Cleveland’s players had nothing to play for other than pride and keeping their jobs with the Browns next year. Well, then they had lots to play for.
Oh, and keeping their hated rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers out of the playoffs. That alone was a motive to play hard despite being guaranteed another losing record, their second in a row.
RB Nick Chubb did have a shot at the NFL rushing title but needed 206 yards to supplant the league leader Josh Jacobs of Las Vegas who ended up with 1,653 yards for the year including 45 yards in a losing effort to Kansas City Saturday afternoon.
In the end, turnovers and spotty offense killed the Browns as they lost 28-14.
So who played well for the Browns? Who didn’t?
TE David Njoku - Great acting on his touchdown catch in the first half. Njoku was lined up along with TE Harrison Bryant on the left side of the line, At the snap, Njoku blocked LB Alex Highsmith and stay engaged as Bryant broke out into his route. DB Cameron Sutton then tailed Bryant which left the left zone now open.
Who else had Njoku props?— Betbasics (@betbasics) January 8, 2023
As QB Deshaun Watson began to roll out left, Njoku left Highsmith who thought he had an unimpeded route for a sack. Instead, Njoku the blocker was not the wide-open Njoku the receiver. Late in the game, Njoku was all Cleveland had going for it on offense. He hurdled for a first down to keep a drive going and then with 2:14 left on a fourth-and-six, then snagged a great catch for a first down. Three plays later he converted a third-and-six. Finished with four catches for 42 yards with five targets and a score.
DT Perrion Winfrey - The Browns have found a keeper in this rookie as every game he becomes more polished. On the goal line fumble, it was Winfrey who stood up his man which forced RB Najee Harris to have to take flight. With the Steelers driving and setting up at the Browns’ 10 early in the third quarter, Winfrey beat his man and stood up Harris for no gain. On the first-and-goal at the four with 4:57 left in the game and Pittsburgh up just one score, Winfrey stuffed RB Jaylen Warren for a one-yard gain. At least the defensive tackle is half-solved for next season.
Counterproductive penalties - With just over eight minutes left in the first quarter, the Steelers could not make the third-and-13 with an incomplete pass to WR George Pickens, but DE Alex Wright was offsides on the play. Now facing a third-and-eight, Steelers QB Kenny Pickett found WR Diontae Johnson open, taking it to the two-yard line and a first-and-goal. Four minutes later, Watson found Njoku who scampered 27 yards downfield, but a Jedrick Wills holding call negated the huge gain.
Then in the second quarter, apparently hand-fighting is now pass interference because that is what they called on Greg Newsome and a stopped third-and-five. That penalty led to seven points for Pittsburgh. But former Brown Larry Ogunjobi can grab a full-fisted facemask? C Ethan Pocic played well but committed a holding call late in the game when Cleveland needed yardage, not a first-and-20. Then on a very late drive with the Browns down two scores, KR Jerome Ford had a nice kickoff return to the 42-yard line, only to have a holding call on reserve LB Tae Davis move the starting point all the way back to the 15 instead.
And the pass interference on M.J. Emerson after stopping the third-and-goal? Did someone not tell the rookie that in the NFL when you are literally hugging the receiver with one arm despite the fact that you swat the ball away with your free arm that they call that every time?
LT Jedrick Wills - For the second week in a row, Wills could not keep out his man. Highsmith was most of the disruption in the backfield. If he didn’t have a hand on Watson, he was flushing him out. The 2.5 sacks, eight tackles, and two tackles for loss do not tell the entire story at all. Early in the third quarter, it was Highsmith who beat Wills to which Watson was forced to scramble and gained just one yard. Several plays later, Wills whiffed on Highsmith who nailed Watson for a key sack. It was Highsmith who made Watson scramble out and into the waiting arms of DT Cameron Heyward who was luckily called for a phantom roughing the passer penalty.
With 3:43 left in the game and needing two scores, Wills pushed Highsmith just once, was moved to the side, then stood there and watched Watson get slammed by three defenders (yes, Highsmith was one of them). Wills’ knee injury occurred when he lost control of Highsmith who was still in hot pursuit of Watson, and then got tangled up and pushed back onto DE T.J. Watt as his leg was bent backward.
First half run game - Nick Chubb 39 yards? Kareem Hunt 10? 58 total rushing yards? Isn’t this the same team Cleveland gashed for 171 yards earlier in the season?
S John Johnson - With the touchdown catch by Pickens, did you see the nifty juke move he made coming off the line that completely fooled the defense? That is because there weren’t any. All Pickens did was run straight downfield - no cuts, no head bob, no shifty hip movement. Off the snap, Nickel A.J. Green moved off Pickens to the deep zone but Johnson had already tapered off to help out CB Greg Newsome in the left flats. This meant the North 40 had no defense.
With 6:56 left in the game, Pickett missed a completion to Johnson, but in the deep zone, WR Steven Sims was wide open. Again, Johnson had come down to help out on man coverage and left his zone which a crossing receiver filled. Luckily, Pickett did not look in Sims’ direction.
On the very next play, TE Conner Heyward simply ran straight down the field on a third-and-eight after Johnson had come up thinking it was a running play and left the exact same middle zone wide open. The end result was a 27-yard completion and a first down at the 14. Johnson hurt his left knee on the late tackle.
First-half receivers - Donovan Peoples-Jones one catch 38 yards, Pro Bowl alternate Amari Cooper one catch 15 yards. Rookie Michael Woods had one catch for 15 yards. Was this the game plan?
RT James Hudson - Starting for the injured Jack Conklin, Hudson had his hands full with the greatness of T.J. Watt. Hudson did recover the fumble with 45 ticks left in the game. Just a half-sack, but Watt’s disruption alone was a game-changer. How many times did Watson have to leave the pocket because of #90? We understand, we really do.
RG Wyatt Teller - Jailbreak on his man Hayward. Teller did well on moving his man on run plays, but passing downs were another matter. Hayward was just a disruptor and beat Teller repeatedly. The two sacks and eight tackles for the defender were only a portion of this story of destroying a Pro Bowl-caliber guard. Even on the touchdown throw to Chubb, Watson was harassed and was lucky the linebacker who was guarding Chubb left him.
QB Deshaun Watson - What is 31 plus 29 plus 41? Those were the jersey numbers in the direct area in which Watson was attempting to get the ball to WR David Bell yet was picked as the Browns were trying to get into field goal range right before the half. Instead, Pittsburgh drove the short distance and got three. The second interception was just not reading the defender as he jumped Bell which killed a drive and gave the Steelers the ball back in great field position which resulted in another touchdown.
Lost season - Everyone says “on paper all the talent the Browns have.” That never transpired. The end result is two losing seasons in a row, with the win totals less than the year before and a dead-last finish in the AFC North.
Milk Bones – When you quit drinking for good, and now just drink for evil
Scrambling QB Deshaun Watson - When it was announced that Watson was coming to Cleveland, there were visions of our own Lamar Jackson with the long scrambling runs and drive extenders. But so far since his return, he has had few long runs. Today, he was in form as he left the pocket repeatedly and made plays with his legs. Now, the fact that his O-Line had arguably the worst game of the year may have contributed to that.....
LB Deion Jones - It was Jones who punched the ball out of RB Najee Harris’ hands on the one to prevent a score. In the third quarter, he nailed Harris for a one-yard gain. Finished with five tackles.
DE Myles Garrett - Had a timely sack, his 16th of the season. The batted ball thrown in the direction of Johnson would have been a touchdown as the receiver had gotten an inside move on CB Greg Newsome and was open.
Black Monday is tomorrow. Do you think Stefanski will hear his name called and get canned?
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