Another season opener on the Lake Erie shores ended with the same result. A Browns loss, with this one being a bit more embarrassing than many of the past, due to the expectations heading into the season. In the end, the 34-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was as demoralizing as the final score would indicate.
A Cleveland offense which has been the topic of discussion heading into the regular season could never get on track. Mental errors, penalties, and poor execution all played a significant role in the devastating loss, in which the play at the quarterback position was consistently terrible.
Starter Charlie Frye was at his very worst, as the Steelers defense blitzed at will. Unable to read and recognize the blitz schemes quick enough, Frye was sacked five times and hurried on numerous other attempts, before head coach Romeo Crennel removed him midway through the second quarter.
While the Pittsburgh defense was in attack mode throughout the game, the offensive line withstood the challenge. Hurried on many of his attempts, Frye simply was not ready to face the live fire-power the Steelers offered, and far too often the third-year veteran held onto the ball and was sacked. What makes this effort far more disappointing is the Browns had receivers running open against a less than stringent Pittsburgh pass defense. Shell-shocked, Frye never recovered, leaving the team in a precarious situation.
A sack of Frye and a bobbled snap by punter Paul Ernster, who was making his first appearance for the Browns, replacing the injured Dave Zastudil gave the Steelers great field position at the Cleveland 22- yard line.
On the ensuing drive, Frye was intercepted by DeShea Townsend, resulting in a Josh Reed field-goal and a 10-0 Pittsburgh lead. It was all downhill for the Browns, as the Pittsburgh pass rush caused Frye to miss open receivers, then a Jamal Lewis fumble setup a perfectly thrown Ben Roethlisberger 40-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes over rookie Eric Wright.
Quickly down 17-0 in the first quarter, the Browns offense played on their heels for the remainder of the game.
Head coach Romeo Crennel pulled Frye in the second quarter, with mixed results. Under consistent pressure from the same Pittsburgh blitzing scheme, Derek Anderson was hurried and hit on occasion, while being sacked once which resulted in a fumble. With Anderson under center the Cleveland offense did attack the Pittsburgh secondary, but numerous erratic throws by the third-year quarterback left the Browns from sustaining any continuity on the offensive side of the ball.
With the offense going three and out frequently, the Browns defense was unable to catch a break, much less a breather. Pittsburgh dominated the time of possession 36:16 to 23:44. Though the Cleveland offense kept the defense with their back against the wall throughout the first half, the Browns went into the half down 17-0. In the second half, the play of the defense was uninspired and tired, as the Steelers began to take control of the line of scrimmage, wearing the defense down.
Much has been noted about the Cleveland run defense leading up to the season opener against the Steelers. On this day, the overall statistics are not impressive for the Browns rush defense, but in the first half the team held the Steelers to 53 yards rushing and 120 yards of total offense. In the second half when the Steelers wore down and put the Browns away, they rushed for 153 yards and added another 96 yards through the air.
Notable Errors or Poor Performance-
- QB Charlie Frye received top billing for his uninspired and completely unacceptable performance. Frye did not read nor recognize the defense in a timely, professional manner. Far too often he held onto the ball, did not look of defenders, and played not to make mistakes. As the Pittsburgh defensive backs were jumping routes consistently, Frye did not take advantage of numerous opportunities presented to him and the Cleveland offense. Throughout the entire game, the Cleveland tight-ends were open in the Pittsburgh secondary, with the zone between the linebackers and safeties a safe zone, as well as up the seam, where the Pittsburgh linebackers struggle in coverage. A veteran QB is expected, taught to throw the ball away, in the case of Frye, again he held onto the ball entirely too long and his indecision was costly for the team.
- QB Derek Anderson fared better than the starter Frye, but his overall play left much to be desired. Following suit of an inconsistent preseason, Anderson was extremely erratic in his pass attempts. Far too often passes were thrown behind or in front of the receivers. While some of the inconsistency could be attributed to timing issues, Anderson did get a good number of snaps with the first team offense during the week. Another issue was Anderson’s tendency to put the ball up for grabs, often throwing into coverage. Against the Steelers Anderson followed suit, as he has one pass intercepted and three others which fell off the hands of Pittsburgh defenders.
- FS Brodney Pool looked lost in coverage a few times, which proved costly for the Browns. During the preseason Pool appeared to progress well into the starting role replacing Brian Russell. On numerous occasions Pool was caught peeking into the Pittsburgh defensive backfield, causing him to be late in coverage and he did not supply much support against the run. Playing in the nickel and dime defensive packages last season, Pool has experience covering receivers and nothing which the Steelers did on the field was new to the first time starter.
- P Paul Ernster came in during the week and was signed late in the week to fill in, but he has punted in this league and letting a perfect snap eat him up deep in Browns territory is inexcusable. The tone for the game was set into opening eight-minutes of the game, which Ernster had a hand in.
- TE Kellen Winslow had a heck of a game statistically, but a pass interference call against him nullified a first down pass reception in Pittsburgh territory and the Browns were ultimately forced to punt. Being down 10-0, a score could have changed the complexion of the game.
- The Browns defensive line wore down as the game progressed. In the first half, the line held their own against the Steelers, but when Pittsburgh wanted to flex their muscle, they did by running the football down the throat of the Cleveland defense.
- The Browns offensive line held up well to the extreme pressure the Steelers threw at them. A couple breakdowns in blocking assignments left openings for the QB to be sacked, but overall the line provided sufficient time for the QB to get the play off. The line was not successful opening up holes in the running game for Jamal Lewis, but this can be directly attributed to Pittsburgh being able to stuff eight-players in the box and forcing the QB (which did not happen) to beat them through the air.