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5 Observations: Untimeliest of 12 Browns penalties hit where it hurts most

PITTSBURGH -- The Browns committed 12 penalties for a total of 188 yards Sunday against the Steelers. Two for pass interference on a single drive combined for 75 yards.

Still, it was a standard 5-yarder and 10-yarder that hit the Browns where it hurt most: the scoreboard.

"The thing that's easy to accept at times is when they make a play and out-execute you," Browns coach MIke Pettine said. "When some of their yardage and things come as a result of us being undisciplined and making simple mistakes and mental errors, we have to get that tightened up across the board. We've talked about getting it right as a staff and getting it right as a team."

For a third time in Sunday's first half, the Browns defense bent but didn't break.

Trailing 6-3 midway through the second quarter, Cleveland saw the Steelers drive 86 yards down to the 6-yard line. On third-and-2, the Browns broke through the line and Christian Kirksey dropped Ben Roethlisberger for what appeared to be a pivotal sack.

The Steelers attempted the short field goal and made it, seemingly keeping the Browns within a possession of the lead. But just like last week at Cincinnati, the Browns gave their opponent another shot at six because of a penalty at the worst possible moment.

In an attempt to block Chris Boswell's kick, Armonty Bryant improperly used leverage from a teammate to reach his arms even higher. The foul was just enough to give the Steelers a first down.

One play later, Pittsburgh had its first touchdown, a 4-yard pass from Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown.

"That's frustrating," Pettine said. "That's very out of character for him. Our players are very well aware of the rule."

Late in the third quarter, an untimely holding penalty negated an Isaiah Crowell touchdown run and backed the Browns up from having the ball whiskers away from the end zone.

A wild, 11-yard scramble from Johnny Manziel was so close to a touchdown that Cleveland challenged to see if the nose of the ball crossed the goal line before his knees hit the ground. The call stood, and the Browns, trailing 24-3, had the ball on the 1-yard line and four tries to get a touchdown.

Crowell scored on the first play, but it came off the board because of a 10-yard holding penalty on Cameron Erving. On the next play, the Browns were flagged for illegal formation. On the next, Manziel was sacked and dropped at the 25-yard line. Ultimately, the Browns came away with nothing when Manziel was intercepted on his fourth-down throw.

2. Injury update

Defensive lineman Randy Starks will have an MRI on Monday to evaluate the scope of a knee injury that knocked him out of Sunday's game.

Wide receivers Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel suffered concussions during the fourth quarter. Hawkins missed the previous two games because of a concussion.

Quarterback Josh McCown (ribs) was not available Sunday for the third time this season.

3. Thoughts on Erving's starting debut

Rookie offensive lineman Cameron Erving called his first NFL start a "learning experience."

Erving, who primarily was tasked with blocking Pittsburgh's Cameron Heyward, played almost every snap in place of Joel Bitonio at left guard. He picked up a holding penalty when he was lined up to the right as a sixth offensive lineman on the negated Crowell touchdown.

"I did some things well, I did some things not quite well," Erving said. "It was my first time starting but I feel like I fared pretty well against these guys. Got to give them credit. They played a pretty good game."

Pettine was reluctant to evaluate Erving's entire performance until he reviewed the film.

4. Browns get nowhere on the ground

Manziel finished Sunday's game with a team-high 17 rushing yards. The Browns, as a team, ran for 15.

Duke Johnson Jr. had the longest run by a running back, going 9 yards on a first-quarter run. Pittsburgh snuffed out an end-around to Travis Benjamin and dropped him for a 7-yard loss.

In the last three games, Cleveland has rushed for 126 yards.

"Overall, we can't be that one-dimensional," Pettine said. "We have to be able to run the football. That's a challenge to everybody in the run game. We have to be better."

5. Looking ahead

The Browns are off next Sunday, and the players will get a long weekend away from the football facility starting Thursday. When the Browns return, they'll embark on a tweaked week of preparation because of the Thanksgiving holiday and Monday night kickoff time against Baltimore on Nov. 30.

Pettine said the Browns staff would hang around longer than the players and "evaluate everything from A to Z."

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