The Cleveland Browns have the distinction of having to play all three of their division foes in the first four games this year. After thumping the Cincinnati Bengals last week, they set their sights on the road on Monday Night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
A win would place Cleveland in a very good spot not only going 2-0-0 overall but also having the same division and conference record. The Steelers came into this game ranked 29th against the run, and of course, the Browns are a very good rushing team.
The new defense for Cleveland appears to be one of their strengths this season and played very well. The Browns had not begun a season 2-0 for 26 consecutive seasons, and after losing 26-22 that streak continued.
So who played well for the Browns? Who didn’t?
Defense - The Steelers were only able to gain 255 total yards for the game. The 71-yard TD pass was the majority of their offense before halftime. There was constant pressure from the defensive line for most of the contest. Had an interception, fumble recovery plus two sacks and four tackles for loss. In the first half, the Steelers had gained only two rushing yards with just four first downs and finished with just 55. This group played their asses off.
RB Jerome Ford - Started off slow, then all of a sudden ripped off a 69-yard scamper to the one. Took the load and ran hard. Was caught two times with a loss that he somehow made decent yardage out of. Had 16 carries for 106 yards.
S Grant Delpit - Was all over the field and for the second week led the team in tackles with six. His fumble recovery in the second quarter set up a field goal. He was able to stop Steelers RB Najee Harris cold with just over nine minutes left before halftime. Delpit knocked down the third-and-10 pass with 10:32 left in the game.
WR Amari Cooper - Was doubtful and then was the spark of the offense. He was clutch tonight with four third-down conversions. He showed up in the final stanza as he caught an 18-yard pass on a key third-and-three deep in the Browns’ end of the field. Several plays later he snared a 23-yarder to the 46-yard line to move the chains. 10 targets, and seven catches for 90 yards for a player who was questionable to even play.
CB Denzel Ward - Took out many passes with tight coverage all night and caused a fumble that led to three points. Right after halftime, he nailed RB Jaylen Warren for no gain. On the very next play, WR George Pickens attempted to hurdle Ward who stopped him short of the first down on the third down play.
DTs Maurice Hurst, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Shelby Harris - One thing Pittsburgh could not do was run up the middle thanks to this trio. Two rushing yards in the first half was only the beginning of this story. Harris and Hurst shared a sack. Nice job.
Losing Nick Chubb - It appeared that Chubb’s left knee made a collision with the helmet of Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick as he came flying in to make the tackle. Both lay on the carpet with Chubb carted off. It is the same knee he injured back in 2015 when he was still in college. I did an article this past week and questioned why the Browns did not have an experienced NFL backup as Cleveland always had a capable backup instead of a set of second-year running backs. In that article, I listed the available running backs. Ford did a good job filling in.
TE Harrison Bryant - He tipped the game’s first pass that ended up in LB Alex Highsmith’s hands. Bryant then had Highsmith with the tackle but tried to grab the jersey instead of taking him down and slipped off as he watched Highsmith score. With 3:55 left in the first quarter on a second-and-three, he failed to move DE T.J. Watt out of position while engaged who then nailed Chubb for a two-yard loss. Then at the 11-minute mark left in the second quarter, the pass was slightly behind him but he was able to get both hands on the ball before not catching the pass on the first down play. As the fullback when the Browns had the ball on the one-yard line, Bryant went into the hole and whiffed on his block. Two targets with zero catches. Eesch....
Turnover bug - In the first quarter, the Browns tossed an interception that resulted in six points for the Steelers, and then Deshaun Watson fumbled on a fourth-and-one at Pittsburgh’s 43-yard line. In total, four turnovers. Of Pittsburgh’s 26 points, 17 came off turnovers. The Browns lost by four - you do the math.
C Ethan Pocic and LG Joel Bitonio - We all know Pittsburgh always has a great defense, but the constant pressure up the gut by either former Browns DT Larry Ogunjobi and NT Montravius Adams was a constant all game long. Pocic’s man had a sack in the second quarter with just a bullrush. In all the offensive line allowed six sacks.
ST Mike Ford - The cornerback was signed for one reason. He made the 53-man final roster for one reason. He is a special teams demon. Ford is usually the first man down on punt coverage and is a sure tackler. Yet, tonight, he slammed into Calvin Austin who had opted for the fair catch which gave the Steelers an extra 15 yards. Earlier in the second quarter, he had Austin and then didn’t have him as he scampered for 14 yards.
Injuries - In addition to Amari Cooper coming into the game questionable and Chubb who was lost for the game, other players to go off at some point were Za’Darius Smith, Denzel Ward, and Greg Newsome. Myles Garrett ended up gimpy but remained in the game.
Counterproductive mistakes - Right after the sack with just over nine minutes left in the game, Pittsburgh punted. Donovan Peoples-Jones could have fair caught the ball at their own 25, yet he let it hit the turf which was downed at the five instead. On the punt with 55 seconds remaining in the third quarter, M.J. Emerson was caught running off the punt return team to which the punt went into the end zone for a touchback. Meanwhile, head coach Kevin Stefanski had called a timeout to avoid the five-yard penalty. Then the real punt went out of bounds at the one - a negative of 24 yards plus now pinned down. Plus, late in the game, Cleveland had only one timeout remaining instead of two. The David Njoku fumble really hurt as did the Deshaun Watson fumble on the fourth-and-one. Deshaun Watson’s two facemask penalties. Dawand Jones’ false start to begin the final drive just placed them in the hole right off. The only defender deep on the 71-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter was Emerson. Where were the safeties? Watson being flushed more times than any stadium urinal. You name a mistake and this Browns’ offense committed it at least once.
love the ref blindly staring right at it pic.twitter.com/FnjFOgVsxQ— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) September 19, 2023
Lack of call on final play - Judge for yourself.
Last five drives of the game - Punt, fumble, fumble/TD, punt, takeover on downs. This Browns’ defense played its heart out, and the offense rewards them with this?
Milk Bones – You come from dust and will return to dust. That is why you shouldn’t dust. It could be someone you know.
OT Jedrick Wills - His man Highsmith leaned and got away from Wills coming off the edge which became the sack/fumble/touchdown. All of the offensive linemen chased after T.J. Watt as he approached the end zone except for Wills who just stood there.
Looks like Deshaun Watson got away with putting his hands on an official. Usually a no-no. pic.twitter.com/EbEjDiyaxO— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) September 19, 2023
QB Deshaun Watson - Some good and some just horrible plays. The fumble was not his fault as Highsmith came from his blindside, but tonight it was passes behind his receivers or was sailed out of bounds including the final play. Threw the ball 40 times but was sacked six times. Had 210 passing yards with an interception and a touchdown. Could not rally that last drive. Had a great block on that long Ford run. Had a key fumble on the fourth-and-one. Shoved an official that luckily wasn’t called. Once a great scrambler, he looks like he lumbers on his runs now.
LB Sione Takitaki - Had a steady game, but his sack on the third-and-one with 9:40 left in the game looked like a game-changer with a slight lead. He also broke up a third-and-three pass early in the second quarter.
OL Nick Harris - Was lined up at fullback on the Pierre Strong touchdown run and nailed LB Elandon Roberts to which Strong slid off Harris’ backside for the score.
DE Ogbo Okoronkwo - Had a steady pass rush the snaps he was inserted and kept good pressure. Finished with three tackles and one tackle for loss, but missed out on two sacks.
P Corey Bojorquez - Was a busy man tonight with good hang time. Had five kicks for a 47.6 yards per punt average and a long of 54 yards. Not great, but did his job.