The Cleveland Browns had an inexcusable loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8. The team was flat on offense, made a lot of mistakes on both sides of the ball and couldn’t get the important stop when needed on defense.
In the end, the team is 4 – 4 and in last place in the AFC North.
Trying to find some simple positives is difficult. With the Baltimore Ravens on a bye this week, the Browns are only 1.5 games back in the AFC North with five more games against division foes. Only one team in the AFC will come out of Week 8 with more than five victories.
The negatives are many as we walk through the Week 8 loss with a few areas where we can find some positives to go with the negatives:
Baker Mayfield Was Fine Not Great
(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Returning from a week off from injury, Baker Mayfield played a decent game despite problems from his pass-catchers (we will get to that) and a limited run game.
Mayfield’s final boxscore numbers are pedestrian: 20/31 for 225 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He also had an important five-yard scramble.
Inside the numbers, the Browns starting quarterback put a lot of zip on the ball and was, mostly, on target. It was clear the difference between his arm strength and that of Case Keenum.
His receivers failed him quite often. Mayfield’s ball placement was not perfect but he looked better than he did against Arizona.
Mayfield’s Pass Catchers Failed
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Jarvis Landry had two late drops and a fumble.
Odell Beckham Jr. decided not to risk going up for a high ball.
Austin Hooper dropped a ball that could have been a touchdown early in the game.
Rashard Higgins dropped a back-shoulder throw where Mayfield tried to protect the receiver from a big hit by not leading him.
D’Ernest Johnson dropped a ball that was put right on him.
With all the minute details involved in route running, evaluating the defense on the fly and throwing passes while a route is being run, blame is more nuanced than most want it to be. In some of these cases, Mayfield could have been more accurate and the pass-catcher could have caught the ball.
Injuries Continue to Plague
(AP Photo/David Dermer)
Cleveland got Jack Conklin back for less than a half of a game before losing him again with an elbow injury. Then, at the start of the second half, came news that John Johnson III would not return to the game.
At one point, Greg Newsome II went out of the game for a couple plays leading to Tim Harris, brought up from the practice squad for the game, was starting at outside cornerback.
At that time, Denzel Ward, AJ Green, Newsome and Johnson were all off the field.
While Blake Hance has played well in spot starts, having him matched up against TJ Watt was not the plan for this week but he may be the team’s right tackle for a while if Conklin is out.
PFF Correct About Team’s Tackling Problems
(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
When we shared that Pro Football Focus had the Browns as the second-highest graded team in the NFL through seven weeks, many were shocked. What was not surprising was that they had the team’s tackling as their worst graded area.
It was evident throughout the game in Week 8. Two big missed tackles by Grant Delpit and Anthony Walker led to long gains by the Steelers offense. Finishing tackles was also a struggle as Najee Harris and others added a couple of yards on many plays.
Against a very limited offense, not tackling or finishing tackles can be the difference between a win and a loss. Sunday, that may have been true despite all the other struggles.
Nick Chubb Not Healthy Enough Cause for Limited Run Game?
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At halftime, Nick Chubb had six carries for just 20 yards. He finished the game with 16 carries for 61 yards but the Cleveland ground game just couldn’t get it going as they expect it to as the top rushing attack in the NFL.
A week after D’Ernest Johnson led the team in rushing, he was only given four carries.
Chubb didn’t look like himself most of the game including getting hit in the backfield and having multiple carries with zero or negative yardage.
Was it a mistake to activate Chubb this week instead of riding Johnson? Could the carries have been more balanced? Or, does the credit just go to the Pittsburgh defense?
Ronnie Harrison’s Contract Season Going Poorly
(AP Photo/Gary McCullough)
Ronnie Harrison’s season started with getting expelled from Week 1’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. While the coach involved there deserved a lot of blame, Harrison’s lack of discipline has been a problem much of the season.
This week’s game started with him getting a penalty for a very late hit out of bounds that offset a holding penalty by the Steelers.
Throughout the game, Harrison took many bad angles in run fits and struggled in coverage. Watch the “33” dot on this long play as Harrison is drawn to Chase Claypool instead of carrying the middle of the field tight end:
After a good first year in Cleveland, Harrison has put some bad tape on the field in his second. If he can’t turn it around, it will be interesting what kind of contract he gets in the offseason.
Greg Newsome II Was Really Good
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Hard to spend too much time on a positive given the results of the game but rookie cornerback Greg Newsome II played very well this week. He was tight in coverage, played the ball very well and showed off his speed and quickness.
On an important third down late in the game, Newsome fought through traffic on a shallow drag route and closed the gap after the catch to force a fourth down. At the point of the catch, a first down seemed certain as the coverage call provided no interior support for the route. Newsome had to make the play or the Steelers had an easy first down. Only a few corners are fast enough to do what Newsome did.
Again, no one was perfect on Sunday but Newsome’s PFF grade should be high on Sunday.
Greedy Williams Plays Best Up Tight
[Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]
Greedy Williams was beat on a few outbreaking routes early in the game but was playing in off coverage on those plays. As the referees allowed the outside players to be physical with each other, Williams was much better playing press or closer to the receiver at the snap.
He wasn’t perfect, Claypool had a tough contested catch against him in tight man, but it is clear that Williams has more comfort being able to get physical with his man.
With Ward possibly out another week, Williams needs to be put in the position to be successful. For Williams, that does not include playing off man or off zone coverage as often based on Week 8’s performance.
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Cleveland shot themselves in the foot multiple times. Rashard Higgins jumped the snap (false start), instead of just watching the ball, turning a 3rd and 11 into a 3rd and 16. Landry had one of those penalties in the first quarter. We already noted Harrison’s penalty that offset a Steelers hold.
On top of those simple penalties, the drops and poor tackling were huge parts of the Browns loss in Week 8.
Players will take responsibility for each of these while the coaching staff will note that they need to coach better. The answer, as it is most of the time, is that both have responsibility. Cleveland simply can’t beat themselves, especially in a very winnable game.
Complete Game Continues to be Lacking for the Browns
A simple look at the Browns season results tells the story that watching each game has told us: Cleveland hasn’t played a complete game so far this year.
The Browns have nine games left to A) make the playoffs and B) start playing complete games with both the offense and defense playing well. Failure to do B will make A unlikely.
At 4 – 4, talking playoffs seems silly but that is the team’s goal and, unless eliminated, will continue to be the focus moving forward.
The next step toward that goal is the NFL Trade Deadline on Tuesday this week. Will Andrew Berry and company make a move? (A big move? Multiple moves?) Do they believe the team has enough talent but just needs to perform better? Will any player make noise wanting out after the bad start?
A lot of questions after a poor performance in Week 8.