Last Sunday the Cleveland Browns carried on the ominous tradition of starting the season 0-1. It’s about as common as anything can be; since the return of the franchise in 1999, the Browns have lost all but one opening day games, with the lone win coming in the 2004 opener against the Ravens. That’s thirteen consecutive seasons, and if you go back further we’re now one out of our last eighteen. It’s fairly remarkable actually.
That said, the loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was more encouraging than previous opening day clunkers. This has largely to do with the play of rookie (2nd round pick) quarterback DeShone Kizer. No, he did not light the world on fire with his play (20/30, 222, 1/1, 85.7 QB rating) but for those of us who’ve been around long enough to recall the first-game performances both of Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel, (among others), Kizer was better by several hundred country miles, making him the most promising QB prospect the Browns have had, probably since Tim Couch.
However, the key word there is prospect. He is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a slam-dunk as our QBOTF. What is he though is someone deserving of basically all the QB reps this year and probably the next two years after. There’s no reason not to invest in him given what he’s shown to this point.
Still, there’s several important areas he’ll need to improve in - as can be said about the entire team. While the final score of 21-18 indicated that we were right there with the Steelers, the reality is they are still pretty far ahead of us as a team. At the same time, the improvement shown in some key spots combined with Kizer’s positive opening-day performance indicates fairly strongly that the plan being incorporated by Sashi Brown, Paul DePodesta, Hue Jackson and Analytics is working, even if we don’t see the results in the W/L column right away.
Considering how the game started, you have to give this young team credit for not allowing it to get completely away from them. After failing to gain a 1st down Britton Colquitt’s first punt of the season was blocked which led to a gift touchdown for Pittsburgh before their high-powered offense even got to see the field.
Down 7-0 before a large portion of the crowd gathered at FOSFEF had even made it to their seats, this certainly had the feel of last year all over it. However on the next drive, Kizer was able to generate some offense that at least helped to flip the field position. The defense then proceeded to shut down Pittsburgh’s offense for most of the first half. While the beginning of the contest was far less than fortuitous, it would not end up leading to a blowout after all.
Along with the blocked punt, there were several other key plays that really defined how this one ultimately would turn out. Deep in their own territory and having not moved the ball all half, Pittsburgh got a lucky bounce when the ball which had been perfectly tracked and swatted by LB Joe Schobert was plucked out of the air by WR Antonio Brown, who then turned it into a 50 yard play. That would lead to the first of two touchdown passes Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger would toss to TE Jesse James.
Then there was a dropped pass by Kenny Britt, one which would have converted a 2nd and very long and possibly lead to a score. Later there was the interception to rookie LB T.J. Watt which killed another scoring opportunity, but the dagger would be Brown once again, sealing the victory with a leaping catch of a Roethlisberger arm-punt that essentially took away the Browns’ last chance.
Even though he didn’t get a chance to go down the field to win the game for his team, Kizer still threw a late touchdown pass to Corey Coleman (who I am tremendously high on this year) to bring it to within a score. While the stat that probably looms largest for him was the seven sacks he suffered (largely due to his rookie-processing-speed) he still hung in there all the way through. He was poised, absolutely in control of the offense, and did produce. The smart money is that he’s likely to get better, and at this moment there’s really no limit to how far he can go.
While I’ll not get on the line too badly about the sacks, another important stat in this game was our complete inability to run the ball despite a hard commitment to do so early and often. We finished with only 57 yards on the ground, and Isaiah Crowell didn’t put up anything like the numbers people were expecting him to when drafting him to be their number 1 RB in FF. On the flip side, we held Pittsburgh to just 35 yards on the ground, and only 290 yards TOTAL. Those are pretty impressive statistics for an offense that is generally considered to be among the NFL’s best.
So while the final score was disappointing, this was a pretty solid team effort overall. The defense, save for a few flukey plays by Brown, looked much, much improved from last year - and that’s without #1 overall selection Myles Garrett. There’s a great deal to be excited about.
This week we face the other bitterly-hated division foe, as we travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens. They clobbered Cincinnati in week 1 and once again (dammit) have the look of a contending team. At very least, they’ll not be an easy out.
Of course, we really shouldn’t expect any team to be this year, but the Ravens are probably among the best of those we’ll face on our schedule. Having said that, considering the way we played last week against (what I would consider to be) the better divisional leader, this may be a better match-up than it appears on paper.
I don’t have any illusions about how good this team is, and I’m quite cognizant that it’s young and WILL make mistakes - ones that will cost us games. That’s what I expect to happen again this week; we will hang with these guys and outplay them in several aspects of the game, but we will also duff several of our own opportunities that will ultimately cost us in the end. As Chris listed in the thread yesterday, I think the Ravens beat us 19-18.
Let’s hope I’m wrong, but what do you think?
Browns vs. Ravens
This poll is closed
Browns win big
Browns win a close game
Browns barely lose
Browns get blown out