Browns, Featured

Browns comeback effort falls short in 21-18 loss to Steelers

Browns fans couldn’t have been more disgusted with the beginning of the 2017 Cleveland Browns season, and that’s saying something superlative. The Pittsburgh Steelers forced a three-and-out and then blocked the punt and recovered it for a touchdown. No, this isn’t a Deadspin “Why Your Team Sucks” highlight reel. It’s simply the way the desperate-not-to-be-the-same-old-Browns started a season-opener in the year 2017. As far as season-openers go, it’s not necessarily Dwayne Rudd tossing his helmet, but holy hell is it a demoralizing way to begin a season. Alas, these games are 60 minutes long, not the three miserable minutes that began the year 2017 for the Cleveland Browns.

DeShone Kizer responded with a cool moment. After amassing an embarrassing minus-seven yards in his first two drives to go along with a seven point deficit, Kizer led his offense down the field for over five minutes and 12 plays. He rifled the ball in. He completed a long pass to Duke Johnson for 14 yards. Isaiah Crowell carried the ball with purpose. The Browns even got a pass interference penalty in their favor with David Njoku taking contact before the ball arrived. After a Crowell run to the goal line, DeShone Kizer bullied his way in behind the Browns’ revamped offensive line to tie the game just before the end of the first quarter.

The rest of the half was eventful only in that the Browns made it uneventful for the Steelers. Pittsburgh pulled off one long drive to take a 14-7 lead with 45 seconds to go in the half, and even that was somewhat lucky. Roethlisberger found Antonio Brown long but seemed to miss him before Joe Schobert tipped a ball behind him into his hands. Those 50 yards were too much for the Browns’ defense to withstand as they surrendered the tie. Before that, however, the Browns defense had forced four straight punts to start the game against Pittsburgh’s offense. One successful offensive drive and a blocked punt had the Browns on the wrong end of a 14-7 halftime deficit.

Things got better for the Steelers in the second half. The Browns cut the deficit by a field goal 14-10, but the Steelers started to show their experience and talent. The Browns’ defense was solid, and they held Le’veon Bell under 20 yards rushing through three quarters. That’s pretty astonishing all by itself, but the scoreboard was still tilted in Pittsburgh’s favor. The offensive execution was markedly better, and the Steelers were able to move the ball and extend their lead to 21-10, which is how the third quarter ended. Based on that score and the lack of ability of the Browns’ offense to make big plays, it seemed highly unlikely that Browns fans would get a miraculous comeback.

The Browns didn’t just wilt, however. Eight plays, 83 yards, a touchdown slant to Corey Coleman on fourth down and goal from the two and the Browns were within five. A two-point conversion and the Browns trailed the Steelers three – 21-18 – with 3:33 on the game clock and two timeouts! The team showed grit, effort, competitive fire and a whole host of other adjectives.

The Steelers were able to do just enough to run out the clock, including an amazing catch by an amazing player, Antonio Brown. From there it was pretty elementary. The Browns stood up for themselves and made it a contest, but the Steelers came out on top 21-18.

For Browns fans, while it’s not what you wanted to see, but it’s kind of what you wanted to see. The Browns defense was much improved. DeShone Kizer played like a rookie, but one who is worth investing time and patience in, as opposed to the many who’ve come before him since 1999. It’s the kind of game that makes you say, “SEE YOU NEXT WEEK!” not “I guess we’ll you next week because the schedule said so.”

Final Notes…

  • It’s likely the combination of Gregg Williams and an influx of talent, but the Cleveland Browns’ defense is much improved so far. They played very well against the run, had a takeaway, and gave the Browns a chance to win. With the game in the balance, they held the Steelers to two offensive touchdowns.
  • DeShone Kizer had a pretty good day for a rookie starting his first game. When you look at the last time a rookie started for the Browns, and Brandon Weeden threw four interceptions and got trapped by the American flag. Kizer had a lot of rookie moments, holding the ball too long to take sacks and staring down first options, and throwing a gross interception, but it didn’t seem to define his performance. Overall he showed promise and ability in the face of one of the fiercest teams in the NFL.
  • The Steelers are an illegal hit machine. There’s little conclusion you can draw other than they coach their guys to hit illegally. William Gay drew a penalty. J.J. Wilcox drew a penalty on the Coleman touchdown. Ryan Shazier drew a penalty for hitting DeShone Kizer in a slide. Three illegal hits in one game added to the list of illegal hits we’ve witnessed just against the Browns over the years to Colt McCoy, Josh Cribbs, and Mohamed Massaquoi makes the case hard to ignore.

    • whosevelt

      I don’t want to be all gloom and doom when the game turned out about as well as I could have hoped. But when we appear to be approaching a tipping point it hurts that much more that we have no receivers because we were too smart to resign Pryor. I noticed the regular Browns apologists on Twitter talking about how mediocre Pryor was for the Redskins. Which was rich considering he had more yards than any Browns receiver, and his replacement had 13 yards and a an epic drop at a pivotal moment.

    • Sam Gold
    • RGB

      “The Steelers are an illegal hit machine. There’s little conclusion you can draw other than they coach their guys to hit illegally.”

    • Sam

      It’s hard to realistically complain about the overall performance, but I have to say Crowell’s performance was concerning. He seems to miss so many open lanes and goes down so easily. Britt’s drop was also horrible, especially considering he didn’t do anything else positive. We are going to need another receiver besides Coleman to step up big time.

