CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Although the game started that way, it was not the same old sad story for the Browns Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Head coach Hue Jackson might not believe in moral victories, there were plenty of them in the 21-18 loss to Pittsburgh as the youngest team in the NFL showed perseverance and promise in defeat.
What To Like
The Browns put a disastrous opening 2:16 seconds behind them. Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer scrambled for a yard, Isaiah Crowell lost 9 on second down, Joe Thomas was flagged for a false start and Crowell got just 4 back on third down before the first punt of the afternoon from Britton Colquitt that wasn’t. Steelers linebacker Tyler Matakevich blew through the left side of the line to block Colquitt’s kick, which was promptly recovered by fellow linebacker Anthoy Chickillo in the endzone as the ball spun on the ground for a 7-0 lead. It would’ve been easy for Jackson’s team to call it quits as some fans were ready to do at the time, but those days appear to be over which bodes well for the future.
Gregg Williams’ defense had a solid debut despite allowing a pair of touchdown drives that were aided by a lucky 50-yard catch-and-run by Antonio Brown which came after a deflection by linebacker Joe Schobert, and pass interference penalty on cornerback Jamar Taylor. The defense forced 3 3-and-outs, 6 total punts and came away with an interception. Defensive end Carl Nassib, who started in place of top overall pick Myles Garrett, recorded a sack. Cleveland only allowed 35 rushing yards forcing Roethlisberger to beat them through the air and Pittsburgh was just 5 of 13 on third down. Just think what the D will be like with Garrett on the field.
Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer drew praise from Jackson and his teammates after the game. Kizer, who joined Brandon Weeden as the only rookies to start for the Browns in week 1 since 1999, completed 20 of 30 passes for 222 yards with 1 touchdown, a rushing touchdown and an interception. Kizer bounced back from a slow start that saw him deal with third-and- 23, 11 and 16 on his first 2 drives before leading a 12-play, 68-yard drive to tie the game with a 1 yard TD run up the middle. Kizer was sacked 7 times, thanks in part to indecisiveness, holding the ball too long and failing to read the defense but those are all things that are hardly discouraging and are very much correctable with experience. Same goes with the interception that saw him try to drop a ball over a defender to Kasen Williams late in the third quarter only to have it picked off by T.J. Watt. Kizer was the third youngest QB to start an opener since 1963. Only Drew Bledsoe (1993) and Matthew Stafford (2009) were younger.
Receiver Corey Coleman caught 5 of 6 targets for 54 yards and a touchdown to lead the team Sunday. Coleman hung onto the ball after rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer found him on a quick slant on fourth-and-goal from the 3 before he got drilled by safety J.J. Wilcox, which drew a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty for hitting a defenseless receiver with the crown of his helmet. Coleman has 4 receiving touchdowns in 11 career games.
Safety Jabrill Peppers showed the spark we all expected on special teams with a 25-yard punt return in the second quarter. He finished with 34 yards total on 3 returns while only getting to return 1 of 4 kickoffs for 14 yards. Steelers punter Jordan Berry kept it away from Peppers on 2 other punts by kicking towards the sideline and kicker Chris Boswell kicked it through the end zone on 3 occasions. Peppers finished with 4 tackles and a pass break-up in his defensive debut.
What Not To Like
Cleveland dropped it’s NFL-record 13th straight opener and the 18th in 19 years since the franchise returned. At some point they’ve got to win one of these, right?
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is now 21-2 all-time against the Browns as a starter, 22-2 in general. Roethlisberger completed 24 of 36 passes for 263 yards with 2 touchdowns and a 95.0 rating in the win. Hopefully he at least thanks the Browns when he’s standing on the steps in Canton 5 years after he hangs them up.
Antonio Brown torched the Browns to the tune of 11 catches on 11 targets for 182 yards. Brown caught a 50-yard completion that came off the hands of Browns linebacker Joe Schobert for 50 yards to set up Pittsburgh’s first offensive touchdown in the second quarter. He drew a 41-yard pass interference call against Browns corner Jamar Taylor to set up their second offensive TD which came in the third quarter, and then he put the game away with a spectacular 38-yard catch between 3 defenders late in the fourth.
Veteran receiver Kenny Britt dropped a pass from Kizer deep over the middle early in the fourth quarter that hit him right in the hands. The Browns, who trailed at the time 21-10, punted 2 plays later. Britt finished with 1 catch from 3 targets for 13 yards Sunday. He continues to show very little since the Browns decided to pay him $32.5 million in March. It’s past the time for Britt to start earning that big paycheck.
Outside of Isaiah Crowell’s 2-point conversion run late in the fourth quarter to pull the Browns within 3, Crowell didn’t do much Sunday. His longest run was 6 yards and he averaged just 1.9 yards per carry on 17 total totes. Hue Jackson wants to run the ball this season and is counting on Crowell to give him reason to stick with that plan. Overall the Browns ran for just 57 yards and averaged 2.3 yards per carry. That won’t get it done in 2017.