Before we kick off in New Orleans, some quick thoughts on the tie with the Steelers, and what the Browns need to do this week to avoid a loss, or another unsatisfying tie:
The defense needs to see another week of standout performances from Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, and Genard Avery. We knew Garrett could be a game changer, and he did just that against the Steelers. He took over the game in the 4th quarter and overtime. Without Garrett with his two sacks and two forced fumbles, the Browns would have suffered another season opening loss at home to Big Ben. Ward answered the critiques of his draft position early on and continued to shine the whole game. While his two interceptions definitely caused the most excitement, it was his sustained coverage of one of the NFL’s best receivers, Antonio Brown, that impressed throughout the game. Some fans might not have known much about Avery coming into the game, but everyone should know him after his stellar rookie debut–a sack, a QB hit, a QB hurry, and forced fumble from the 5th round pick announced his arrival as a new clutch player on the Browns defensive line.
The one area where I am most concerned about the Browns defense heading into the Superdome? The run game. Without Danny Shelton’s run-stuffing presence, the defensive line let James Conner run up and down the field last week, notching 135 yards in his debut as the Steelers starting running back. Facing Alvin Kamara this week looms as a tall task.
And then there’s the elephant not in the room–with the Browns announcing last night that the team will part ways with Josh Gordon on Monday, who will take the wide receiver’s place as the Browns most talented wide receiver? With the Browns playing inside this week and not facing monsoon-like weather conditions, I would expect Tyrod Taylor to improve substantially in the pass game. In order for that to happen, Taylor will need to be more accurate, but pass catchers not named Jarvis Landry are also going to need to step up in Gordon’s absence. Njoku is going to need to catch the ball more reliably, and the team is going to need to find ways to get Duke Johnson and Antonio Callaway more involved.