|CLEVELAND BROWNS (1-5)
|PITTSBURGH STEELERS (4-1)
Ugh, that was rough. While you can make a case that the Browns were "in the game," the team's constant inability to reach Ben Roethlisberger before he delivered the football and some questionable calls by the officials foreshadowed the fact that Cleveland wasn't going to win the game.
It's hard to explain my emotion after this defeat. My colleague, Matt Wood (better known as Bernie19Kosar), was optimistic following the game after a gloomy sports weekend, even going as far as saying, "I know we lost, but Sunday's game made my weekend. In fact, this was better than the win over Cincy." Those statements were mostly in reference to the performance of our potential future quarterback (Colt McCoy) versus getting excited over a veteran backup's performance (Seneca Wallace).
I do take a lot of positives out of this game, but it's still a punch in the gut any time we lose to Pittsburgh, or when you have to accept the fact that playoff aspirations for a 1-5 team are out of the question. Let's get to the review of the game, starting with the goats and followed by the game ball...
Disclaimer: Since this is being posted Tuesday night, I realize many of these topics have already been discussed to death over the past couple of days. There's no need to restart those same discussions, but I couldn't do a game review and ignore those points.
WEEK 6 - CLEVELAND BROWNS VS. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)
Goats of the Game:
Eric Wright: Chalk up two more touchdowns in which Wright was burned on. He wasn't the only member of our secondary victimized, but the one I am particularly steamed about is the one where he had a chance to tackle Hines Ward shy of the end zone, but seemed to be going after the football instead. Wright claims he was beat and felt the only way to stop the touchdown was to break up the pass, but I don't buy it.
The Officials: First off, let me make one thing clear: I don't blame the officials for the Browns losing to the Steelers. With that said, when James Harrison made helmet-to-helmet contact to Mohamed Massaquoi, I immediately thought of it as being a worse hit than the one T.J. Ward put on Jordan Shipley a few weeks ago. Whether or not the hit is "justified" is beside the point -- per the rule book, the play is a guaranteed 15-yard penalty. To my surprise, as Massaquoi is taken off the field, no flag was thrown.
As a fan, seeing such disparity after Ward was ridiculed so much for his hit really detracted from me being able to fully enjoy the game. Is Harrison above everyone else that even the officials don't subject him to the rules? He seemed to think so following the game, as he along with Hines Ward bragged about the hit. The hits didn't initially get national attention, but the league and others started paying attention to it toward the end of Sunday. UPDATE: I started writing this part Tuesday morning, and have since seen the report that Harrison was fined $75,000. I'm glad the league at least took notice.
Awarding the Game Ball:
Evan Moore: In my opinion, nothing is more important to a young quarterback than to have a receiver you can count on to go up and make a bunch of big-time catches. For as little time he sees on the field, Moore continues to shield off smaller defenders and make plays down the field. He finished the game against Pittsburgh with 4 catches for 84 yards, and he was in position to make a touchdown catch (near garbage time) before a defender jumped on his back (still no flag). The confidence is definitely there between McCoy and Moore.
- Reggie Hodges: I'll discuss him below.
McCoy's First Game: Like most others, I came away very impressed with how Colt McCoy handled himself in his first career game, against the Steelers' defense no less. He didn't look the least bit scared out there, which is a positive from the get go. He seemed to develop confidence as the game went on too, as he showed signs of recognizing when the pressure would get to him.
Similar to Wallace: I think what we saw with McCoy was an offense that was quite similar to the one we saw under Seneca Wallace. McCoy showed off his mobility by running for a couple of yards on scrambles (4 runs for 22 yards). There were other times in which he eluded defenders, rolled out, and fired a strike down the field. I'm not talking about "lucky" type of plays either -- McCoy showed a promising sense of confidence. Given how well McCoy was doing, the offense should have come away with more points than just the ten they got (seven of which were near garbage time).
