Ahh yes, another loss.
The Cleveland Browns put forth another awful effort on Sunday in a 24-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, tumbling to 0-11 on the year.
For an 11th straight week, here we are, discussing a loss.
Before I dive into the seven talking points, I first have to apologize for the delay on this article. I was working on Sunday, and for better or worse, missed the game live. I watched it on Sunday evening before formulating these thoughts on Monday evening.
Again, my apologies on the delay. It’s been a crazy, but fun, fall season at work.
So without further ado, let’s analyze another ugly loss:
1. Quarterback Chaos: Yet again, the Browns have a less than ideal situation at quarterback. With Cody Kessler out with a concussion, Josh McCown is now the guy for next week, at least until Robert Griffin III returns.
I suppose it’s the only way to begin.
The Browns have a solid young quarterback in Cody Kessler. He’s a reliable passer with a good arm and nice accuracy, albeit lacking a dynamite deep throw.
However, the Browns can’t protect the poor guy.
The rookie exited the game with a concussion, his second of the season. At this point, it might be better for his health to simply let him take the rest of the year off.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Kessler likely isn’t the guy. McCown, being a savvy vet, likely gives the Browns a better chance to win. McCown did keep the Browns in the game in the fourth quarter, finishing off a drive with a couple clutch throws, including the touchdown strike to Gary Barnidge.
Where does that leave us? The same spot we were when we entered the season – the island of misfit quarterbacks.
Plenty have asked why the Browns did not draft Carson Wentz or Dak Prescott. Both have shown flashes this season, especially Prescott in recent weeks.
But the issues on offense do not start with the quarterback. The position plays a big factor, but the problem lies somewhere else, which leads me to my next point.
2. Whose block is it anyways? The offensive line play was atrocious against the Steelers.
From terrible run blocking to atrocious pass blocking, the Browns offensive line lost the game and is the root of the team’s problems.
Yes, it’s that bad.
You can say the Browns don’t have a quarterback, which is true. The Browns don’t have top-flight playmakers, true. But no quarterback, running back, or wideout can have sustained success in Cleveland with this atrocious line.
This point comes with the obvious caveat that Joe Thomas performed well, as always. The rest of the line did not.
Cameron Erving cost the Browns crucial yardage on the team’s first offensive drive of the fourth quarter, and did not finish blocks. He also mis-diagnosed plenty of Steelers blitzes. Yes, Pittsburgh always dials up exotic blitzes, but Erving missed too many Steelers blitzes, particularly the same delayed linebacker blitz that fooled the team the entire game.
John Greco cost the Browns big on three plays: 1. The first offensive play of the game; 2. A sack of Kessler in the first half; and 3. On first and goal from the 1 yard-line, missing a block that led to Crowell being tackled in the backfield. Greco is having a disappointing year.
Austin Pasztor could not contain the edge when the Steelers sent blitzes from the outside. He simply doesn’t have the quickness on his feet to slide to push fast rushers outside.
Shon Coleman is partially responsible for Kessler’s concussion. Coleman was blown up on the play at the end of the third quarter, forcing Crowell to stay in to block. Crowell’s move outside allowed Lawrence Timmons to charge in, unblocked, and nail a defenseless Kessler.
No quarterback could be successful with this line, which allowed EIGHT sacks on 41 pass attempts, or about one every five passes. That’s awful.
It doesn’t help the Browns never figured out how to use tight ends and running backs to hold off the Steelers’ outside rushers.
3. Getting their Bell rung: The Browns again demonstrated an inability to stop the run. It was ugly.
The Browns’ problems on defense fall on a simple inability to penetrate and tackle.
First off, the Browns linebackers cannot break free off of blocks, and are not aggressive enough to control the line of scrimmage. Christian Kirksey has had a solid season overall, but didn’t play as well against the Steelers.
Next, the Browns cannot seem to tackle once opposing backs reach the second level. The Browns have a problem tackling in open space, as LeVeon Bell exposed with a 146-yard day on the ground.
It also does not help that the club’s secondary struggles to take good angles to the ball. Those bad angles lead to more missed tackles and extra yards after the carry.
The lone exception is Ed Reynolds, who has tackled well this year. The safety deserves some credit for a couple nice tackles of Bell.
This problem likely won’t be fixed before the end of the year, so look for more outbursts by opposing backs.
