Week 1 of the 2017 NFL season is officially in the books — and just has its been since 2004, the Cleveland Browns will walk away 0-1. The NFL is a pass/fail league, and the Browns failed. This year though — it was different in so many ways. Lets take a look at how the game unfolded.
The Browns first offensive possession left many doing the whole “here we go again” routine. In three plays, the Browns netted -9 yards and had to bring out the punting unit to kick it away from their own 2. In typical Cleveland Browns opening day fashion, the Steelers got penetration right through the A gap and blocked the punt. Normally you’d see the ball fly out of end-zone, but this one landed in the back of the end-zone with back spin forcing it die rather than going out of bounds. The Steelers recovered to take an early 7-0 lead. At this point, Browns fans had to be heading out to mow their lawns.
This special team mishap turned out to be the games most critical play. From this point on, the Browns played toe to toe with the Super Bowl contending Steelers. Late in the first quarter, rookie QB DeShone Kizer led a 12 play, 62 yard drive to tie the game at 7. The Browns chose to strike mostly through the air as the ground game struggled. Isaiah Crowell was bottled up by the Steelers for the whole game. Once inside the 5, Kizer snuck his way into the end zone for his first professional score.
Once the game was tied up, the Steelers vaunted air attack got going. Roethlisberger orchestrated a 7 play, 91 yard drive — ending with a 4 yard touchdown reception by TE Jesse James. Going into the half, the Steelers had the lead 14-7. Considering the start, things were going well for the Browns. The defense stifled arguably the NFL’s best offense. Le’Veon Bell was a non-factor, and the Browns were able to put pressure on Big Ben.
Early in the 3rd quarter the Browns made it 14-10 with a Zane Gonzalez 24 yard field goal. The Steelers, however, came right back down the field with a methodical 6 play, 75 yard drive that ended with another Jesse James touchdown catch. It looked to be slipping away from the Browns in typical opening day fashion.
Kizer threw his first interception on the following possession:
It was a rookie throw, through and through. Kizer eyed his receiver down the whole way and tried to float one on his back shoulder. Watt made a beautiful play, ending the the Browns drive which was surely going to be a drive that would end in three points. Roethlisberger began his march down to the Browns’ death. Picking apart the weak secondary until Browns safety Derek Kindred intercepted a tipped ball near the Browns own goal line. There was life still.
Kizer went on to lead an 8 play, 73 yard drive with time slowly winding down in the fourth quarter. On fourth down from the Steeler 3 yard line, Kizer threw a frozen rope into the hands of Corey Coleman to cut the Steeler lead to 5. In a gutsy play call, Isaiah Crowell converted the 2 point play on a draw from a shot gun set. 21-18 was the Steeler lead.
Finally on the last possession, Antonio Brown and Big Ben stuck the finally dagger into the Browns. Ben chucked up a 40 yard bomb to Brown, who caught it in traffic above Browns defenders. That was it. The Steelers ran out the clock for the win.
Quick Thoughts Heading into Week 2:
- Kizer looks good. Real good. Tangible hope at the QB position. Hue Jackson and Kizer need to work on releasing the ball quicker. Kizer took 7 sacks. 5 or 6 were because of DeShone holding onto the ball too long.
- Get the running game going. Crow only had 33 yards on 17 carriers. This team should be built around the run game with a rookie under center. They were able to neutralize the Steelers running attack all day, but couldn’t get anything going with Crowell either. This was the difference in the game.
- Need some playmakers to emerge. Good effort from Corey Coleman being a reliable target for Kizer. Coleman caught 5 passes for 53 yards and a touchdown. We need more options to step up for the kid. Tight end Seth DeValve was a nice check down option, as was rookie Tight End David Njoku. Second year receiver Ricardo made two big catches and Britt had major drop. Look for Duke Johnson to become more prevalent in the passing game as the season moves on.
- Whatever Coach Greg Williams brings to this defense keep on bringing it. The Browns defense was absolutely flying to the ball yesterday. I cannot remember a Browns team that swarmed the ball as fast. A major factor in the D’s big day was definitely rust on the Steelers offense and I would like to see great pursuit and tackling carry over week to week.
Whats up next?
The Browns will travel to Baltimore to take on the 1-0 Ravens. The Ravens beat the Cincinnati Bengals 20-0 in Week 1. It seems that the 1 team the Browns always play within the division is Baltimore. I am predicting a tight affair this coming Sunday. Ultimately, a Ravens team with a healthy Joe Flacco should be able to come up with a win at home. It’s early, but the Browns may have themselves a favorable schedule coming up. They’ve got the Colts, who were battered by the hapless Rams 46-9. Following that is the Bengals who were shutout by the Ravens and the New York Jets who are just miserable.
Final Score Prediction:
Bottom Line: I am optimistic about this bunch after what I saw on Sunday. I see a team whose defense can keep them in games, and an offense that showed they could make crucial plays in high leverage situations.