The Mistakes: Overall, McCoy was accurate, and I'm glad Brian Daboll didn't approach this game with a mindset of, "we'll keep everything safe for McCoy." Not including a couple of times he ran into sacks early on, the first "mistake" for the rookie came on a throw over the middle intended for Ben Watson. While the throw was on the money, the area was very crowded and certainly prone to being a pick considering Watson had to dive for the ball. His second interception was behind the intended receiver later in the game, and he also had one other throw that was nearly picked by LaMar Woodley after he dropped back in coverage.
Overall, McCoy did a very good job making the right reads on his completions. Even on his mistakes, these are small things that he can definitely adjust to with a little more experience.
QB Moving Forward?: It sounds like McCoy will start again this week by default, while Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace heal. The real decision will come after the bye week, when all three quarterbacks might be healthy. If McCoy looks promising against the Saints again, it's hard to argue for him not to start moving forward versus one of the veterans. Given how well Wallace played before his injury though, I wouldn't be opposed to him being back in the lineup. It's unfortunate what happened to Delhomme (in terms of injury), but I really think that putting him in will piss off the fanbase. Plus, any confidence he built during training camp has probably gone back to square one.
The Competitive Game: So, how close were the Browns in terms of competitiveness this week? Once again, it almost felt like one player, coupled with the absence of another in an unfortunate circumstance, prevented Cleveland from having a chance down to the final seconds. Late in the third quarter, the Browns were still only down 7-3. Then came Eric Wright's god-awful tackle on Ward; if he stops him like most cornerbacks would, it's only a 10-3 game. Then came the muffed punt by Chansi Stuckey mid-way through the fourth. Both of those plays resulted in this being a "28-10" game versus a "13-10" type of finish.
What to Do: I have no clue what to do with Eric Wright. In his first several years here, I was so high on him and his abilities to be a No. 1 cornerback. This year, he has been a liability way too often for comfort. I don't see the Browns keeping him next season, so what should they do? Mike Adams can play cornerback probably just as well as Wright is at this point.
Ryan Needs to Stop: I cringe when I see the all-out blitz from the Browns for three reasons.
a.) We keep giving up long touchdowns when it is called.
b.) We rarely even reach the quarterback to punish him.
c.) As a viewer at home, even I can tell when the Browns are all-out blitzing. There is no element of surprise. Opposing quarterbacks are just chucking it deep without any hesitation to the decision, and our defensive backs haven't shown to be good enough to make a play on the football.
I'm definitely compelled by the thought of bringing the house on defense, but Rob Ryan has to go with the odds: with the personnel we have, it just isn't working.
Worth a Challenge: Given how unclear the officials are with calls these days, it probably would've been worth it to challenge Mike Wallace's first touchdown grab. Upon catching it, he immediately lost control (with two feet in), briefly gained control (with two feet in), but then suddenly bobbled it again (just as one of his feet touched the out of bounds line). I probably would've ruled it a catch still, but I could have seen it go the other way.
Stuckey's Role Solidified: Isn't it weird that you can have Brian Robiskie be virtually absent as a starting receiver, but yet Chansi Stuckey continues to thrive in his role as a slot receiver? Stuckey has lived up to my expectations this year as a "role" player, but he might be forced into the starting lineup this week against New Orleans due to injuries at the position. Maybe we'll even see the debut of Carlton Mitchell.
Hodges' Fantastic Day: As each week goes by, Reggie Hodges continues to impress. If he keeps punting the ball as well as he's been, how can you just toss him aside for Dave Zastudil next season? Hodges punted the ball five times against the Steelers, and four of those punts were "inside the 20." That statistic doesn't tell the whole story though -- his punts were somehow landing right at the one-yard, and bounding backward instead of into the end zone.