    • MartyDaVille

      On the blocked punt, my first thought was, Is Care Bear back?

    • MartyDaVille

      To the HBT, “value” is more important than talent. Cap space is more important than winning. They don’t want to put the best players on the field, they want to put the most cost-effective players on the field. Rah rah.

    • RGB

      The Teflon Goldfish.

    • Skulb

      Double pie to the face! The Skins were utter garbage on offense, as expected, and the Browns lost in their usual unorthodox fashion. Being a sports fan is hard. Maybe I should take up stamp collecting…

    • Casual_Kenny_Reigns

      100% this. Any wins they stumble into are just a nice bonus.

    • Dan_L79

      There are some really interesting questions concerning what to do with the Browns offense right now, and all of them relate to the question “Do we want to protect the Quarterback even at the expense of winning a game?”

      1. In the preseason and today, there has been 0 evidence that the “standard” running game works. There has been some evidence that the read option running game works in the preseason (both run by Kizer and Hogan). If you are willing to open Kizer to run with the ball more, we may see this team run effectively yet. If not, I expect many 3 yards per carry days.

      2. The team was actually somewhat effective passing the ball today. There were also a number of close plays that made me think this offense could work in a pass heavy game plan. Of course, this also sets up Kizer for some hits. How much would/should you consider such a game plan, assuming it is the best path to victory?

      Anyway, no coach would ever honestly answer such a question in an interview, but I believe the game plans for the next few weeks may answer these.

    • Saggy

      Yep. Kenny Britt is this year’s Bowe. I can’t believe they’d let this kid Kizer go to battle without any weapons.

    • theMike

      “The Steelers are an illegal hit machine.” – Don’t forget Watt’s late/pile-on hit on Kizer as well. I think you’re right. Year after year, the target helmet to helmet and late hits.

    • theMike

      I didn’t see Sammy Coates on the field at all. Did I miss him or is he still learning the offense?

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    • BenRM

      It wasn’t a good game. But it was better than we’ve had in a while. More often than not, it looked like legitimate NFL football. Winners & Losers should be solid today.

    • tigersbrowns2

      hi WHO … sorry , man , Pryor could’ve stayed … he got freakin’ greedy & ended-up signing for less money once he found out he’s not a top dollar WR yet & teams weren’t willing to throw boat-loads of money at him.

    • tigersbrowns2

      hi MARTY … i respectfully disagree. even with the youngest team in the NFL right now , you can see they have better talent & are playing better than when they were overpaying for guys like Whitner , Dansby , D.Davis , T.Williams , Bowe & a host of others.

      the HBT has the best plan i’ve seen since 1999 … don’t they deserve more than 2 years , and especially after blowing the whole thing up ??

    • tigersbrowns2

      well , it couldn’t have started any worse for a young team … 3 & out on offense then the punt blocked for a TD. but they hung in there pretty good … i thought the Steelers got lucky on more than a few plays where balls are tipped , or were within a whisker of being tipped , & turned into big gainers or TD’s for the Steelers.

      Other than some predictable offensive play-calling & Kizer holding on to the ball too long … i liked what i saw , especially from the defense.

    • tigersbrowns2

      hi DAN … i think a lot has to do with play-calling … it was a little too predictable : run up the middle for 1 yard on 1st down … now it’s 2nd & 9. I thought they should’ve thrown a little more on 1st down & kept the defense guessing.

    • MartyDaVille

      HI, TB2.

      There’s a time to play Moneyball and a time not to. To automatically make decisions based on money without regard to individual circumstances is foolish. Any accountant can do that. The idea is to accumulate talent, not cap space.

    • theMike

      I thought the defensive play was positive overall, but I kept questioning why, why, why are the safeties playing 25 yards deep and the corners playing 7-8 yards off in 3rd and 3 situations. Too many easy yards were given to the short passing game because of this cushion.

    • JM85

      Huh? Pryor took less money with Washington. How is that on the Browns?

    • tigersbrowns2

      you bring up a good point , but we’re in year 2 of a total rebuild … the real proof on whether they are really cheap or not will come when the Browns are ready to compete for the playoffs or a division title … then adding some higher-priced FA veteran talent when we’re only a player or two away from taking the next step.

      yes , i know some folks are more concerned about the here & now … the HBT has a plan & is looking ahead … i will be more concerned about the salary cap when it comes time for the HBT to RE-SIGN the good young players to their 2nd contracts & if they will spend on meaningful FA’s when the time is right. IMO , the time is NOT right to overspend or keep guys like Pryor or Haden … if we were on the cusp of being a playoff team , that’s one thing … but we’re nowhere near that yet.

    • tigersbrowns2

      hi MIKE … i agree & thought the same thing. I can only guess that the Browns are being overly-aggressive with their defense scheme & if they don’t get to the QB in time because they are selling-out to get to the QB , they want to at least have a safety valve to hopefully avoid the big play.

    • Garry_Owen

      It isn’t. Walk away. Nothing to see here.

    • Garry_Owen

      I think the Browns knew (or believed) that they could be in the game as long as they didn’t give up huge plays. I think that was a gamble on being aggressive up front, with a safety way back to keep Antonio Brown from breaking a big one. It essentially worked. Brown had a good day, and a couple of biggish plays, but didn’t get the game-ender that the Browns were trying to prevent.

    • theMike

      I did not see the blitzing I was expecting to see, so I don’t think you can consider them uber-aggressive, at least for this week.