PSA: The Browns Mailbag will be a Tuesday fixture throughout the regular season. Mark your calendars accordingly.
On with the questions!
Why did the Browns-Steelers 2018 opening game end in a tie? Why didn't they keep playing until a winner emerged? Is this a rule thing or is there another reason? -- Ronal T. Montgomery
The NFL has made a number of tweaks to its overtime rules over the years, including a big one last year, but ties have always been a possibility. They just rarely happen. Before last season, the league's owners passed a rule that shortened the overtime period from 15 minutes to 10 minutes. The reason behind the change was player safety, as the league hoped to limit the number of excess snaps, especially when you consider one of those teams might have an upcoming Thursday night game. These rules go out in the window during the playoffs, of course, as the game will go on until a winner emerges. The Cleveland-Pittsburgh game was just the sixth game to end in a tie since 2012.
I'm appreciative of the new Browns and the big plays that were made on defense. It's the biggest comeback for the Browns in the fourth quarter. The Steelers looked beatable and they looked physically dominated by the Browns defense. Your thoughts on the passing game and why Duke Johnson, Rashard Higgins and Josh Gordon did not catch more passes? I am concerned about Tyrod's longevity if he continues to run this often. -- Rob M., Fairmont, West Virginia
Spreading the wealth will be among the numerous improvements Cleveland hopes to make in its passing attack Sunday against the Saints. Jarvis Landry had a good game, catching seven passes for 106 yards, but the rest of Cleveland's pass catchers did not have anywhere close to the same activity. Tight end David Njoku was the only other player to finish with multiple receptions, and he had just 13 yards on his three catches. Josh Gordon was on the field for 69 plays and was targeted only three times. Rashard Higgins had the game's longest play, a 38-yarder that directly preceded Gordon's game-tying touchdown, but didn't have a catch the rest of the way. Rookie Antonio Callaway wasn't targeted during his 15 snaps.
Browns coach Hue Jackson indicated there were plenty of factors at play that led to this sort of undesirable statistical breakdown.
"I think sometimes we had some assignment errors, where guys were not in the right spot for Tyrod," Jackson said. "There were times where he had opportunities maybe to get them the ball and he has got to let it go and give them opportunities. It is a unit issue. Everybody has to do their job and do it to the best of their ability. Pull the trigger. Do not worry about doing anybody else's job, just do yours and everything else will take care of itself."
We liked Rob's question so much, we're giving him another one.
What did you think of the rookies and second year players' performance against the Steelers?
I thought two rookies and three second-year players had really big games Sunday. The Browns, who are an older team than last year but are still among the youngest in the NFL, will be counting on even more to stand out as the season progresses.
The rookies who rose to the challenge were first-round DB Denzel Ward and fifth-round LB Genard Avery. Ward is up for Pepsi Rookie of the Week honors after picking off Ben Roethlisberger twice in the first half. He also played tough defense on one of the game's best receivers and delivered a punishing hit on a second-half run. Avery, meanwhile, brought the kind of disruption off the edge he'd shown all throughout the preseason. He was at his best on a strip-sack of Roethlisberger that nearly won the game for the Browns.
All three of the second-year players were on defense, too. Myles Garrett's game-changing performance has been well-documented. The defensive tackle lined up next to him, Larry Ogunjobi, was also very good, finishing with seven tackles and a sack. The third was Jabrill Peppers, who scooped up a fumble forced by Garrett and nearly found the end zone.
You can't expect to see the same defense that surrendered 48 points to a Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Buccaneers offense. The Saints have too much talent on that side of the ball to expect a similar performance. The Browns have to be better in every facet of their offense if they want to come away with a win because New Orleans' prolific offense is going to put pressure on Cleveland's defense from start to finish. Establishing the run will be paramount. The longer the possessions, the less Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas are on the field. Cameron Jordan is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, and he does it from the left side of the defensive line. That means new Browns right tackle Chris Hubbard will need some assistance whenever it's possible.
There won't be any personnel changes in the near future. Jackson made that clear when he reaffirmed undrafted rookie Desmond Harrison would remain as the team's left tackle after an up and down performance that seemed to get better as the game progressed. The group just simply needs to be better after a training camp in which they weren't able to work much together because of Harrison's late rise and Kevin Zeitler's calf injury.
"There is a lot of room to improve," center JC Tretter said. "We have to protect the quarterback better. We have to be more sound with our assignments. We have to be more physical. There are a lot of things that we can grow on. It is Week 1 of the season. There are going to be lumps. There are going to be growing pains. We are going to work through those. There are definitely some positive things to build on, as well. Not the result that we wanted, but we see how close we are. We just have to keep building."