The Turning Point: Browns -Steelers

In one of our most popular new features, Steve King and Lane Adkins look at the moment that last Sunday's game turn irrevocably away from the Browns. What was the turning point, and why did it go the Steelers way?

Some would say that the play of the game for the Browns on Sunday at Heinz Field occurred late in the 27-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Trailing by that 27-14 count, the Browns were facing a third-and-15 situation at the Pittsburgh 31 with 4:29 left when quarterback Derek Anderson badly under-threw rookie wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi at the 1, allowing free safety Ryan Clark to intercept the ball.

That was an important play, since it sealed the Browns' fate for good. The Steelers ran out the clock by driving to the Cleveland 36.

However, it was not play of the game. A touchdown there would have cut the Steelers' lead to just six, but to make that mean anything, the Browns defense would have had to hurry up and give the ball back to the offense for a shot at some late heroics, which it did not do. So it's a moot point.

In reality, there was no one single play of the game. There wasn't even a single series of the game.

But there was a portion of the contest, involving two offensive series for the Browns in a six-minute stretch in the third quarter, that served as the turning point of the afternoon.

Trailing 17-7, the Browns had taken the second-half kickoff and driven 66 yards in just six plays for a touchdown. The big play was a 43-yard Anderson-to-Massaquoi pass that set up the Browns at the 9, and the score came when Anderson lofted a toss to fullback Lawrence Vickers on a third-and-goal play from the 1 to get Cleveland to within 17-14.

The Steelers came right back, though, after the ensuing kickoff and answered with a TD of their own on a two-yard Rashard Mendenhall run to bulk the lead back up to 10 at 24-14.

As much as the Steelers are known for their defense, it is their offense that is turning just as many – or maybe even more -- heads this year. It is a potent, pass-first bunch with the ability to score a lot of points.

At that point on Sunday, it looked as if the game might turn into a shootout, and if so, then the Browns, in order to keep up and have a chance to win, were going to have to continue what they did on that first possession and drive down the field, make big plays and get TDs. Maybe – just maybe – the Browns were up to the task. Maybe – just maybe – this Browns offense, which had struggled for almost all of the season, was finally beginning to get untracked.

Unfortunately for the Browns, that was not the case in either instance. Their next two possessions served as a death knell for this game.

Getting the ball back in great field position, at their 41, following a 19-yard kickoff return by Josh Cribbs, the Browns went to work with 8:32 left.

Running back Jamal Lewis got two yards over right guard on the first play, then three yards over left guard on the next one, setting up a third-and-5 situation from the 46.

Working out of the shotgun, Anderson tried to throw a short pass on the right side to wide receiver Chansi Stuckey. But he got pressure from linebacker James Farrior and the ball fell incomplete, forcing a punt.

Getting the ball for the first time in the half, the Steelers worked their way from their 10 to the Cleveland 49, where Ben Roethlisberger's third-and-10 deep pass down the middle for wide receiver Hines Ward was overthrown and intercepted by Brodney Pool. The safety returned the ball 32 yards to the Cleveland 48, giving the Browns even better field position than they had had the previous time.


Maybe this time they would get going again.

No.

In fact, this possession was even more problematic and unproductive than the earlier one.

It started OK, with Lewis running for four yards on first down, before things rapidly deteriorated. Andrew threw to Lewis for a yard on second down, but the play was nullified when left tackle Joe Thomas was penalized 10 yards for holding right end Brett Keisel, who had been lobbying all day for the call.

Facing second-and-16 from the 42, Anderson threw incomplete to Massaquoi. Then on the next play, Anderson was sacked for an eight-yard loss by inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons and fumbled the ball. Fellow linebacker James Harrison, from Akron Coventry High School and Kent State, recovered all the way back at the 32 with 2:32 remaining in the third quarter. - Steve King

* * *

In what is quickly becoming the norm for this Cleveland Browns offense, the inability to execute helped lead to a Pittsburgh 27-14 victory.


Running the ball was a difficult task for the Browns on this day. If not for the extraordinary efforts of Josh Cribbs in the 'Wildcat' and Jerome Harrison darting through a handful of holes in the Steelers defense, the rush was null and void.

Finding a match-up of their liking, QB Derek Anderson and rookie WR Mohamed Massaquoi found success against DB Ike Taylor. The six play drive was reminiscent of the 2007 version of the Cleveland offense -- one which helped catapult Anderson onto the scene.

After a quick Pittsburgh touchdown, which put the Steelers up 24-14, the Browns remained in position to contest.

Following a series which the Browns attacked the Pittsburgh defense through the air -- the Cleveland coaching staff took the air out of the ball and went questionably conservative on  consecutive possessions.

Multiple hand-offs into the heart of the Pittsburgh defensive line were not what the doctor ordered. The Steelers defense read run immediately and blitzed up the gut -- and the Browns offense had no answer.

Following rushing attempts on first and second down against a blitzing Pittsburgh defense, the third down short route attempted to WR Chansi Stuckey could have been successful.

But the inability to execute the ordinary plays would haunt this team. The pass to Stuckey was off the mark and well covered by LB James Farrior, forcing the Browns to punt.

Despite the offensive woes, the Browns still had opportunities.

On their next series, Lewis again was called upon on first down to little avail. Coupled by a LT Joe Thomas hold and an incomplete pass to Massaquoi, third and long ensued.

Again, the Browns' inability to execute forced this unit to look down the barrel of the gun. Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau dialed-up yet another blitz, with LB Lawrence Timmons sacking and forcing an Anderson fumble.

This consistent inability to execute and instill a presence on the playing field haunts this Cleveland offense. The first down play-calling continues to be issue for this struggling team, with the loss on Sunday emphazying the issue.

For all intent and purposes, the game was over. - LA

* * *

he Browns had lost 16 yards – and the ball – and squandered for a second straight time a golden opportunity to score a TD and cut the Pittsburgh lead back to three again.

It didn't matter that the Browns recovered fumbles on the next two Steelers possessions at the Cleveland 16 and 15, because they had lost field position – and momentum.

The Browns also made that aforementioned drive into Pittsburgh territory late in the fourth quarter, but by that time, they were down by two scores and the clock was really working against them.

All season long, the offense is what has held the Browns back the most, and it was certainly true again on Sunday. Until they get that fixed, not too much positive is going to happen to this team overall on a consistent basis.

You're not going to win many 6-3 games, as the Browns had done the previous Sunday at Buffalo. To win on a regular basis in the offensive-driven NFL, a team has to score points again and again, and the Browns simply can't do that right now. - Steve King


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