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Game Review: Browns Don't Have Enough Fight in 27-11 Loss to Steelers

Chris Pokorny breaks down the Cleveland Browns' 27-11 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns lost in rather definitive fashion to the Pittsburgh Steelers this past Sunday, 27-11. Although the Browns are still mathematically alive in the playoff race, the fact is that they have now lost five of their past six games and are in last place in the AFC North. Let's get to my complete game review to see all of the positives and negatives from the game.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns

1st 2nd 3rd 4th FINAL


  1. Goat of the Game: RB Chris Ogbonnaya - There were several players who could have been named the goat of the game, but Ogbonnaya gets it because he had a critical fumble at the end of the second quarter for the second week in a row. The fumble came with under two minutes to go in the first half, just as the Browns had crossed midfield. Cleveland could have gone into the half with some positive momentum, but instead, they found themselves down by two possessions.

  2. Awarding the Game Ball: WR Josh Gordon - It's not every day that a player has a 14-catch, 237-yard performance (on 17 targets). Gordon did a great job of getting open and gaining yards after the catch.

  3. Setting the Stage: The first quarter was not very eventful, but I guess you could see it as the boring version of a chess match. The Steelers got the ball first and got a field goal. The Browns responded with a field goal of their own to tie the game at 3-3. After the Browns' defense forced a three-and-out, Cleveland was on the move again, with a fairly decent drive that carried over into the beginning of the second quarter.

  4. Sack Stalls Momentum: Having already converted two third downs on the drive, the Browns now faced a 3rd-and-2 from the 35 yard line.

    The further receiver to QB Jason Campbell's right is WR Davone Bess. He is doing a button hook route and will be Campbell's intended receiver. S Troy Polamalu is lined up over TE Jordan Cameron, who is to Bess' left.

    Polamalu jams Cameron for a second, and Campbell winds up to fire a ball to Bess. Polamalu knew what he was doing all along, though, and is ready to jump the route. Campbell pulls it down (notice everyone else is covered fairly well here too).

    The frame above shows what happened as soon as Campbell pulls the ball down, and it's an embarrassment for our offensive line. We are facing a defensive front that isn't supposed to have high-caliber talent, and yet we've got Joe Thomas collapsing at the feet of Campbell, John Greco losing his man, and Mitchell Schwartz and Shawn Lauvao being unable to handle a double team. The only guy not getting manhandled is Alex Mack.

    This ends up being a loss of seven yards, and Cleveland punts. If the offensive line held up even long enough for a throwaway, perhaps Chudzinski would have gone for it on fourth down.

  5. D'Qwell Misses a Pick Six: After the punt (and a penalty), the Steelers started their next drive at the four yard line. Two run plays set up a 3rd-and-2 from the 12 yard line.

    SS T.J. Ward is in the cyan circle, lined up over TE Heath Miller. Ward is going to take Miller in man coverage out to the flat. CB Chris Owens is in the lime circle covering the receiver at the top. LB D'Qwell Jackson is in the magenta circle, and he's going to drop back in zone near the flat after an initial rush.

    Roethlisberger is in his throwing motion here, and you can see several things: (1) Jackson is in the throwing lane, (2) Ward is glued to Miller, and (3) Owens sees the throw coming and takes a chance by abandoning his receiver.

    It was that close. I can't criticize Jackson too much for missing this catch; people have to remember that chances are, he's just trying to deflect a pass at that close range, and he isn't expecting the ball to hit him right between the hands. Here is the killer, though: if Jackson hadn't touched this pass, I'm tempted to think that Owens or Ward get the pick six based on how they are positioned.

  6. Steelers Read the Screen: All day long, it seemed like the Steelers' defense knew exactly what the Browns were going to do on offense, even if it was a lesser-named defender stepping up to the plate.

    This play took place on the series after the near-pick-six by Jackson. The Steelers' punt gave the Browns good field position, and they were facing a 2nd-and-11 on this play (due to an Alex Mack false start). Campbell runs a playaction fake.

    LG John Greco and C Alex Mack are going to release to the left to block a screen pass for RB Chris Ogbonnaya. Greco is about to release his man. I think LT Joe Thomas must have expected a rusher to come at him; or maybe Greco was supposed to release his guy to Thomas sooner.

    Either way, as soon as Greco releases his man, the defensive lineman doesn't even care about Campbell; he quickly grabs Ogbonnaya to prevent him from releasing into the flat. Campbell has to throw it at Ogbonnaya's feet to avoid a sack, and that makes it 3rd-and-11.

  7. Everybody's Covered: With the Browns not being able to put points on the board in the first half, my instinct was to think that QB Jason Campbell was being too tentative again. After watching the film, I don't think that was the case -- the Steelers' defense just played us very well.

    The red line indicates where the Browns needed to get to for a first down.

