The Cleveland Browns played a surprisingly competitive game at home Sunday, Sept. 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, ultimately falling 21-18. While the final result was not what the fans and the team were hoping for, there were encouraging signs from both sides of the football as the team begins their transformation and emergence from their abysmal 1-15 season last year. While the general consensus last year was that the Browns deserved a better record than their final result, few imagined the matchup between teams typically opposite of each other in the division standings would end up so close.
On the defensive side of the football, the Browns had an impressive showing against a loaded Steelers offense. The Browns offense actually scored more points than the Steelers offense, as the difference in the game was a touchdown following a blocked punt. Antonio Brown, a perennial MVP candidate and arguably the top wide receiver in the entire league, still managed to amass 182 receiving yards on 11 receptions, but the Browns otherwise contained Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and star running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell was expected to struggle, however, as he missed most of the offseason due to a contract dispute with the organization.
Regardless, for a team that only won one game last year, it has to be encouraging to see the team trending in the right direction. What’s even better is that the team performed well despite No.1 overall pick Myles Garrett not playing due to a high ankle sprain suffered earlier in the week. While he is expected to miss at least the next few weeks, there should be no hurry for him to return and risk turning this injury into a season-long affair.
On the offensive side of the football, the Browns looked comfortable and were able to play the game the way they wanted it to be played. The team managed a longer time of possession and four more first downs than the Steelers, though that amounted to only 237 yards on offense. DeShone Kizer, the rookie making his first career start, played an extremely promising game given the caliber of opponent faced. Kizer finished with 222 yards, a touchdown pass and an interception. Those numbers, along with a completion percentage of 66 percent gave Kizer a respectable 85.7 quarterback rating for the game. All said and done, Kizer could have played significantly worse and the Browns would still feel very good about their second round draft choice and current starting quarterback.
Moving forward, the Browns need to be optimistic about their chances of becoming a winning football team again. Few, if any at all, expect the Browns to be playoff contenders within the next season or two. But it is obvious that the team is trending upward with all the young talent acquired in the draft in recent years. Another positive sign for the season is that the Browns have the 21st toughest strength of schedule based on winning percentages from last season. This will give the team an opportunity to focus on developing their players.
It’s an exciting time to be a fan of Cleveland sports. The Cleveland Cavaliers have been competitive for the past three years and the Cleveland Indians have recently established the longest winning streak in American League history. Instead of the Browns continuing to be the underperforming team in town, perhaps they will join the rest of the sports in Cleveland and start winning again.