We're off to a worse start than last season at 0-2, and the only optimism you can really take out of the first two games now is that there is a chance we lost to the best teams in the NFC (Dallas) and AFC (Pittsburgh). There's no need to sugarcoat the situation though: as fans, we expected the Browns to live up to expectations against the league's upper-tier teams. Sure, we'll go to Baltimore next week and probably blow them out of the water. For the rest of the season now, we're going to have to fight our way back from being 2.5 games away from the division lead.
We didn't embarrass ourselves against Pittsburgh, and we probably should've come away with a victory had it not been for one thing, which will be what my entire "goat of the game" section will be dedicated to this week...
Goat of the Game (Feel the Fire)
Romeo Crennel: It's not the 0-2 record that has him under fire. Instead, it's the fact that the most remedial, yet most critical, aspect of the game -- time management -- is severely lacking for the second week in a row. This week, it was more of a problem because there was a high percentage chance of the Browns coming back.
Before the first half came to a close, there was a good amount of time on the clock to run a two-minute drill. After moving the ball fairly well for the first time of the game, the timeouts were taken 7-8 seconds too late. Maybe if we had that extra time, Anderson would've run a fade route to Braylon Edwards before even trying to fire a pass over the middle to Syndric Steptoe. As not to overly crowd the goat of the game section here, I'll continue the discussion on Crennel in "general notes".
Awarding Game Balls (Tough in Defeat)
- Shaun Rogers: For the second consecutive week, Rogers was the most dominant player on the defensive side of the ball. Rogers recorded 5 tackles and sacked Roethlisberger once. One of his tackles was especially nice, as he drove Willie Parker hard into the ground. I was a little iffy on the late hit to Roethislberger -- it should've been a flag based on the league rules, but I love the toughness.
Dave Zastudil: You know it wasn't a great game when you lose and your punter is given a game ball. Nonetheless, although both punters were getting off great punts considering the windy conditions, Zastudil was especially exceptional. On 5 attempts, he averaged 53 yards a boot, without any shanks to speak of. For all of our offensive shortcomings, he helped our defense out by giving them room to work with.
S Brodney Pool stops Willie Parker. The defense, especially DT Shaun Rogers, held Parker in check for once.
General Thoughts (Random Tidbits on the Game)
- Crennel (Continued): Carrying over from my "goat of the game" section here: with only a little over three minutes left in the game and the Browns down by seven, Crennel sent the field goal unit onto the field. Again, the entire stadium erupted in boos, even as the kick went through the uprights. I don't care that our defense has stopped the Steelers most of the game -- Roethlisberger is an efficient quarterback with proven ability to close out games, and our defense has consistently shown the inability to give our offense the ball back at the end of a game with a three-and-out effort. If Crennel's strategy was to give us the opportunity to drive 74 yards in 26 seconds without any timeouts, then he succeeded, much to the dismay of the fans and probably every player in the locker room.
- Crennel (Continued): This decision really emphasizes how flawed Crennel's time management is, and Al Michaels and John Madden also pointed this out during the live broadcast. We took a timeout with 2:42 left in the 4th quarter. Why take that timeout? The Steelers would've been forced to run a play anyway during that stretch, taking the clock to the two-minute mark while preserving a timeout still. Hell, you don't even need to play or coach football to know that strategy: a few games of Madden (video game), and you've got the concept down pat. To see Crennel just seem completely oblivious to the strategy makes me speechless.
- Wind Hurts Cribbs: Damn the winds, because that really took Joshua Cribbs' abilities on kick returns out of the gameplan. Officially, he only had one kick return the entire game -- partially due to the Steelers not scoring much, but mostly due to the ball having to be taken for a touchback. We only saw one Flash Package play too, and it was a successful reverse on third down.
- Anderson Wasn't Good: Last week, I said that Derek Anderson wasn't bad. This week, I'm saying he wasn't good. Although his completion percentage was a little bit higher, he threw two interceptions that were all on him. On the first one, Anderson underthrew Edwards deep with the wind in his favor. Right before the second half, I just don't get the decision to throw the ball on a rocket slant pattern. It reminded me too much of the awful throws into zone coverage over the middle he made against the Oakland Raiders and the Cincinnati Bengals last season.
- Defensive Props: Overall, the defense deserves a round of applause for their effort against Pittsburgh. First, let's start with the run defense. For us always getting torched by Willie Parker, especially when he gets more carries, we held him to 105 yards on 28 carries, a 3.8 yards-per-carry average. The defensive line was plugged consistently, with a variety of players being able to come up and make the stop on Parker.
