When asked how Week 1 would go for the Cleveland Browns, I oftentimes pointed back to Week 2’s home opener which saw the team storm out to 20 points in the first quarter, only to be beaten 25-20 by the game’s final whistle. Energy would be high. There would be little-to-no tape on the Browns’ gameplan thanks to a new starting quarterback. There would be plenty of hope, only to have the cream eventually rise to the top.
This past Sunday, however, it was anything but. Sure there was plenty of energy, and yes—there was little-to-no tape regarding this year’s quarterback. But rather than racing out of the gate and realizing that the pace was unsustainable, this team fought to the very end, not intimidated by the half-dozen Pro Bowlers who were staring at them from the other side of the field. While things didn’t exactly start off well (we’ll get to this in a bit), the Browns, led by rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer and a handful of 20-somethings, didn’t back down when the Steelers had a two-score lead. They made Pittsburgh earn all of their points (outside of their first seven), and appeared to have earn the respect of Ben Roethlisberger postgame.
In a season where you’re simply looking or signs of hope after was was a dismal 1-15 year littered with names like Griffin III and Bowe and Tramon, you need these kids to show that they’ll be the ones leading the way going forward. It was difficult to watch Sunday’s three-point loss and not see exactly that.
I’m more than glad to have been wrong about my initial forecast.
WINNER: DeShone Kizer
Sure, DeShone Kizer took a few too many hits. Sure, he held on to the ball too long at times, leading to a handful of sacks. And sure, I’m willing to be he would love to have that interception back—especially after he watches the film—but here is a rookie quarterback making his NFL debut against a team that will be looking at a top-three seed in the AFC Playoff scenario (barring anything catastrophic) and he completely held his own. He took on a bevy of Pittsburgh blitzes and completed 75 percent of his actual pass attempts (eliminating throwaways). Yeah, the Browns didn’t win the game, but they were a score away with a kid under center. There was much, much more good than bad in this one and we now get to cling to the hope that No. 7 can end the Great Quarterback Drought.
“It was awesome,” Kizer said of his first touchdown. “Obviously, it was at the point of the game where we needed some momentum to turn back after a special teams touchdown. It is up to us on offense to make sure that we go out there and swing things back our way. A little energy afterwards is also good for the team.”
WINNERish: Hue Jackson
While the play calling was a bit suspect at times throughout the contest, Hue Jackson had a group of first- and second-year players one field goal away from the veteran-laden Pittsburgh Steelers. Jackson seemed to go away from the run—something he desired to not do this season—but the second-half drives led to 11 of the team’s 18 points. Typically, the head coach’s slot on Winners and Losers is dictated by whether or not the team wins or loses, but much like with Kizer, there was a lot to like about the way this team fought until the final whistle.
WINNER: Gregg Williams
Watching this defense is like a night-and-day experience compared to the Ray Horton defense of yesteryear. Jackson referred to it as a “legit” defense, which is a bit nebulous, but shows just how much different a game flows when the defense can get off of the field. Williams’ deep safety scheme threw the Steelers off early, leading to an interception (more on this later), and the run defense was absolutely terrific in holding Le’Veon Bell to just 32 yards on the ground. While I don’t want to play the “what if” game with Myles Garrett, this unit could be a huge surprise compared to where it was a season ago.
LOSER: Joe Haden
Love Joe Haden the person and the player he was in his first few years with the Cleveland Browns, but he clearly is not that player any longer. While the most damaged of Cleveland fans fully expected Haden to have a pick six, the final line was six catches allowed for 80 yards and a 106.3 passer rating into his coverage including getting destroyed on double move by Corey Coleman.
WINNER: Derrick Kindred
Such a great game for Kindred, breaking up passes, recording tackles, and registering his first career interception. There was a lot of chatter in August as to whether or not Kindred deserved to be a starter on this team, and he certainly cast his vote by example.
LOSER: Jamar Taylor
Conversely, Jamar Taylor could have had a better day. Largely tasked with covering Antonio Brown, Taylor allowed No. 84 to haul in every target which happened to be on his watch. There aren’t many DBs in the NFL who can cover Brown, but Taylor will want to forget about this one pretty quickly with Baltimore on deck for Week 2.
WINNER: Corey Coleman
While Brown will get all the praise for catching all 11 of his targets, Coleman was also perfect, pulling in all five passes thrown his way for 50-plus yards and a touchdown. Coleman’s reception rate during his rookie campaign was insanely low, but this was mostly due to targets being uncatchable. It looks as if the second-year receiver has build quite the rapport with Kizer, as evidenced by his 150.4 passer rating when the two were involved in an attempt.
Also: This was one hell of an NFL catch.
LOSER: Kenny Britt
Please don’t be Dwayne Bowe
Please don’t be Dwayne Bowe
Please don’t be D—
WINNER: Briean Boddy-Calhoun
The BBC allowed just one catch on the day for a measly six yards. He broke up a pass, and recorded three total defensive stops with zero missed tackles on the day.1
WINNERS: Joe Schobert and Carl Nassib
The pair of sophomores look like completely different players in their new roles under Gregg Williams. Schobert had nine total tackles (a team high) while Nassib filled in a bit for Garrett coming off the right side, recording a huge sack.
LOSER: Seth DeValve
Loved Seth for this, but his blown block on this punt was a game-bending gaffe. The other option, of course, is wondering why a tight end is playing left guard on punt protection, but hey — who am I to question the Teflon Don?
Loser: Ben Roethlisberger
What the hell was this?
Very unique fighting style here from Ben Roethlisberger pic.twitter.com/EK4NOoLg1U
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) September 10, 2017
And now: The fans
Winners: Progress, new D, Peppers, Kindred, Kizer and Coleman.
Losers: rookie mistakes, special teams
— chris wilson (@chrswlsn) September 10, 2017
Kizer was a winner. His offensive line was well, offensive.
— Fig (@Terminal_Fig) September 10, 2017
Winners: Kizer, defense
Loser: Me, since I lost the annual Browns-Steelers bet w/ my wife and she gets to dress our child in Steelers garb.
— Nate (@NatedogCLE) September 10, 2017
Winner: 1. DeShone. Kid can play and he wants it. 2. me because CBS isn't available in Columbus so i could only listen to the last 3 minutes
— Jamin Dunn (@jamin_dunn) September 10, 2017
- Via PFF. [↩]