Browns vs. Steelers: What We Learned from Cleveland's 14-3 Loss

Samantha Bunten@@samanthabuntenAnalyst IDecember 9, 2011

Browns vs. Steelers: What We Learned from Cleveland's 14-3 Loss

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    The seemingly never-ending era of heartbreak continued in Cleveland on Thursday night, as the Browns suffered yet another crushing loss to their rival the Pittsburgh Steelers by a score of 14-3. 

    The Browns offense remained missing in action for the whole game, but the defense kept them in it well into the fourth quarter before faltering at the end. 

    It was another game chock full of missed opportunities and foolish decisions by the Browns, who were within striking distance of taking the lead on several occasions, yet missed the mark on all of them. 

    It wasn't a horrible game for the Browns score-wise, but it sure felt awful for those of us watching, and I imagine felt even worse for the Cleveland players. 

    Between Ben Roethlisberger's stunning one-legged effectiveness and James Harrison's appalling cheap shot on Colt McCoy, it was an utterly deflating night for the Browns' tortured fanbase, which had already suffered enough this season. 

    Still, you have to admire the toughness the Browns showed on short rest against their bitter rival this week, even if the end result was heartbreaking. 

    Following are four things we learned about the Browns this week. 

1. The Happiest You've Ever Been to See a Golf Cart

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    ...too bad it was so short-lived. The invincible man, aka Ben Roethlisberger, was at it again. Whatever you think of Roethlisberger, you have to acknowledge his toughness, demonstrated tonight after he exited the game in the first half on a golf cart, was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain, then got right back out there in the second half. 

    Any Browns fan can tell you, after seeing all three of their quarterbacks go down with high ankle sprains in 2010, that it's the kind of injury that typically sidelines a quarterback for 3-4 games. Roethlisberger was out of the game for more like 3-4 minutes. 

    And even against the top-ranked Browns pass defense, Big Ben came up big, gimpy leg and all. 

    The Browns have seen enough of Roethlisberger in recent years to know how this works. He's tough to stop, even for a better team than the Browns, but Cleveland needs to learn how to corral him.

    They face him twice a year and probably watch more film of him than any other single player. No more excuses. 

    The entire Browns defense was essentially beaten by one man today, and that one man had a bum wheel. 

2. Browns Finally Corral a No. 1 Rusher...For the First Half

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    Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall hasn't been as good this season as he's been in the past, but experience has told us opposing rushers don't have to be that good to dominate the Browns' troubled run defense. But tonight something changed. At least in the first half. 

    Unfortunately thanks to the injury to Roethlisberger, the Steelers started to lean more heavily on Mendenhall in the early second half.

    Ideally, this would have handicapped the Pittsburgh offense. Instead, it just once again exposed the holes in the Browns' run defense, and demonstrated that apparently the Cleveland run defense is so bad, a quarterback only needs one leg for his offense to succeed because he can just lean on his top rusher. 

    The Browns were able to rein in Mendenhall in the first 30 minutes, limiting him to just 18 yards. But he'd racked up 76 yards by the end.  

    The good news was, the goal-line stand by the Browns in the early fourth quarter saw Cleveland stuff Mendenhall on both third and fourth down.

    The Steelers went for it on fourth down, showing they don't respect the Browns' red-zone defense, and the Browns made them pay for it. It cost Pittsburgh a field goal, a foolish move in a game where three points could easily be the difference maker. 

    What we saw against the rush from the Browns defense in the first half and in the fourth-quarter goal line stand was encouraging.

    Unfortunately, the Steelers adjusted to the Browns plans to contain the rush, and the Browns weren't able to counter. It's a step in the right direction for the beleaguered Cleveland run defense, but only a small one. 

    It was great to see the Browns fend off the run for half a game, but unfortunately for them, a football game lasts four quarters, not two.

    The Browns have had trouble staying consistent through a whole game in every way; this is one more example of how Cleveland needs to play more consistent football if they want to be able to compete with tough opponents who are capable of both starting and finishing strong. 

    It was the pass, not the run, that killed the Browns this week, but the run defense still needs to improve. Dramatically.

3. Poor Field Position, Missed Opportunities Doom Browns

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    The Browns once again fell victim to their own inability to take advantage of opportunities and repeatedly started drives with poor field position. Unfortunately, we've seen this movie before. It never gets any better, no matter how many times you see it. 

    The Browns couldn't take advantage of a Roethlisberger interception at a key point midway through the fourth quarter. Mike Adams had a nice pick, but it didn't result in any points on the board for the Browns offense. 

    They also couldn't take advantage of the first down and 15 yards from James Harrison's cheap shot on Colt McCoy.

    Granted, some of that wasn't their fault. This is why helmet-to-helmet hits are bad for football. Does McCoy make the erroneous throw that resulted in an interception in the end zone if he isn't dazed from getting whacked in the head?

    It's possible, but I doubt it, and the benefit of the doubt goes to the guy who got drilled in the head, not the team of the guy who takes yet another dirty hit to make a play. 

    But in the end, it's one more wasted opportunity for the Browns. And there are no excuses for the offense failing to get the job done for the entire rest of the game. 

    The Browns also lost out due to the bad field position they were repeatedly saddled with, and Steelers benefited from the good position the Browns gave them, whether from turnovers or an inability to move the ball on offense. 

    It's more evidence that the ineffectiveness of the Browns offense has exponential effect. It isn't just that they can't score points; it's also that they're so bad at moving the ball that they give opponents excellent field position all the time. 

    Sure, it would help if the Browns had a stellar punter, but Brad Maynard isn't the problem. He has to punt way too many times per game, and no punter, no matter how good, could overcome the poor field position the Browns offense sets him up with before he even makes his kick. 

4. Browns Hang Tough Against AFC North Rival, but Still Break Our Hearts

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    The Browns hung in there for a long time against a very tough opponent, but they just couldn't stick it out for four quarters. Their endurance simply has to improve.

    They also have to learn not to panic when things start to go south, and they have to be better out of the gate so that fatigue late in the game doesn't kill them every stinking time they come close to a win. 

    This game made me sad. It was horrible watching how badly they wanted it, yet they just couldn't make it happen. McCoy took a huge beating and panicked and threw multiple interceptions, eerily reminiscent of the final Browns-Steelers game of 2010. 

    The score wasn't as bad as some of us feared, and the Browns didn't get blown out by a team that had the potential to crush them. Still, they didn't exactly play a good game. They made mistakes and failed to capitalize on opportunities. 

    It's not the first time we've seen that from the Browns this season by any means, but to see them hold the Steelers to within four points for nearly the entire game only to let a chance to pull off a miracle upset slip through their hands at the end was just heartbreaking. 

    We in Cleveland love our Browns and always will, but this one was hard to take. It's the close ones that hurt more, especially when facing a rival against whom pulling off an upset would have been just what the Browns and their fans needed. 

    We'll get 'em next year...right?