At some point, the Cleveland Browns have to start winning in their division. You can’t make the playoffs unless you can be competitive in the AFC North, which features two of the NFL’s best teams over the past decade or so, the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
With another loss to the latter tonight, Pat Shurmur’s crew is now 0-4 against the division this season, and haven’t defeated either Baltimore or Pittsburgh since 2009.
They do still have two chance left this season.
What was particularly frustrating tonight was the Browns actually had a few things go their way, and they still scored just three points.
Cleveland came out hot, with QB Colt McCoy throwing the ball downfield, with big completions to TE Evan Moore and Josh Cribbs to give the brown and orange a first down on the Steelers’ 5 yard line.
On second down, it appeared McCoy scored on a scramble, but was ruled inches short. Being that close to the end zone, the next play screamed for a quarterback sneak. Instead, a handoff to Peyton Hillis resulted in a two yard loss, and the 4-8 Browns decided to kick a field goal.
Why not go for it in that situation? Shurmur had everything to gain and nothing to lose by going for it.
After Phil Dawson made the field goal, the Steelers went through the Cleveland defense easily and took a 7-3 lead.
On the next possession, McCoy threw downfield again, this time hitting Mohammed Massaquoi for 25 yards. However, after McCoy threw an interception on Cleveland’s third possession, the downfield throws sort of disappeared and the short passing game returned.
The Browns didn’t get near the end zone again until late in the fourth quarter, and that possession ended in another pick for McCoy.
The Steelers turned the ball over three times compared to Cleveland’s two, but the Browns couldn’t take advantage of any of the Pittsburgh miscues, following one up with McCoy’s first interception, and the other with a drive that stalled after the passer was sacked.
During the latter drive, Cleveland picked up a first down on a 3rd and 20 situation with a beautiful inside handoff to RB Chris Ogbonnaya, who ran for 28 yards. He carried just once more all night.
That’s puzzling, because even though he was picked up during the season as a free agent, the former Texas Longhorn has had two of the three best running days of the year for the Browns. His last start, he gained 115 yards, and has carried the ball just six times since that game.
The Browns even forced Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger out of the game with an ankle injury, and even though he returned after halftime, he couldn’t move. He still managed to hit 16 of 21 for 281 yards on the night.
Dick Jauron’s defense was once again hurt by the ground game, giving up 147 yards on an average of 5.2 per carry. But the usually reliable pass defense struggled, allowing 269 yards, including 79 on the game clinching TD pass to Antonio Brown on a play that CB Joe Haden was burned.
Too often, CB Sheldon Brown was matched up against the fleet Mike Wallace, who caught 4 balls for 57 yards. Even non-football fans would think that’s a bad match up.
The highlight for the defense was a goal line stand in the 4th quarter in which LB Chris Gocong made it his business to keep Rashard Mendenhall out of the end zone on four tries.
Another curious decision late in the game from Shurmur was on his use of McCoy. The signal caller left the game for a couple of plays after a helmet to helmet shot by renown head hitter LB James Harrison. Seneca Wallace came in and hit Moore for a first down on the Pittsburgh 5.
However, Shurmur put McCoy back in the game after that play. The interception which decided the game came three plays later. Should Wallace have stayed in after the completion? There would have been no second guessing if he had.
This much is certain, you won’t win many games scoring three points.
With the Browns struggling to score, maybe players like Ogbonnaya, Moore, and Jordan Norwood should be playing more. And staying with the downfield throws wouldn’t be a bad thing either.