CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cleveland Browns scribbles after Sunday’s 21-18 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers:
1. After the Browns loss, DeShone Kizer received some encouraging words from Ben Roethlisberger. The Pittsburgh quarterback said, “I thought he played a great game. I told him afterwards, ‘What an awesome start.'”
2. Kizer missed a few open receivers. He failed to see Ricardo Louis outrageously open in the end zone on one play. He threw in another direction, leading to a needless interception. But overall, it was impressive for a first game: 20-of-30 passing for 222 yards. He had one TD pass, one interception.
3. Kizer was sacked seven times. After the game, Kizer admitted a big reason for that was him holding on the ball for too long.
4. The Steelers were daring Kizer to throw the ball. That meant Pittsburgh had a lot of defenders near the line of scrimmage to stop the run. Nonetheless, the Browns running game wasn’t just bad, it was embarrassing. The longest run by a back was six yards from Isaiah Crowell.
5. The Browns gave Crowell the ball 17 times, and he gained only 33 yards. Perhaps there were some holes open that he failed to run through. But there didn’t seem to be many. I’m not faulting the offensive line for most of Kizer’s seven sacks. He held the ball far too long. But the run blocking was poor.
6. Coach Hue Jackson said it was the first time the Browns had their full offensive line playing as a unit in a game. In that regard, he’s right. Joel Bitonio (knee) was hurt for most of the preseason. Joe Thomas only played briefly in one preseason game. Only Shon Coleman, JC Tretter and Kevin Zeitler had regular duty. Only Thomas and Bitonio were starters with the Browns last season.
7. I was hoping Browns V.P. Sashi Brown was right when he called Kenny Britt a “game-day player” in my story about him and the front office. But the veteran caught only one pass — for 13 yards. He had a terrible drop that would have gone for at least 15 yards. He had a miscommunication with Kizer on a long pass, although I believe that was Kizer’s fault.
8. Britt was brought in to replace Terrelle Pryor and be a reliable veteran receiver. He had a very iffy training camp and this first game was more of the same. They desperately need him to be a factor. Corey Coleman is their only viable receiver right now.
9. While Duke Johnson is still called a running back, he was at slot receiver quite a bit. Not once did the Browns give him the ball as a rusher. He caught two passes for a total of 20 yards. Crowell had those 17 carries (33 yards) and rookie running back Matthew Dayes carried the ball three times for seven yards. The longest run of the day for the Browns was a 10-yard scramble by Kizer.
10. If the Browns don’t get their running game at least to the level of being average, life will be very tough for Kizer. You can’t expect a rookie quarterback to win games by himself through the air.
11. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin was grumpy about Kizer: “It’s not my job to evaluate him. I will leave that to Coach (Hue) Jackson, respectfully.”
12. One of the most encouraging aspects of the game for the Browns was the progress made by several players from the 2016 draft. Fourth-rounder Joe Schobert had nine tackles and looked at home at middle linebacker.
13. Recently, there have been reports of the Browns missing Demario Davis (traded to the Jets), last year’s middle linebacker. I’ll simply say Schobert has already shown more on the field in the preseason and in this game than Davis did in 2016.
14. Another fourth-rounder from 2016 was Seth DeValve, and the tight end caught four passes for 42 yards. He seemed to be Kizer’s safety net when the rookie quarterback looked for a second receiver. Part of the reason the Browns cut veteran tight end Gary Barnidge was to create more playing time for DeValve, 2017 first-rounder David Njoku and 2015 sixth-rounder Randall Telfer.
15. Njoku caught two passes, but he did have a bad drop. He is talented but raw. Telfer is mostly a blocking tight end. As for Barnidge, he was not picked up by any NFL team after catching 55 passes in 2016.
16. Yet another fourth-rounder in 2016 was Derrick Kindred. He started at safety. He had an interception and has generally played well. They had one more pick in the fourth round of 2016. That was Ricardo Louis who caught two passes, including a nice grab for 29 yards.
17. The Browns had FOUR picks in the 2016 fourth-round. Two are starting, all four are playing. Six members of the 2016 draft class started.
18. First-rounder Corey Coleman had an excellent day with five catches. Second-rounder Emmanuel Ogbah batted down a pass. Third-rounder Carl Nassib had a sack. Another third rounder was Shon Coleman, who started at right tackle. Pittsburgh only gained 35 yards in 17 carries on the ground. Some very good things are happening for the Browns.