The losing streak may have ended on Sunday for the Cleveland Browns, but the Victory Fridges remain closed. That’s right, the Browns ended their 17-game losing streak in the most Browns way possible… with a 21-21 tie to rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
It was night-and-day between the Browns offense and defense throughout Sunday’s season opener, though both units showed promise after a hard-fought game lasting almost four hours.
Cleveland entered the fourth quarter down 21-7 and after two failed drives to begin the quarter the game was seemingly all but lost. That’s exactly when the 2017 #1 pick Myles Garrett took over the game.
The comeback in itself was quite surprising and resembled the classic “Kardiac Kids” days decades ago. A few thoughts after the 2018 NFL season opener:
Myles Garrett is the real deal
The first overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft certainly made it known he is healthy and ready to lead the Browns defense in 2018. Garrett absolutely dominated Sunday against the Steelers and single-handedly took over the game when it mattered most. He put Cleveland in a position to win on numerous occasions, but the offense simply could not shut the door. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all roses and butterflies for Garrett. He was responsible for several penalties including a block in the back on the interception late in overtime.
Rookie linebacker Genard Avery forced Ben Roethlisberger to fumble the football which landed in the hands of Joe Schobert. Shobert, a 2017 Pro Bowler, ran it within the Steelers ten-yard line. However, the referees assessed Garrett with an illegal block in the back. The penalty shifted the Browns closer to midfield instead of the red zone. What would’ve been a chip shot, game-winning field goal turned into a difficult 43-yard field goal that eventually was blocked.
It is a penalty that certainly stings but to blame Garrett would be wrong. Myles Garrett is the reason the Browns even had a chance to win the game and his play was astonishing to watch. He finished the game with six tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and a pass deflection. Although the amount of disruption caused isn’t calculated – Garrett created havoc in the pocket for Roethlisberger all day.
When asked about his performance on Sunday, the former Texas A&M standout humbly stated he’s just who the Browns drafted.
Myles Garrett: "I am being the person they got from the draft, and I am finally healthy."
— Andrew Gribble (@Andrew_Gribble) September 9, 2018
Garrett understands his role with the Cleveland Browns. He was drafted to be an impact player and his game against the Steelers reflected just that.
Offensive cohesiveness is a glaring issue
The Cleveland Browns offense undoubtedly has a ton of fire power. Whether they know how to use it together is what we learned on Sunday. The answer to that question would be no.
Growing pains are always expected when you have a roster overhaul such as the Browns did this offseason. Tyrod Taylor is a veteran quarterback and one that is ready for the demanding amount of work it will take to get Cleveland’s offense to get the same page. Sure, he struggled passing in his Browns debut but the weather did no favors either.
However, he is the quarterback and elected captain for this team and the struggles begin with him. Taylor had several balls that were severely underthrown throughout Sunday’s overtime thriller.
A few likely would’ve resulted in touchdowns had they been thrown better. Specifically to Josh Gordon late in overtime that resulted in an interception. It was first and five with less than two minutes remaining and Gordon had two steps in stride on his defender. Another coulda/woulda/shoulda moment for Cleveland to win it.
Taylor is often criticized for his conservative approach as a quarterback. He doesn’t turn the ball over often but it limits his risk-taking, and Browns fans will need to cope with that. Taylor will get risky more than often with a receiver like Josh Gordon but he won’t change his style completely at age 29.
Instead, the former Buffalo Bill relies on his feet to pickup yardage and it worked well against Pittsburgh. He finished with eight carries for 77 yards and a touchdown while also adding a couple critical first down conversions.
Although, there were a few times Taylor seemed to bail the pocket early – but that brings us to another crucial point.
Oh, the left tackle position
Desmond Harrison got the nod at left tackle for the Cleveland Browns despite not getting a first team rep throughout the preseason. It was an interesting decision and resulted with #33 overall pick Austin Corbett on the reserve list for Sunday’s game.
The team knew there would be significant growing pains – it was inevitable. Perhaps that’s why they didn’t dress their second-round rookie in Corbett. Simply to avoid the temptation of pulling Harrison and sliding left guard Joel Bitonio over to tackle. I wouldn’t put it past head coach Hue Jackson or offensive coordinator Todd Haley who philosophically appear to be on opposite sides of the spectrum.
Regardless, Harrison has two false starts and an illegal formation penalty called on him in the first half alone. He without a doubt picked up his play as the game went on, though.
His flashes of athleticism, speed and power are apparent, but he needs experience against actual NFL players. He last played in Division II football at the University of West Georgia. Harrison has a shot to be the replacement of future Hall-of-Famer Joe Thomas, but he needs more than a few games to grow into that. The potential is there but patience and good behavior off-the-field is critical to him reaching his peak.
After the Browns had all offseason to shore up the left tackle position upon Joe Thomas’ retirement, Cleveland gambled. It was clear their gamble didn’t pay off against the Pittsburgh Steelers in their 21-21 tie on Sunday.
The Defensive Resurgence
For a long while in the late 2000’s, Browns fans didn’t have much to cheer about. However, then defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had the Browns defense on a tear. They weren’t always the best, but they were good enough and at least fun to watch. It was honestly the only consistent part of Cleveland for a few years and it gave fans something to cheer about.
Those days have since been long gone but Sunday’s outing against the Pittsburgh Steelers brought back memories. The defense, led by Myles Garrett, was unstoppable late in the game. The Browns defense played angry and with a purpose that matched perfectly with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ glowing personality on HBO Hard Knocks.
The team forced six turnovers and individuals stepped up left and right. Garrett dominated the game and was by far the most notable on the field. However, several other men popped on the television screen as well.
The Browns were criticized by national analysts for selecting Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward with the #4 pick earlier this year. The chance to select another pass rusher such as Bradley Chubb was too great to pass up for most, it seemed. However, general manager John Dorsey stuck to his guns took Ward as the first defensive player off the board.
The choice to draft Ward with the number four overall pick paid off as he intercepted Ben Roethlisberger twice in his NFL debut. Not too shabby for your first career NFL game.
The former Buckeye and Nordonia Knight covered All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown throughout the day and did a solid job defending him. Of course, Brown was able to corral one touchdown over Ward despite the good coverage.
Among others, fifth-round rookie Genard Avery out of Memphis also played his tail off. He forced a critical fumble that landed in Joe Schobert’s hands and put the Browns in a position to win the ball game in overtime. Avery totaled four tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. With DE Emmanuel Ogbah likely on the sidelines for a few weeks – Avery might be the one to benefit the most.
Larry Ogunjobi was outstanding on Sunday and continued to build off a strong rookie season in 2017. He disrupted the pocket and finished the game with seven tackles and a sack. Second year player Jabrill Peppers looked much better in his first game of the 2018 season compared to a rather disappointing rookie season as well.
The defensive effort could go on-and-on, but one thing remains clear. The Cleveland Browns are playing passionate, smash mouth football on the defensive end of this team. When the offense can join them with the execution and success – the Cleveland Browns will be a dangerous football team to play.
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