to tie the score, only to lose on a last-second field goal.
“I told the team afterward that this is a pass-fail league,” head coach Mike Pettine said after the game. “And we failed.”
The loss was the Browns 10th consecutive on opening day – a league record – and their 14th loss in their past 15 visits to Heinz Field.
Sticking with Pettine’s theme of Pass/Fail, here are a few things the Browns got right and few they got wrong against the Steelers.
Pass: the hurry-up offense
Trailing by 24 points, the Browns came out in the second half, scrapped the traditional huddle offense and took off. After going 4-for-11 for 54 yards in the first half, quarterback Brian Hoyer was 15-of-20 for 173 yards and a touchdown in the second half.
Hoyer looked like he was born to play in that offense as he led the Browns to 24 consecutive points.
“You guys saw how successful it was, so it might be something that we obviously have to keep doing,” Hoyer said. “We have to keep improving on other stuff too; we can’t drive the field on our first drive and then not move the ball the rest of the first half. We never ran no-huddle in the preseason and I don’t know how much you guys saw of that in the practices, but now it’s on tape for the rest of the league.”
Fail: the traditional offense
Any time the Browns were not in hurry-up mode the offense looked as bad as it did at any time last season. When the first half came to a close, the Browns had just three first downs and had extended a streak that had seen them score just two touchdowns in their last 10 quarters of play (dating back to last season). There was little reason to believe it was going to get any better.
That makes it hard to understand why the Browns went back to the traditional huddle when they got the ball back with 1:06 left on the clock and a chance to win the game. The Steelers had no clue how to stop the Browns in the second half, but the Browns did them a favor when it mattered most.
The Browns ran three plays for -11 yards and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan reportedly couldn’t even get one of his overly complicated play calls in to Hoyer before the helmet radio cut out.
We’re sure the Browns will come up with a reason for why they can’t run an effective offense the entire game, but judging by what we saw yesterday, they really should. They have the depth at running back and wide receiver to swap out players to keep them fresh, so why not give it a go?
After all, what’s the worst that could happen? Another 5-11 season?
Pass: the running game
The time and effort the Browns put into the running game in the offseason paid off in a big way against Pittsburgh.
Ben Tate, Terrance West and Isiah Crowell all averaged more than six yards per carry, with West going over 100 yards and Crowell rushing for two touchdowns. The Browns totaled 183 rushing yards as a team, the highest total in almost four years.
At this rate, by the end of Sunday’s game against New Orleans, West and Crowell will have passed Willis McGahee, Chris Ogbonnaya and Edwin Baker – last year’s starting trio – on the Browns career rushing list.
Fail: the special teams
Just an ugly day for the special teams as:
- Travis Benjamin didn’t seem to know what was going on in the return game,
- The Browns didn’t seem to grasp the importance of covering the gunner on punts until the Steelers pulled off a successful fake punt,
- The coverage team came oh so close to pinning the Steelers on the 1-yard-line late in the fourth quarter, only to see Chris Kirksey and Gary Barnidge bump into each other while trying to down the punt, resulting in a touchback, and
- After years of having the Steelers kick them in the face metaphorically, Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown decided to do it literally, kicking punter Spencer Lanning square in the face during a punt return.
Not a day for the highlight film.
Pass: the pass rush
The Browns sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger four times, which is no easy feat. Armonty Bryant’s sack – where he dove over a Pittsburgh blocker to drive Roethlisberger to the ground – was particularly tasty.
Fail: the pass defense
It was a rough day all around for the secondary, as Roethlisberger threw for 365 yards and a touchdown and was 3-for-4 on the game-winning drive, Antonio Brown had five receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown, and Markus Wheaton had six catches for 97 yards.
Rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert had a long day and on Monday Pettine said the team may cut back on the number of plays that Gilbert sees on the field against the Saints and Drew Brees.
Of course, if that means more Buster Skrine, then it’s going to be a big day for Brees.
Finally, can’t anyone on this team tackle?
Fail: the brown pants
For some reason, the Browns continue to wear their brown pants despite the fact that it is simply a horrible look.
We’re not sure what it is going to take to get the team to stop, but hopefully they come to their senses soon.
What it all means
We went into the game expecting the Browns to lose, so why does it feel so frustrating that they actually did?
Part of it comes from the fact that despite everything that happened, the game was there for the taking. But the Browns just can’t seem to get out of their own way, always making a mistake at just the wrong time.
“I told our players in the meeting today, there’s a phrase for almost winning: it’s called losing,” Pettine said on Monday. “I talked about no moral victories, When you guys publish the standings, it’s wins and losses. There’s no third column for moral victories. We’ll take some lessons, some hard ones.”
We agree with Pettine – moral victories are for when Jason Campbell plays incrementally better than Brandon Weeden. But we were also encouraged by how the team fought back in the second half.
If that Browns team shows up the rest of the season, rather than the one that opened the game, we just may see this Browns team being the one teaching the hard lessons, rather than being on the receiving end.
(Photo courtesy of clevelandbrowns.com)
Great write up. Really curious how they incorporate and/or utilize the hurry-up going forward. Also, anxious to see what changes Pettine makes to get the D in game mode at the start of the game. Completely disagree with you on the brown pants: LOVE ‘EM.
Those pants are, quite possibly, the worst thing to happen to the Browns since ’99. That’s how much I loathe them. Despise them. Just awful.