Defense Doesn't Capitalize: Despite Hodges' success at punting the ball, the defense struggled to capitalize on the golden opportunities to frazzle the potentially rusty Roethlisberger. Look at some of the starting field positions Hodges gave Pittsburgh, and what they ended up doing with the football:
-2 yard line: First play is a 25 yard run by Mendenhall; Steelers eventually punt, forcing Cleveland to start at their own 16. That's a failure for the defense.
-6 yard line: This came right before halftime with very little time left. We forced a punt since Pittsburgh didn't care to rush down the field via the passing game, but without Cribbs back there and the clock having run out, this one can be "tossed out" of consideration when evaluating the defense.
-4 yard line: First play is a 50 yard bomb from Roethlisberger to Wallace. Second play is a 36-yarder to Heath Miller. A few plays later, Ward scored his touchdown.
-8 yard line: The Steelers moved the ball well enough to eventually punt the ball into our end zone for a touchback. Once again, our offense didn't benefit from any big stop defensively.
Have you ever seen a defense not even able to capitalize once with so many opportunities? These were the perfect situations the Browns needed to give their offense great starting field position, making it all-the-more frustrating that Pittsburgh just kept moving the chains with ease.
Getting Pressure: Give credit to the Steelers' offensive line I guess, because even with them suffering injuries at the guard position, and despite the many defenders Cleveland would blitz at times, it wasn't enough to bring Ben Roethlisberger down. The team sacked the big man eight times in their last meeting, but couldn't do it once in Pittsburgh this past Sunday. For the game, they only had two quarterback hits -- one from Scott Fujita and one from Shaun Rogers. When you compare that to the Steelers, who had five sacks and nine quarterback hits on Colt McCoy, you can tell which team has the dominant defense.
Haden & Ward: Overall, it wasn't a terrible first game for the rookie defensive backs in their debut against Pittsburgh. T.J. Ward didn't have any punishing hits, but he made several nice tackles. I believe he was responsible for covering Wallace on Roethlisberger's 50-yard pass from his own end zone though. Joe Haden was in the right place at the right time on an errant throw on the Steelers' first drive. I thought he was going to take it back the distance with all of the nifty moves he made across the field before finally being taken down.
Staying Competitive: It's difficult for me to pinpoint specific players on the offensive and defensive lines and give them credit for the way they played, so I'll just say this: I think both units held their own and showed enough toughness to keep the team in the game. Joe Thomas' man wasn't heard from, so he's already back on track.
Special Teams Tackles: There were five special teams tackles recorded against Pittsburgh -- two from Blake Costanzo, and one each from T.J. Ward, Jason Trusnik, and Chansi Stuckey. The Browns' coverage was again superb; on two kick returns, Pittsburgh averaged 19 yards a pop.
Re-Punt the Ball: I was a little confused by Eric Mangini's decision to have the Steelers punt the ball three times in a row. After the first punt, Cleveland could've had the ball at the eight. After the second punt, Cleveland could've had the ball at the eleven. After the third punt, Stuckey muffed it for the turnover. In any of those two cases, Stuckey is either going to have to fair catch the ball -- something he already looked scared to death doing -- or let it go into the end zone (perhaps with the Steelers stopping it even closer to the goal line).
There wasn't any chance for their to be a return, and we really weren't going all out to block the kick. If the reliable Joshua Cribbs was back there, I could understand having faith in his ability to calmly fair catch 50 punts in a row. Not Stuckey though.
Brownies: RB Peyton Hillis leaped over Troy Polamalu on a catch and run in the flat...Mike Bell had two uneventful carries in his debut with the Browns...James Davis was active but didn't receive a carry...Ben Watson led the team again in receptions and caught the team's only touchdown...the tackling took a step back this week, and I was wrong to assume that Pittsburgh would abandoned Mendenhall to start the game...Cleveland gave up their first rushing touchdown of the season, but kept Mendenhall to under 100 yards (a 3.1 YPC average).
Next up, the Browns take on the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees and company don't like to go deep, so our secondary should be able to do a little better this week, right?