Some like to say things like, “This is about as close to a must-win game as any on the schedule.” when approaching certain games. However, the Pittsburgh Steelers are truly in a must-win situation his Sunday when they play the Cleveland Browns in Week 11.
To get a better grip on what the Browns strengths and weaknesses are, I was able to talk with Chris Pokorny, editor of Dawgs By Nature (SB Nation’s Browns site) to find out what makes them tick, and how Terrelle Pryor truly is a difference maker as a wide receiver.
Check out the interview below:
The Browns haven't won a game, but they are playing hard for Hue Jackson. What is the fan base thinking in regards to their head coach, and the direction of the team?
Frustration toward Hue Jackson has mounted a little over the past few weeks, but the fan base is not looking for him to be fired. I wrote an article this week discussing how patience is necessary for the Browns' plan to work. This past offseason began a rebuild unlike anything we've ever seen, specifically on the defensive side of the ball. There is a significant talent deficiency there that teams have been able to take advantage of every week -- so much so that I think it'd be a bit unfair to evaluate the schemes and play calling of the coaching staff in general.
Cleveland will have two first-round picks and two second-round picks in 2017. They'll also have a bunch of cap space -- analytics may typically be against unloading in free agency, but even if they find a veteran safety on a mid-level deal, it'll do wonders to help stop the defensive bleeding we've seen week in and week out. I know Jackson hates losing, but there is a reason that he and the front office aren't fearing for their jobs right now: they had the rarity of a commitment from owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam that they will get to see this plan out to fruition, and fans can't complain too much until more of that plan comes to light.
Terrelle Pryor isn't just another receiver in the league, but has become a dominant force. Have we seen him reach his ceiling, or does he still have more to show the league?
I don't think he's come close to reaching his ceiling. The Browns' quarterback play this year has either been bad or safe, which has limited Terrelle Pryor to running a bunch of sideline comeback routes. His strength should be beating cornerbacks downfield, but until Cleveland has a quarterback who can get the ball down there, and an offensive line that can pass protect a little longer, Pryor's full potential won't be on the highlight reels. If there is one thing fans have been able to cling to with pride this season, it's been Pryor's development, which has made re-signing him a priority. I think he can be a Top-10 receiver in the NFL in the next year or two.
The Browns' QB situation has continued to be a revolving door. Is that the one missing piece of the puzzle for the team, or are their other glaring offensive needs?
Poor defense is the biggest issue by far for the Browns. On offense, Cleveland has some solid pieces at running back and wide receiver, and long-term, there are three quality offensive linemen (only two as of late, because left guard Joel Bitonio is on injured reserve). The biggest weakness on offense has been the center position. Cameron Erving, a first-round pick from a year ago, is unfortunately a bust. The Browns are letting him ride this season out at the position, praying that they'll get lucky and the light will suddenly click for him, but there are a lot of undrafted free agents who could be signed off the street and play at just as good or better of a level.
As far as quarterback goes, it's been a weakness, no doubt. I could sit here and cherry pick some positive things the quarterbacks have done at times, but overall, I've always said the thing that defines a good quarterback is, "how often do they elevate the talent around them and will their team to victory?" We've had a couple cases earlier this season where the quarterbacks failed to come through at the end. And, while our defense has been atrocious in the second half of games, the quarterback(s) can help reverse the momentum by putting together a good drive of their own. Instead, the snowball effect of poor play consumes them too. The Browns need to find a franchise quarterback, but how soon they find one is the question. If you ask me right now, I'd rather the team go heavy on defense in the draft, and then try to find their quarterback in 2018.
Cleveland has been on the verge of victory several times this season. What will their game plan/approach be to beat the Steelers at home in Week 11?
Cody Kessler is not a good downfield thrower, and although Hue Jackson wants him to be more aggressive, I think they'll hold off on that approach this Sunday because of the 30 MPH winds that are expected. Therefore, I think Cleveland will try to get their running game going for the first time in weeks. The Browns have faced three good run defenses in a row (Jets, Cowboys, Ravens), and Pittsburgh's group is more vulnerable on the ground.
Defensively, new outside linebacker Jamie Collins was outstanding in the first half of last week's game against the Ravens. Baltimore was held to six points, and it seemed like Collins was involved in every play. In the second half, the Ravens finally realized how poor the Browns' safeties were and pushed the pace, attacking Cleveland with more crossing routes to mix up the coverage in the secondary. Overall on defense, Cleveland doesn't have much of a discernable gameplan (and it's shown by their inability to come close to beating teams), so I can't help you on what Cleveland will try to do well there.
The Steelers are in a must-win situation Sunday, and the Browns would love nothing more than to put a nail in Pittsburgh's coffin. How do you see this game shaking out, and if you want to give a prediction...feel free.
The Browns are just too bad on defense and lack the confidence on offense for me to predict a victory. Despite the Steelers' struggles, their offense should be able to slice and dice the Browns' defense early and often. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Steelers up by three possessions at the end of the first half. I guess the only chance Cleveland has is if the weather really throws Pittsburgh off, but I can't say that with much conviction, because the Browns wouldn't exactly have an advantage in the weather. In short, if Pittsburgh doesn't shoot themselves in the foot for four straight quarters, they'll pick up a big divisional win.