It’s OK to be encouraged by the competitive spirit of the Cleveland Browns, even after they fell just short of a comeback against the Pittsburgh Steelers in their 2017 season opener. It’s with a lot of frustration I acknowledge the 21-18 defeat being their 32nd loss in their last 38 games against the Steelers since coming back to the NFL in 1999.
Their last win over the Steelers was in 2014, three head coaches ago.
But this wasn’t a game that ever truly felt out of reach, despite the all-too-familiar stomach sinking that the Steelers’ punt-block touchdown to start the game made us all feel. Losing this game, a game the team could or maybe should have was
There are plenty of places to assign blame for the Browns’ 26th loss in their last 28 games, and there’ll be some of that below. But it wasn’t all bad, and the tunnel, dare I say it, does appear to have creases of brightness breaking through the darkness.
Browns Offensive Line Underwhelms Overall
The Browns’ offensive line was, again, overmatched when run blocking. We have heard endlessly about the prowess of the group, especially with the offseason additions of J.C. Tretter and Kevin Zeitler. But we what we didn’t see during preseason was the group play together as a unit, and we didn’t see the rotation of starters in any combination execute a solid rushing attack under coach Hue Jackson’s play-calling.
That didn’t change in Week 1 against the Steelers. The running game was impotent, unimaginative, and ineffective with exception to a couple moderate gashes by Isaiah Crowell.
The group pass-protected well for the most part, although it might be hard to accept that by just perusing the game’s box score. DeShone Kizer was hampered by hesitancy, held the ball at times and was dropped seven times as a result, but it was hardly the collective failings of his offensive line that led to all of those sacks.
Kizer Played Like a Rookie Quarterback
It’s impossible not to be excited about the play of Kizer, but he ultimately played like we thought he might in his first NFL game. Kizer lived up to some of our worst fears and highest hopes, all in his first four quarters of play.
While he didn’t look to run and rely on his legs too often, he did question his reads and held on to the ball way too long, taking seven sacks in the process. But it wasn’t all bad. Kizer evaded some would-be sacks, delivered the ball with potent arm strength, and used his size and legs to move the chains.
As the third youngest quarterback in history to start an NFL game, it’s clear that although he has the tools necessary to succeed, he certainly has a lot of growth and growing pains ahead of him. We’ll be here to watch them happen.
Veteran Receiver a No-Show
Kenny Britt signed a four-year, $32.5 million deal with the Browns this offseason with a sum of $17 million guaranteed. To this point, through preseason and one game with the team, he’s been an absolute disappointment. It’s still early, so this isn’t a complete indictment on that deal or of Britt as a player, but his performance to date has been frustrating to say the least.
Britt dropped what should have been a first-down reception after the Browns regained momentum following Derrick Kindred’s interception early in the fourth quarter. It’s the second high-leverage drop by Britt, including one inside the five-yard line during preseason.
Maybe more time and practice with Kizer will help Britt settle in, and he’ll be come a valuable contributor for his offense.
Offensive and Defensive Game balls: Derrick Kindred & Corey Coleman
Kindred was aggressive and made several big plays including an excellent pass break-up that forced a punt, snagged a tipped interception and returned 30 yards, and he had a tackle for loss run stop on James Canner that energized the Browns defense — although, it was negated by Jamie Meder’s defensive holding penalty. He was generally involved and making plays throughout the game and earned an 85.2 Pro Football Focus game grade, per PFF analyst John Kosko.
Corey Coleman gets a game ball too. Coleman was everything the Browns need him to be. If they can get a running game going and another receiver involved, we should see Kizer attempt some downfield throws in his direction. That’ll help him find more space and help him show how dynamic he can be when given opportunities to make plays in space and to stretch the field.