Steelers 34, Browns 21
Good day, Browns fans!
The score is deceptive; the Browns did not play as close a game as the score would indicate. After a solid first quarter, the Browns did failed on both sides of the ball. To win, the Browns defense was going to have to stop or at least control the run. On offense, the Browns needed to avoid mistakes. Neither of those happened.
While overall Trent Dilfer had a decent game, missing an open Braylon Edwards for what would have turned into a 70-yard touchdown sticks out. That would have given the Browns a 14-0 lead. Dilfer had an ugly interception, but was hit as he threw. More often that not in this one, it wasn't Dilfer who missed the play, but the one he did miss was a killer.
I cannot say anything but positives about Reuben Droughns. Once again, he fought through tackles, often dragging multiple Steelers with him. While his rushing numbers were not stellar, Droughns added meaningful yards via the passing game as well. Where would the Browns be without Reuben Droughns this season?
More than the plays that were made, the ones that did not get made defined this game. Dennis Nothcutt's drop of a pass that would have converted a third-and-17 was a momentum changer that swung the game away from the Browns. They never recovered. Northcutt dropped another key pass as well. Antonio Bryant was quick to say how the Steelers could not cover him after the game, but Bryant fumbled giving the Steelers the ball at the Cleveland 18 and didn't come up with a big play when needed. Other than the slant play mentioned above, the Browns didn't get the ball into the hands of Braylon Edwards enough, and when they did, it was too late. Edwards would help his cause by knowing the offense. On the other hand, Edwards made a nice catch leaping over a defender.
The tight ends did not figure into this game as much as I felt would be needed to win.
Considering that the line is banged up, and considering that a matchup with the blitz-happy Steelers was not a good one on paper, and considering that starter Cosey Coleman was out, the offensive line did a decent job. For the most part, they kept Dilfer protected and opened holes for Droughns. There were exceptions, though, such as the opening play of the second half when L. J. Shelton allowed a defender to blow past him, resulting in a sack. Mike Pucillo again did a solid job filling in for Coleman.
This offense just isn't resilient enough yet to overcome the multiple mistakes made in this game.
The game might have turned on defense when Daylon McCutcheon left with an abdominal injury early in the game. The Browns were forced to rely on the undersized Ray Mickens and less experienced and injury-prone Michael Lehan. Mickens covering Hines Ward was a joke, though Mickens might have given his best effort of the year. The size mismatch alone puts Mickens at a tremendous disadvantage against Ward. As a result, a secondary that has played well most of the year was overmatched and undermanned. This hurt the Browns' chances to stop drives on third down. In addition, the secondary gave up too may big plays including a wide receiver option pass and a double-covered deep pass that was underthrown. It was shocking that the underthrown pass was complete, let a lone a huge gain that allowed the Steelers to get their offense going. Give Brian Russel credit for a good interception, despite the fact that is was nullified by a penalty. Brodney Pool continues to come along, making plays each week.
Orpheus Roye had a solid game, and in more substantial playing time, Ethan Kelley did some nice things. Alvin McKinley wiped out an interception with a dumb facemask penalty. When the Browns needed to stop the run, this unit along with the linebackers really failed to do so. They were consistently shoved yards off the ball.
While the linebackers are coming along, Andra Davis and Chaun Thomspon were probably the only ones that really made an impact in this game. Davis in particular had a tremendous stop on a fourth down play. Kenard Lang is a trooper, but he largely isn't cutting it. Matt Stewart is a solid and knows the scheme, but isn't doing anything spectaular. Ben Taylor had a pretty invisible game. Orlando Ruff contributed some against the run early in the game.
Josh Cribbs got injured again on a kickoff return. Dennis Northcutt continued his strange season with misadventures on punts inside the 20. He let a couple of balls go that died inside the 10. Chris Gardocki hurt the Browns with some good punting, pointing out again how dumb Butch Davis was to let him go. Kyle Richardson punted OK, especially considering some of his problems earlier this season.
Once again, the kick coverage teams had some difficult times. On the other hand, Orpheus Roye blocked a field goal attempt and it was picked up and run back by Leigh Bodden for a late touchdown. At least that helped to make the score look respectable, swinging a possible 30-3 deficit to 27-14 instead.
I find it interesting that Browns have probably played their three worst games this season against each of the other teams in the AFC North. While the Browns started well in this game, you must play for 60:00 in the NFL. To their credit, after imploding with numerous missed plays and mistakes, the team fought to the very end, scoring with just seconds remaining.
Beyond that, it did seem as if the Browns coaching staff often had their players in positions to make plays, but the players could not make the play when needed. You are starting to see the real playmakers sorting themselves out, and some pretenders are starting to show a consistent tendency to not make plays when needed. Who is who we'll leave as a discussion for a later time.
Give Romeo credit for using the red flag on the Hines Ward ‘touchdown'. The call was overturned and the Steelers turned the ball over on downs, failing to score.
I am really left to wonder why Coach Crennel still doesn't want to make some personnel changes, allowing the younger players to get some valuable experience. While the Coach has indicated that Frye will not start yet, he also said Frye would play before the end of the season. Given that this season is going nowhere, as a fan I'd at least like to see them invest in the future by giving more of the young players some playing time.
The season is short, bark hard!