By David Ford
The Cleveland Browns snapped their losing streak without actually winning a game on Sept. 9.
Since returning to Cleveland in 1999, the Browns were 1-18 in opening day games. Make that 1-18-1. The Browns somehow tied the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
I’m proud to admit the following statement: “David Ford is a Browns season ticket holder.”
Of all the games I’ve seen, this past one is the most obscure, although for most of it, it seemed like a typical Cleveland versus Pittsburgh matchup. Only this time, Pittsburgh didn’t capitalize on the Browns’ mistakes. The Browns didn’t capitalize on Pittsburgh’s mistakes either.
In overtime, both Steelers kicker Chris Boswell and Browns kicker Zane Gonzalez missed field goals. It’s a miracle, the way the Browns offense played, that they forced the game into overtime to begin with.
When the Steelers led 21-7 in the third quarter, the Browns looked lost. Their defense played phenomenal, despite allowing 472 yards of total offense. The defense forced six turnovers.
Myles Garrett took home two sacks and two forced fumbles, while rookie Denzel Ward intercepted two of Ben Roethlisberger’s passes. Both players played vital roles in forcing the six turnovers.
According to ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, the Browns had a +5 turnover margin (quarterback Tyrod Taylor threw a costly interception in the closing seconds of regulation). Since the Browns returned to the NFL, teams with that turnover margin or better are 132-4-1. The Browns are responsible for two of those losses, and now the tie … because of course they are.
While both teams get the chance to reboot their season next week, a storyline to follow will be the Browns’ decision on Baker Mayfield, the 2018 #1 pick. Obviously, Tyrod Taylor didn’t look great against Pittsburgh on Sunday. He went 15-for-40 passes for 197 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Part of the blame, however, goes to the disastrous performance of the Browns’ offensive line.
When Browns left tackle, Joe Thomas, announced his retirement in the offseason, Cleveland had its hands full in trying to replace him. Thomas, one of the Cleveland’s most beloved athletes and NFL’s all-time great linemen, never missed a single snap from the time he was drafted in 2007 until his injury on Oct. 22, 2017. According to NFL.com, that added up to 10, 363 consecutive snaps — a record that certainly might never be broken.
Replacing Thomas is near impossible, but the Browns had to try. Desmond Harrison, an undrafted rookie free agent, started at left tackle on Sunday. Pittsburgh attacked this weakness. The Steelers came away with seven sacks. It wasn’t entirely Harrison’s fault — the entire o-line performed to underwhelming results.
On HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” an anthology that documents the training camps of different NFL teams each season, Browns’ offensive line coach, Bob Wylie, mentioned something along the lines of “wars aren’t won by stretching,” in reference to players’ extensive warmups. Wars certainly aren’t won if you can’t block the opposing team, Bob.
Despite the o-line’s disastrous play, Taylor managed to scramble for 77 rushing yards and a touchdown. It was Taylor’s hesitation to make a big play with his arm that might have some concerned … which brings us back to the Baker Mayfield topic.
If at any point Taylor’s passing struggles continue, the Browns might succumb to temptation and start Mayfield. Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that.
First off, I loved when the Browns took Mayfield, but throwing a rookie into game action before he might be ready hasn’t produced desirable results in the past for any team, especially Cleveland.
At the University of Oklahoma, Mayfield put up insane numbers en route to the 2017 Heisman Trophy and College Football Playoff. He’s a great leader, and mark my words, he’ll be an elite quarterback, but he shouldn’t play this season, especially if the Pittsburgh game is any indication of how the Browns offensive line will perform the rest of the season. If things go south, they should turn to veteran Drew Stanton. Not Mayfield, not yet.
I think Taylor and the line should improve going forward. Now, it’s time to win a game, something they haven’t done since Christmas Eve of 2016.