    When Campbell takes his dropback, the Steelers have two receivers double teamed, and defenders covering the other receivers fairly well one-on-one. I can't imagine a good place for Campbell to go with the ball here; he throws it to the person nearest him, TE Jordan Cameron, and S Troy Polamalu almost makes a diving interception.

  8. Haden vs. Brown, Part I - Tight Window: We're going to break down three plays in the matchup between CB Joe Haden and WR Antonio Brown. Brown got the better of Haden, but when you look back at each of the three plays I will break down, each of them are equally frustrating.

    This is a 1st-and-10 situation mid-way through the second quarter. Haden is at the top of the screen, lined up over Brown.

    The Browns are going to be a little creative here defensively. They have ILB Tank Carder on the line of scrimmage in the top left part of the screen. He is going to rush QB Ben Roethlisberger from the edge. The two defenders to Carder's right are OLB Paul Kruger and DE Billy Winn. Both of them are going to drop back in zone.

    Winn drops back right into the zone and leaps -- somehow, the pass misses him instead of being a deflection.

    Haden's coverage is really good, but Brown is going to hang on to the pass and pick up nine yards.

  9. Haden vs. Brown, Part II - Pushoff: In our second play featuring these two players, we see Brown make a very savvy play.

    At the bottom of the screen, you can see Haden sticking right with Brown as they approach the 50 yard line.

    As Brown is running up the field, you can see in the screenshot above that he extends his right hand on Haden's side, which sends Haden flying upfield and allows Brown to stop his momentum. He does it so subtle, though, that the official must not see it, otherwise it would be offensive pass interference.

    There is the separation caused by the push, and Roethlisberger connects with Brown for 19 yards on 1st-and-15.

  10. Campbell's First Injury: The Browns were still right in this game near the end of the second quarter. With under four minutes to play in the first half and the score tied 3-3, the Browns faced a 2nd-and-6.

    The Browns are going to run a playaction fake with three receivers going out.

    If there was one play I could complain about QB Jason Campbell being a little indecisive on, this was it. You can see TE Jordan Cameron with some space over the middle, although the throw would need to be accurate so that the safety behind him doesn't jump it. The better play is at the bottom of the screen on the comeback route.

    Let's go back to the playaction fake. All of the action goes to the left here as we wanted, except the defender on the end doesn't take the bait.

    Campbell turns around and sees a defender approaching him. Yes, it's tough to make a quick decision, but the ball should be out within a step or two. Note that Campbell is near the left hash mark here.

    Campbell tries to escape the defender, and is now well beyond the right hash mark. The defender latches on to his ankle as Campbell finally tries to throw it, forcing his pass to sail out of bounds instead of hitting the open receiver. Campbell then went to the sidelines with an injury.

  11. Cameron Drops Weeden's First Pass: Enter QB Brandon Weeden on 3rd-and-6.

    TE Jordan Cameron is going to run a button hook right over the middle. Pre-snap, there are no defenders near the middle of the field at the first down marker.

    To Weeden's credit, he sees this right away and fires the ball to Cameron.

    Yes, the ball is thrown fast. Yes, the ball is a little high and to the right. Yes, it's not the easiest catch in the world, but come on, this is the NFL. This incompletion is not on Weeden -- it's on Cameron. I could've been put in that situation and come up with the catch. Instead, the Browns had to punt.

  12. Haden vs. Brown, Part III - The TD: Into the wind, the punt wasn't the greatest, and WR Antonio Brown got a decent punt return to set up the Steelers near mid-field.

    This is the play where CB Joe Haden gets beat for a 41-yard touchdown. Brown lines up at the bottom of the screen with Haden on him, and WR Jerricho Cotchery is in the slot with CB Buster Skrine over him. The deep defender is S Tashaun Gipson.

    At this point, Haden's coverage on Brown is perfectly fine. He is stride-for-stride with him. TE Heath Miller starts coming across the field, and Skrine picks him up, presumably indicating that he was in zone coverage. The problem? As you can see, no one is in position to take Cotchery.

    Haden glimpses back at the quarterback at this point, and you can tell that his vision sees Cotchery coming wide open. In my opinion, Haden hesitates because he thinks the throw is going to Cotchery, and if he bails on Brown, he can prevent a big play.

    Right after that, Haden looks up and sees the ball in the air and has a "shit!" moment. He starts sprinting up the field to try to catch Brown.

    Here is another fortunate break for the Steelers -- Haden gets back, but is just a hair away from knocking the pass away. On top of that, as they go to the ground, Haden actually jars the ball free. 80% of the time, the way the ball was coming out, it would've hit the ground for an incompletion. This was that 20% where the bounce goes Pittsburgh's way, though, as the ball fell right back in Brown's lap as he was helpless on the ground.

