Browns-Steelers: Report Card

A long season gets longers, and the Browns GPA isn't showing a lot of signs of improving...

What has already been a very, very long football season for the Browns is showing no promise of taking a turn for the better.

The Browns' 27-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers could have been much worse had the Steelers not turned the ball over in the second half. The Steelers rolled up 543 yards total offense, more than twice the Browns' total of 197.

The disparity in total yards was the sixth worst in team history, and comparable to the games played in the expansion era of 1999 and 2000.

"We're not trying to lose every time we go out there," quarterback Derek Anderson said. "We put tons of hours in this week and we felt good about the way it goes going into it. It's frustrating not to get the results that we expect."

It looks like it's going to be that kind of season, though. The Browns lack playmakers on offense and lack the ability to stop the run on defense. Against Pittsburgh, the secondary allowed receivers to run free and wide open all day long.

Pittsburgh's secret? From tape the Steelers learned that the Browns love to blitz on first and second down. Pittsburgh let them, picked it up and threw where it wanted.

Pittsburgh had nine pass plays of 20 yards or more, and two of 19 yards. Only two of those 11 gains came on third down. This is called taking advantage of something you learn from studying a team.

It's something the Steelers have done often to the Browns lately. Pittsburgh's win marks the 12th win in a row and the 18th over the Browns in 19 games.

NOTES, QUOTES

--KR Josh Cribbs played an expanded role in the offense, running the Wildcat formation on 13 offensive plays. The Browns ran on 11 of those plays and gained 57 yards. They threw one incomplete pass, and Cribbs also threw an interception.

The formation was very effective early, and the Browns even broke the mold and ran some different plays from the formation.

But the coaching staff got nervous after Cribbs' interception and only called three more Wildcat plays. With an offense struggling as badly as the Browns, it needs all the help it can get -- even if it is from a gimmick formation with Cribbs.

"I think it's the type of thing that when it's going good will force the opponent to prepare for a few things," coach Eric Mangini said. "I don't think it's going to be the cornerstone of our offense."

--QB Derek Anderson had seven more passes dropped. In his two starts against Pittsburgh and Buffalo, the Browns have dropped 15 passes -- or half of Anderson's completions. Anderson has played like Brady Quinn played, though. Which means not well and doing little to help himself or the team.

In two starts, Anderson has completed 11-of-41 passes for 145 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. His passer rating was 54.8 and Anderson's overall passer rating of 41.7 ranks 36th and last in the league. Yet his job seems secure.

"I'm not looking to make a move," coach Eric Mangini said.


PLAYER NOTES

--LB Kamerion Wimbley missed the game in Pittsburgh due to the flu. The Browns sent Wimbley home, though Shaun Rogers played with the illness. Losing Wimbley meant the defense lost its best pass rusher, and it showed as Ben Roethlisberger had several seconds to complete several passes.

--TE Steve Heiden missed the Steelers game with soreness in his surgically repaired knee. Heiden's blocking was missed against the Steelers variety of blitz packages. With him out, the Browns used Hank Fraley and Eric Steinbach often at tight end in an unsuccessful effort to get the running game going.

--WR Mohammed Massaquoi started his day with another drop of a Derek Anderson pass, but rebounded and played well in the second half. Massaquoi finished with five receptions for 83 yards, which for the Browns represents a huge offensive game.

--FB Lawrence Vickers caught Derek Anderson's touchdown, which means the Browns have scored four touchdowns in six games this season. The significance of Vickers making the catch? It means that no Browns receiver or running back has found the end zone this season.

--CB Brandon McDonald had another tough game against the Steelers. McDonald was victimized time and again by Steelers receivers and also looked bad trying to tackle Michael Wallace on a reverse. That may have had something to do with the condition of his right shoulder, though. McDonald could barely raise his arm to put on his shirt after the game.

REPORT CARD VS. STEELERS

PASSING OFFENSE: F -- The Browns lack big-time playmakers and it shows. Derek Anderson has had 15 passes dropped the past two games, and the passing offense has not totaled 200 yards in two games combined. Against Pittsburgh, Anderson had some good throws, but the Browns also forced the issue with the Wildcat by asking Josh Cribbs to pass against a blitz. The throw was intercepted. In the fourth quarter, Anderson made a foolish decision to throw against his body while running left. That interception ended the Browns last scoring chance. Those two red zone turnovers were large plays in the game.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- Only because of Josh Cribbs, who is fast becoming not only the team's most valuable player but its best one as well. Cribbs is as good as there is at returning kicks, and now he runs the Wildcat offense. He averaged 7.5 yards on his six runs, and the Browns averaged more than 5 yards per play when running from the Wildcat. The team does not believe it can be successful using the Wildcat the majority of the time, But the question is whether it can be successful if it doesn't use Cribbs and the Wildcat more frequently.

PASS DEFENSE: F -- Pittsburgh had nine pass plays of 20 yards or more. Time and again the Steelers took advantage of the Browns by putting receivers in open spots and letting them make the catch and run after the catch. Ben Roethlisberger was uncanny at finding them, and the receivers never let him down. It's hard to imagine a team having more success than Pittsburgh passing -- 453 yards and a staggering 11.9 yards per attempt -- or doing it with more ease.

RUSH DEFENSE: D -- The Browns again will tout this as a good day against the run, but that was merely an illusion because the Steelers threw the ball so well. Steelers backs ran for 108 yards, and the Steelers as a team pounded out 140. The Browns have the league's worst run defense. They earn that ranking week after week after week.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Josh Cribbs might be among the 10 most valuable players in the league. He returned another kickoff for a touchdown, the eighth of his career. It's also the third he's returned against Pittsburgh. Every week teams know that Cribbs is the Browns' most dangerous player. Every week they kick to him. Every week the entire stadium watches to see if he is going to score on a return. Cribbs is far and away the Browns' best player.

COACHING: D -- The Browns opened the game aggressively with Josh Cribbs at quarterback. It worked -- until Cribbs threw an interception in the red zone. As he came off the field, it seemed that Eric Mangini was not pleased, which seems odd given the Browns asked him to throw in the direction of Troy Polamalu while staring at a blitzing linebacker. From that point, the Browns mothballed the Wildcat, calling it only three more times. It was reminiscent of the Ravens loss, when the Browns opened by throwing quick, short passes, than gave up on the plan because of an early interception. The Steelers, meanwhile, stuck to their game plan and found receivers running free all day. At this point, the Browns' coaching staff is really struggling to find answers.




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