- Solid Game for Pool: It's a real shame that Sean Jones is out, but at least we have Pool back. I thought he made his mark early on in the game, delivering a big hit on a deep incompletion during the Steelers' first series. It doesn't look "great" that the secondary gave up passing plays of 48 and 31 yards, but Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald played more like I had hoped they would against the Cowboys.
Pooch Kickoff Recovery: For whatever reason, Mewelde Moore and Rashard Mendenhall were completely clueless when it came to returning kicks and punts. They never judged the wind properly, with kicks often going over their heads. That led to a great call by Ted Dashier when a pooch kick down the field was called -- we HAD the clear shot at the ball first, but after failing to pick it up, a Steeler was able to bat it out of bounds. That would've tied the game right there had we recovered, and who knows what would've transpired from there.
- Still Had Them Backed Up: After the failed pooch recovery, we still had the Steelers backed up at the two-yard line. After a rush for no gain on first down though, for whatever reason we didn't bring pressure on second down. Big Ben had too much time to throw from his end zone, and recorded a nice 35-yard completion to Hines Ward. This is where you can't like the inconsistencies of Mel Tucker's defensive schemes -- clearly a situation where a blitz would've been appropriate.
Run, Harrison...arg!: Take a look at this statistic from the San Diego Chargers game:
LaDainian Tomlinson: 10 carries, 26 yards. 2 catches, 14 yards.
Darren Sproles: 7 carries, 53 yards. 2 catches, 72 yards, 1 touchdown.
My point here is not to say that Jerome Harrison should start over Jamal Lewis. I've compared Harrison to Sproles before, and when Sproles was given the chance, he lit it up -- maybe not as a pure running back, but as a "back out of the backfield". Harrison had the most exciting offensive play of the game for Cleveland, going across the entire width of the field for 23 yards, using his blockers appropriately. Had he not stepped our just barely, I think he would've gone the distance for a touchdown.
With Stallworth out and Edwards struggling, Cribbs and Harrison can provide the "X-Factor" on offense. Shamefully, they were only given two meaningful snaps all game.
- Edwards' Game: It's very discouraging to see Edwards struggle so much over the first two games, considering he was our best offensive player all of last season. Honestly, all of our offensive issues go back to this. The past few years, the Carolina Panthers have had an explosive offense if Steve Smith is healthy. Barring the past two games, when he's our or injured, everything goes downhill. That's the funk the Browns are in right now. Fix Edwards, and the offense will be in sync, with or without Donte Stallworth.
- How to Fix Edwards: That's up for discussion. Extra reps? More passes his way? I don't know. He has no problem getting off to a great start in training camp, so it's hard to imagine how he'd be so off the past two weeks, with or without preparation. You don't lose the ability to catch the football with a foot injury.
- Power Outage: With the power on my street going out at 5 PM, I waited for it to come back on until 8 PM. At that point, I rushed over to a friend's house to watch the game, hoping a tree didn't fall on top of me on the way.
- Come Back Tucker: Not that Rex Hadnot did anything bad, but I want to see Ryan Tucker back in the starting lineup. The offensive line gave up two sacks late, but overall, the pass-protection against the Steelers' blitzes was top-notch.
- Seeing a Shootout: Seeing the Browns' offense struggle against the Cowboys' defense last week, only to see the Philadelphia Eagles handle it with no problems on Monday Night Football, doesn't make us look any better.
- Lewis' Key: The key in the offseason was for Jamal Lewis to deliver against one team: the Pittsburgh Steelers. Though various other reasons contributed to him not having a great game, the fact still remains that performance-wise, he's basically "0-for-3" against Pittsburgh when it comes to high-quality play.
- Brownies: Was that Nick Sorensen in on an early sack? Phil Dawson handled the winds fine, but darn Jeff Reed for handling them fine too. The Steelers have now won 10 straight against the Browns. Though we completed 46% of our third downs to only the 25% conversion rate for the Steelers, it didn't help out our offense.
I started off the review stating that there can't be much optimism after the first two games. While that's true, the optimism will start to grow again with every win we put on the board. Last season, we started the year off at 1-2, and one of those losses included a game against the Steelers. We'll be in the same position this year if we beat the Ravens in Baltimore. I considered the Ravens one of the league's worst teams heading into the season, and I still stand by that argument. If our offense gets in sync just a little bit, these next two games should be in the bag. If not, then the season is clearly a disappointment, and the only thing that can ensue the remainder of the season will be chaos.