The Cleveland Browns laid an egg in Week 8 of the NFL season facing off with the Pittsburgh Steelers at home on Halloween. A game in which fans were excited about getting another chance to take supremacy over their divisional rival, after a win and a playoff victory in 2020, turned into a slog of a loss.
The loss dropped Cleveland down to 4-4 for the season and presented significant concerns for the team moving forward. Those concerns have mostly been validated over the team’s next seven games, leaving the Browns at 7-8 going into the Week 17 rematch with the Steelers.
Taking a look back at the game, what are some things we thought then and how can they apply to Monday Night Football this week?
OBJ was Hardly Involved, Now Gone
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
The biggest change for the team during the season was the departure of Odell Beckham Jr. Some believe that was a positive change while others see his touchdown with Los Angeles and wish he was still suiting up in Cleveland.
In Week 8, Beckham was targeted one time, a ball he caught for six yards. While Baker Mayfield attempted 31 passes, only one went Beckham’s way.
Looking forward to Week 17, outside of as an important decoy, the Browns aren’t missing anything from Week 8 with Beckham gone.
Once Again, Couldn't Put the Game Away
(AP Photo/David Richard)
Cleveland was tied with or led Pittsburgh for a majority of the game including most of the second half. Pittsburgh took the lead for good with just over 11 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
The Browns last three possessions of the game, after scoring their final points in the third quarter, resulted in a punt on a drive that went backward, a Mayfield fumble on a promising drive and a turnover on downs inside of the two-minute warning.
On the short possession, Cleveland ran the ball one time for -2 yards. On the possession following the Steelers taking the lead, Chubb gained four yards on three carries but the passing game, specifically to David Njoku, was successful with 50 yards including 11 to Jarvis Landry before he fumbled.
The final drive, which started with over four minutes left in the game, started with a 12 yard Chubb run and a one-yarder before seven of the next eight plays were passing ones. The additional run by Chubb got knocked back for a one-yard loss.
The team could not finish the game strongly on offense. A theme for many of the Browns losses this year.
Steelers Kicker Missing
(John Cordes/AP Images for Panini)
Important to remember that Pittsburgh lost their kicker, Chris Boswell, in the second quarter of the game with a concussion after Jordan Elliott (above) put a hit on him. The Steelers changed their approach for the second half and were forced to go for two-point conversions on both of their touchdowns. They failed on both.
The lack of a kicker seemed to unnerve the Pittsburgh offense to some extent. Barring another injury, the Steelers will have the ability to kick field goals and extra points as normal on Monday Night Football.
Given how close Cleveland’s games have been, that is not a small difference for the rematch.
Run Game Struggled
(AP Photo/David Richard)
While we noted above the struggles to call run plays, it is important to note that the Browns run game struggled much of Week 8. Chubb ended up with 16 rushes for 61 yards while D’Ernest Johnson had four for 21 yards and a touchdown.
The Steelers defense has been bad against the run most of the year while Cleveland’s rushing attack is one of the best in the league. While that strength versus weakness should help the Browns, after Week 8 nothing can be assumed.
Taking a look back at our post-game recap, here is a few of the thoughts right after the game:
Baker Mayfield Was Fine Not Great
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
There have been plenty of games like this for Mayfield this year. Fine, not great. He returned from missing the Denver Broncos game the week prior to starting in this one.
Here is what we saw watching the game:
Inside the numbers, the Browns starting quarterback put a lot of zip on the ball and was, mostly, on target. It was clear the difference between his arm strength and that of Case Keenum.
His receivers failed him quite often. Mayfield’s ball placement was not perfect but he looked better than he did against Arizona.
Mayfield's Pass Catchers Failed
Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Another point of interest looking back at our post-game recap, not everything was Mayfield’s fault in Week 8:
Jarvis Landry had two late drops and a fumble.
Austin Hooper dropped a ball that could have been a touchdown early in the game.
Rashard Higgins dropped a back-shoulder throw where Mayfield tried to protect the receiver from a big hit by not leading him.
D’Ernest Johnson dropped a ball that was put right on him.
Injuries Continue to Plague
An important note from the game that has carried over to most of the season: Injuries can pile up quickly.
Cleveland lost Jack Conklin for the season during the game. John Johnson III did not return for the second half. Greg Newsome II missed a few plays with Denzel Ward and A.J. Green also out during that time. That led to Tim Harris, up from the practice squad in Week 8, as the outside cornerback.
Injuries happen but they piled up at certain positions (defensive back) or were at very important spots (leading to Blake Hance trying to block T.J. Watt).
PFF Correct About Team's Tackling Problems
(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Another issue that continued to linger in Week 8 and beyond is the team’s struggles tackling:
When we shared that Pro Football Focus had the Browns as the second-highest graded team in the NFL through seven weeks, many were shocked. What was not surprising was that they had the team’s tackling as their worst graded area.
It was evident throughout the game in Week 8. Two big missed tackles by Grant Delpit and Anthony Walker led to long gains by the Steelers offense. Finishing tackles was also a struggle as Najee Harris and others added a couple of yards on many plays.
Ronnie Harrison's Contract Season Going Poorly
(AP Photo/David Dermer)
Ronnie Harrison had a good season for the Browns in 2020 and has fallen off in 2021. His contract year just hasn’t lived up to what he or the team would have liked. In Week 8, Pittsburgh picked on Harrison in both phases of the game:
This week’s game started with him getting a penalty for a very late hit out of bounds that offset a holding penalty by the Steelers.
Throughout the game, Harrison took many bad angles in run fits and struggled in coverage.
Greedy Williams Plays Best Up Tight
[Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]
With all the injuries in the secondary, Greedy Williams took on a lot of responsibilities in Week 8. He performed well when in press coverage but, most of the year, has preferred to play off and bail out at the snap. When up close, it went well:
Greedy Williams was beat on a few outbreaking routes early in the game but was playing in off coverage on those plays. As the referees allowed the outside players to be physical with each other, Williams was much better playing press or closer to the receiver at the snap.
He wasn’t perfect, Claypool had a tough contested catch against him in tight man, but it is clear that Williams has more comfort being able to get physical with his man.
[Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]
In what probably could have been written about multiple times throughout the year, Cleveland was really good at shooting themselves in the foot in Week 8:
Rashard Higgins jumped the snap (false start), instead of just watching the ball, turning a 3rd and 11 into a 3rd and 16. Landry had one of those penalties in the first quarter. We already noted Harrison’s penalty that offset a Steelers hold.
On top of those simple penalties, the drops and poor tackling were huge parts of the Browns loss in Week 8.
Much Needs to Change in Week 17
(AP Photo/David Richard)
Surprisingly, a look back at Week 8 didn’t place the blame on Baker Mayfield as much as it did the rest of the team. The quarterback wasn’t perfect but the team as a whole played mostly poorly.
In Week 17, Cleveland needs to get their running game going, play smart, be disciplined and use the players in ways that suit their skills best. Staying healthy throughout the game would be helpful as well.
If they can do most of that, and they get a little help, the Browns can enter the last week of the season controlling their own destiny.