There is no shame in taking a very good football team to the limits before succumbing. The Cleveland Browns did just this in losing to the first place Pittsburgh Steelers 31-28 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
Despite being in control of the game throughout the first half and taking a four-point lead late in the game, the Browns defense never could muster a sustained effort to stop the Pittsburgh offense. Behind the heroics of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh is the class of the AFC North division.
A halftime change in strategy by the Pittsburgh coaching staff ultimately was responsible for putting the Steelers offense in a position to grasp the momentum from a Cleveland team which was gaining confidence. While the Pittsburgh offense did not change dramatically in scheme, it was altering the approach of QB Ben Roethlisberger which predicated the new-found offensive success in the second half.
As the Cleveland defense became increasingly aggressive in the second half, Roethlisberger was able to take advantage of openings in the Browns defense. Due to the inability of the Cleveland defense to maintain gap and zone responsibility, Roethlisberger escaped containment and made throws while on the run, as well as rushing for a 30-yard touchdown and keeping the chains moving on other occasions.
Coupled with the soft zone and late support in cover-two and cover-three scheme, Pittsburgh immediately capitalized on the opportunities presented in the passing game to move the football against the Cleveland defense. Following a Jamal Lewis fumble early in the third quarter, the Pittsburgh offense regained its composure in the red-zone and put their first of three second half touchdowns on the board.
Ineffective, particularly by Pittsburgh standards, as they let the Browns take a 21-9 lead into the half, the Steelers defense dropped players into the passing zones, in an effort to slow the early success of the Cleveland offense. Cleveland quarterback Derek Anderson struggled as the Steelers defenders did a solid job of stepping into the passing lanes, mixing in and out of the zone-blitz, which often appeared to confuse or rattle the Browns quarterback into poorly thrown passes. The Cleveland passing game was relegated into throwing the ball underneath, while the rushing attack was non-existent.
Appearing more flustered with the notion of the good Pittsburgh defense getting pressure on him rather than standing tall in the pocket, Anderson had the look of a player looking to get the ball out. On this day, the surprise success story of the 2007 season in Cleveland did not play nor perform with the confidence fans have witnessed over the past few weeks.
This contest against the Steelers was a noteworthy effort for Anderson and the Browns. Giving their all, the Browns showed they belong and have earned respect, not only across the league, but in Pittsburgh as the Steelers were on the ropes.
Upon getting back into the film room this upcoming week, the team will see the numerous missed opportunities. Despite the loss, this Browns team grew as a team today.
While dropping two games behind the first place Steelers in the division, the Browns are a threat and have quickly become one of the better teams in the league. With some improvement on the defensive side of the ball, this Cleveland team just may be lurking come playoff time.
Noteworthy Items from the game:
- Quarterback Derek Anderson was rarely pressured by a very good Pittsburgh pass rush. The Cleveland offensive line played yet another solid game.
- Running back Jamal Lewis had a couple nice runs from scrimmage, but was ineffective against a Pittsburgh defense scheming to attack the line of scrimmage. While the opportunity to gain positive yardage was present, the Browns rushing attack and Lewis specifically did not appear to have the quickness to get to the hole.
- The Steelers defensive backs did a solid job in containing the Browns big three in the passing game; Edwards, Winslow, and Jurevicius. Pittsburgh rolled their coverage on occasion and dropped linebackers or an extra defensive back into the zones. As for the Browns, I have never viewed a team where the defenisve backs and linebackers in coverage have their backs to the line of scrimmage as much. Especially playing the zone as much as this team does, something is simply wrong with this picture. This Cleveland team does not play the ball, nor do they get physical with the opposition in the passing game. Coming from New York with Bill Parcells and New England under Bill Belichick, head coach Romeo Crennel knows the benefit of playing a physical game, which only increases the questions about this defense under coordinator Todd Grantham and Crennel himself.
- Outside linebacker Antwaan Peek pressured Roethlisberger on numerous occasions, but was slowed as the game progressed with a foot injury which may linger for the remainder of the season.
- Attempting to get to Roethlisberger, the Browns defense blitzed more often and added an additional defensive lineman on occasion. The attempt may have been successful if the defense could have maintained some gap integrity and positional responsibility in the second half. Many have questioned the lack of the blitz during the Browns defensive woes this season, this showing should be an example as to just one reason why the head coach is not sold on the scheme.
- Shaun and Robaire Smith continue to play well, teaming with nose tackle Ethan Kelley, the Browns defensive line was competitive throughout.