  13. Trying to Keep a Play Alive: Here is a bone I have to pick with WR Josh Gordon, despite the big game he had.

    The Browns had stuffed the Steelers on a fourth-down play, and down 13-3, they were in good position to try to get back into the game in the third quarter. I don't particularly care for these routes -- the Browns do a playaction fake with both receivers doing the same route, mirroring each other and converging in the middle.

    The Steelers don't bite enough for the fake, probably because we really hadn't established the run. The defense drops back in zone coverage, creating some double teams.

    This is where the problem is. Campbell does the right thing trying to extend the play, but look at Gordon (he is at the top of the screen). If Gordon takes off deep toward Campbell's sideline, Campbell has the arm to unleash a throw, and this might be a huge play. Pay attention to where Campbell is on the field.

    Now look at Gordon. He took one frickin' step to the middle, and that was it. He gave up on the play. This is something Gordon needs to work on -- we've seen WR Davone Bess come back for the ball on a few fourth downs the past several weeks. Even if it seems improbable to Gordon that a play could be made here, he needs to try.

  14. Blow to the Head Seals the Game: On the next play, QB Jason Campbell left the game for good.

    This is another play where I don't particularly care for the routes. I know there is such a thing as a levels concept, but that isn't what the Browns seem to run here. All three receivers at the top run the same thing, distance and everything.

    The two defenders at the top come on a blitz, and we only have one guy ready to pick it up. None of our receivers make an adjustment.

    Bang! Shot to the head! Campbell loses the football and suffers a concussion as the Steelers take the ball back to the 4 yard line. Should a flag have been thrown for this? Absolutely. Do I blame the official for missing this? Not necessarily.

    This is another example of the break the Steelers happened to catch. Remember, the defender hit Campbell in the facemask in the front, not the side of the helmet. Therefore, this (above) is what the official saw from his vantage point. You can't even tell that Campbell was hit in the face from that angle, so it just looks like a hard hit that caused a fumble. Bummer.

  15. Easy TD for Pittsburgh: One play later, the Steelers scored a touchdown to go up 20-3.

    WR Antonio Brown is covered by CB Joe Haden. The Browns must have been in man coverage here, but probably should have switched up. Brown sets the pick, and WR Emmanuel Sanders slides underneath for the easy score as CB Buster Skrine is helpless.
    There is the opening; our pass rusher isn't there in time to tip the pass.

  16. At Least Someone Got a Shot In: I re-watched the rest of the game, but it really wasn't worth breaking down.

    If there's one thing we can celebrate, though, it was the fact that WR Josh Gordon still played his tail off late. On top of that, WR Greg Little didn't pass up on an opportunity to lay out a defender.

    If only we had seen more of that aggression throughout the rest of the game.

  17. Final Assessments: In Week 11, I blamed QB Jason Campbell for having a horrible game and not seeing open receivers. This week, for what little time he played, the issue was different: Pittsburgh seemed like they knew exactly what was coming.

    I was encouraged with what I saw from QB Brandon Weeden. Yes, he is still super slow and fumble prone when he tries to scramble (and for god sake, stop scrambling to your right!), but when he threw the ball this week, I thought his decision-making was much better, and he was zipping some accurate passes to his receivers. If we get this Weeden next week and he can stay away from the turnovers, we can pick apart the Jaguars.

    Defensively, QB Ben Roethlisberger used the same strategy that worked for the Packers and Lions against our defense: get the ball our in 1-2 seconds and neutralize our pass rush. It worked. I'd like to see Ray Horton come up with something to force quarterbacks to hang on to the ball longer.

  18. Special Teams Tackles: There were four special teams tackles by the Browns with one each for TE Gary Barnidge, ILB Darius Eubanks, S Johnson Bademosi, and DB Jordan Poyer. There were two assists, with one each by CB Chris Owens and S Johnson Bademosi.

  19. Snap Counts on Offense & Defense: If you missed them, here are the links to our snap count trackers for offense (link) and defense (link). On offense, WR Josh Cooper did not see any snaps, while the quarterback position was split about 50/50. On defense, CB Leon McFadden saw his most action of the season due to CB Buster Skrine hurting his ribs.

  20. Brownies: The Browns' third-down defense was good again, holding the Steelers to 4-of-14 (29%) conversions. ... Even though it might have seemed like the Browns' run defense struggled, they held Pittsburgh to a total of 85 yards rushing and 2.5 yards per carry. ... I can't blame K Billy Cundiff too much for his missed field goal into the wind. ... The Browns fixed their punt protection scheme this week, with RB Chris Ogbonnaya taking OLB Barkevious Mingo's place as the right wing, and DB Jordan Poyer becoming the personal protector. ... LB Brandon Magee also played the left wing on the punt protection team. ... Mingo was the right guard on punt protection.

Up next, the Browns take on the Jaguars. Jacksonville has won two of three games, but should be a whole different level of "bad" than the Browns. Let's hope Cleveland isn't too mentally shot to win a home game against the Jaguars.