4. Grounded again: The Browns again cannot run the ball. This is another one of the reasons the Browns are scuffling.
The Browns became one-dimensional on Sunday, relying solely on the passing game to gain yards. The team stopped running the ball, due in part to the scoreboard, and in part due to poor rushing by Isaiah Crowell.
“The Crow” didn’t look hungry against Pittsburgh. He managed just 10 yards on 8 carries, often running into a brick wall. Crowell didn’t even try to bounce outside when confronted with defenders inside.
As a team, the Browns rushed the ball just 13 times for 33 yards. Those are the exact same numbers as from a loss to the Ravens last week.
Besides improving run blocking schemes, the obvious fix is to give Duke Johnson more carries. The Duke notched 10 yards on 2 carries, and also gain 46 yards on 3 catches. For comparison, Crowell recorded just 13 yards on his 5 receptions.
It’s time to reassess the situation at running back. The Browns have not been able to establish the run game early in games, thus making the offense one-dimensional and easier to stop. Opposing defenses need only send an outside linebacker or two on a delayed blitz on passing plays, and the Browns fall apart.
Gee, wouldn’t Ezekiel Elliott look nice in a Browns uniform?
5. Take your time: The Browns’ pass rush is generating little to no pressure. Big Ben had plenty of time in the pocket.
Chew on this stat: the Browns have 16 sacks in 11 games, second-worst in the league.
Following a great start to the season, Carl Nassib has not done much in the pass rush. Teams are seemingly beginning to adjust to his style, so perhaps it’s time for him to make some changes to his game. Similarly, Emmanuel Ogbah has enjoyed a couple breakout games, but still lacks consistency. Though he did record a team-best 2 quarterback hits on Sunday.
Danny Shelton is doing well inside, but it’s not the nose tackle’s job to generate pass rush. That’s on the outside linebackers, who are not doing much against other teams’ offensive tackles.
The Browns desperately need a game-breaking outside backer with the ability to rush the quarterback and ease the pressure on the Browns’ defensive backs to trail opposing wideouts for extra seconds.
Scheme is undoubtedly an issue here, too, Defensive coordinator Ray Horton needs to scheme some new blitz packages to generate some kind of a pass rush.
6. Get off the field: The Browns are getting killed in the time of possession battle. The Browns defense can’t get off the field.
The Browns simply aren’t making the big plays early in drives in the first half. The Steelers marched down the field on drives of 16, 16, and 11 plays to score 14 points in the first 30 minutes.
Thanks to the long drives, Pittsburgh held the ball for 20:37 in the first half.
Give the Browns’ defense credit for holding the Steelers’ offense to a pair of field goals, and nearly keeping them out of the end zone, before sustaining two penalties at the end of the first half.
However, it’s missed tackles and blown coverages on third downs that kill the Browns. A missed third down tackle early in the game looks relatively insignificant, but it can have repercussions not only on that drive, but later in the game as Browns defenders show fatigue.
Now, we need to keep in mind that the Steelers’ offense only scored 17 points against an awful Browns’ defense. That’s a positive, considering how lesser teams have burned the Browns for more.
Even still, the Steelers could have scored if Big Ben hadn’t completed just 3-of-10 passes in the red zone.
7. Bullied and embarrassed: The Steelers showed little respect for the Browns, and Hue Jackson’s team laid down and took it.
This is the worst part, in my opinion.
The Steelers, particularly their defense, took liberties with the Browns. Lawrence Timmons leveled Kessler with a cheap late hit. Corey Coleman, Terrelle Pryor, and Duke Johnson were among the other victims.
Even though the Browns absorbed hit after hit, no one showed any fight. No player stood up and challenged the Steeler. I give a lot of credit to Pryor for returning to the game after taking a brutal blow to the chest/ribs. But the rest of the club acted like a bunch of weenies.
Listen, football is a physical game. Hits happen. But the Steelers crossed the line with a few of the hits. When that happens, as the team on the receiving end, you need to fight back.
You obviously would rather avoid personal foul penalties, which can be costly late in a close game. However, surrendering easily sets a precedent and can be dangerous for your quarterback and other playmakers.
Jackson obviously has much less talent to work with than your average NFL team. But it’s on the coach to fire up his team and encourage them to fight back. The lack of energy and responsiveness is alarming.
Now, I’m not calling for Jackson’s job. I want the opposite – the Browns need to keep him. I’m simply suggesting that Jackson and the Browns need to show more fight, especially against a division rival.
Sunday’s effort was pathetic, and it cannot be repeated.