One of the criticisms about the Cleveland Browns after the four regular season games was that they couldn’t put four solid quarters together in a game. They didn’t today against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
However, the three solid one they played today were enough to crush the Steelers at First Energy Stadium, knocking them off 31-10 to raise they record to 3-2 on the season, and also dumping the black and yellow boys into the division basement.
After one quarter, Cleveland had -8 yards of total offense and the visitors led 3-0, but the momentum switched when a second field goal try was botched by Pittsburgh holder Brad Wing, and the Browns took over on their own 32-yard line.
Brian Hoyer started to get it going after that, hitting WR Miles Austin for 17 yards and the team’s first first down of the game, and then hit a huge misdirection thrown to TE Jordan Cameron for 42 yards to set up a 5-yard TD run by Isaiah Crowell which gave Cleveland a lead it would never relinquish.
After the defense forced a three and out, Hoyer found Cameron again for a 51-yard scoring strike to make it 14-3. The defense forced another putn after four plays, and this time offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan used the ground game using nine running plays and two passes to move 85 yards and give Cleveland a commanding 21-3 lead.
This one wouldn’t be decided on a last second field goal.
In the second half, the Browns were content to eat clock and move the football by running it and basically costed to the win. Hoyer only threw the ball 17 times, completing 8 of those throws for 217 yards. By the way, that’s a whopping 12.8 yards per pass play.
Meanwhile, Ben Tate (78 yards in 25 carries) and Crowell (77 yards in 11 attempts) kept moving the football and eating the clock.
Cameron had his first breakout game of the year, catching 3 passes for 102 yards, and receivers Jim Dray (31 yards), Travis Benjamin (31 yards), and Taylor Gabriel (24 yards) all had receptions over 20 yards.
The only downer on offense was an injury to Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, who was carted off the field in the second quarter with a broken leg and will likely be out for the rest of the year.
It shows how much respect Mack has in the locker room that many Browns, both offensive and defensive, gave Mack well wishes before he was carted off the field.
On defense, it appeared that head coach Mike Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil made a decision to dial back the aggressiveness with the blitz and rush just four and drop seven into coverage.
The defense gave up 138 yards on the ground, but the longest run was 15 yards by Dri Archer. The longest pass completion was the 26-yard touchdown throw to Lance Moore, but that came in the fourth quarter.
The new philosophy eliminated the big plays that were killing the team in the first four games of the year. It may have been brought out because of all the injuries on the defensive front, but whatever the reason, it worked, and the Browns allowed just 10 points.
The big defensive plays were turned in by Karlos Dansby, who was in on 11 tackles, including one sack, Des Bryant also had a sack, and CB Buster Skrine had an interception on a pass deflected at line by John Hughes.
Now the Browns hit the road against a struggling Jacksonville squad full of confidence. However, the big win today doesn’t mean anything if they lay an egg in Florida.
It will be on Pettine and the coaching staff to keep this young team’s feet securely on the ground. If they and the veterans brought in can do this, it could be a very fun fall for football fans in northeast Ohio.