The Cleveland Browns showed one thing Sunday. They are not there yet.
Going into Pittsburgh, the team and fans were riding high with the progress since its opening loss in Baltimore. They had won four games in a row with an opportunistic defense and efficient offense. Those are important steps for a team still learning how to win. Sunday was a setback, but it does not take away from the progress this team has shown.
The Steelers took this game from start to finish. As much as I would like to find something good the team did within this awful game, the Steelers dominated every aspect.
Rashard Higgins found his way to the endzone for the second time in two games, so that was something.
Myles Garrett added another sack to his stellar 2020 NFL season.
Browns run defense
Most would expect to go straight to ugly, and there was a lot of it, but a lot of yesterday’s mistakes were bad but fixable. The run defense had its worst game of the year so far, giving up 124 yards and three touchdowns. James Connor did most of the damage running for 101 on 20 carries. Tony Romo pointed out yesterday the motion seemed to suck in the linebackers, and some film study should help them bounce back.
Another unit that had their worst game of 2020. Keeping in mind they were facing the best pass rush and run defense in the NFL, and you could see they are still growing as a unit.
From just the game action, it looked as though Joel Bitonio and Jack Conklin might have had their worst games this season. The rest of the line wasn’t much better. Overall they gave up four sacks and eight quarterback hits. This is a very talented group that faced, arguably, the best front seven in the NFL. They will be fine as we advance.
It is amazing how 164 yards can look so bad. Ben Roethlisberger threw for a whopping 164 yards, and it felt like 300. Every time a play needed to be made, it was. If it was not a breakdown in the Browns secondary, it was a perfectly thrown pass or a little luck. Browns corners may have had a few interceptions had they closed a bit faster, then the double moves started, and it was downhill from there. Plays have to be made when the opportunities arise, and the secondary did not make them this week.
For most of us, watching the entire game was just ugly. While it does take an entire team effort to look that bad, Baker Mayfield may have had the worst game of his three-year career. While dealing with sore ribs, he was battered and beaten and threw two ugly interceptions that helped put the Browns down early.
Baker has been through a lot in his young career and deserves a chance to see what he can do under a system that caters to his strengths for an entire season, talking to you, Mary Kay Cabot, but he has to get better under pressure.
Yesterday was an extreme example against the best, but we saw the breakdowns in Indy once the pressure was cranked up the previous week. Mayfield must be smarter with the football and live to fight another down or series. The scrambling desperation heave has now happened in nearly every game and is the cause of three of his interceptions this season.
Every quarterback struggles under extreme pressure, but the good ones find a way to beat it enough to make some plays. The ribs matter, learning another new offense matters, slinging instead of thinking matters, but in the end, performance on the field also matters, and Baker was awful.
Coach Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt may have had their worst game of the year. Even during the whipping in Baltimore opening week, the Browns offense looked better than yesterday. Nothing Stefanski called seemed to help protect Mayfield or slow the Steeler pass rush.
Where were the rollouts? Moving pockets? Bootlegs? Any misdirection at all? Nowhere to be found. The Steelers are easily one of the most aggressive defenses in the NFL, and nothing seemed to be called/schemed to use that against them.
Maybe help Baker and the run game with some early down screens or even a bubble screen or two? The five wide empty backfield, drop back hope and pray offense certainly was not working. In the end, this game proved that while a lot of improvement has been made, and fans should still be excited, work still needs to be done. Now put this one in the rearview mirror and get a win against the Bengals next week.
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