Here are my final thoughts from the Browns’ 27-11 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium:
>>It’s hard to be terribly surprised with how this game unfolded. We’re talking about teams that, despite each having a 4-6 record at the start of the day, were actually trending in opposite directions. The Steelers came in with greater momentum, having dug their way out of a 0-4 start to the season and played mostly well to beat the Lions in Week 11. Meanwhile, the Browns found a way to lose at Cincinnati last weekend and their offense remained as inept as it was against the Bengals. And things only got worse after Jason Campbell left the game early with a concussion. Brandon Weeden couldn’t ignite any spark in relief, although he did manage to do plenty to help Josh Gordon break Ozzie Newsome’s club record for receiving yards, with 237, and tie the Hall-of-Famer’s mark for receptions, with 14.
>>The biggest disappointment for the Browns was their inability to generate hardly any pressure on Ben Roethlisberger. Other than one full-house, third-down blitz that caused him to hurry a throw that fell incomplete and a hit that Barkevious Mingo delivered as Roethlisberger released a pass, the Browns did virtually nothing to cause him to feel even slightly uncomfortable in the pocket. They didn’t sack him or do much of anything to make him operate under duress. Give Roethlisberger and the rest of the Steelers’ offense credit for being effective while running a no-huddle attack. But the Browns’ pass rush needed to come up much larger than it did.
>>Besides Gordon, the other Brown who showed up ready to perform at a high level was strong safety T.J. Ward. He and inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson shared the team lead with nine tackles, and Ward also had two tackles for losses. Ward was flying all over the field, making plays and generally proving to be the most impactful player on the Browns’ defense. Ward has emerged as a fiery leader, and he was not the least bit happy with the sloppy play in other areas that helped lead to the defeat. He constantly strives to make improvement, in practice and in games, and he expects the rest of the team to perform to that standard. “You can’t win ballgames turning the ball over,” Ward told reporters after the game. “I’m not going to lie, but it’s out of our power. We have to trust that (the offensive players are) doing everything in their power to win ballgames like we are. And I trust that and I know that. It’s just things are not going the way any of us want them to do right now.”
>>With five games left, the picture for the Browns looks fairly grim. Campbell’s injury was the last thing the team needed after losing one quarterback, Brian Hoyer, for the season in Week 5. Although Campbell didn’t exactly prove to be any sort of consistent difference-maker, with a poor showing against Cincinnati and an unspectacular start to Sunday’s game, he was still the best quarterback the Browns had. And although the Browns aren’t mathematically out of the postseason picture, they figure to face fairly steep odds to get back into it. It would likely require winning out, and to do that, the Browns would need to play the near-perfect football that continues to elude them.
>>Despite the Browns’ ability to stay relevant into November, we’ve pretty much known all along that this season was unlikely to result in their being a serious postseason contender. We’ve pretty much assumed that better times are ahead after multiple offensive positions are addressed in the draft and free agency. But a game like this is, at the very least, discouraging. It reminds you that there is considerable work to be done and that plenty of help is needed – clearly much more than one offseason can resolve.
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