Do moral victories count in the NFL?
And, yet… If the Steelers had not blocked that punt… (The Browns would have won, right?)
But the blocked punt happened, and the Browns went down by seven in the early minutes of their first game of the new season. And for a few brief moment every Browns fan wondered despairingly if this season would be just like so many others: depressing, with a side of laughable.
Here’s the thing, though: The moral victory for the Browns last Sunday wasn’t the fact that they might have won if they just hadn’t given up that touchdown following the blocked punt. No, the moral victory was the entire team playing as though they actually believed that they could come back and win the game after the blocked punt and that it was their job to do so.
The belief in their ability to win undeniably resides in the young Cleveland Browns defense, which finished the opening weekend of NFL football ranked first against the run and fourteenth overall, even with the 2017 No. 1 overall draft pick, Myles Garrett, sitting on the bench with a high ankle sprain. So many young defenders stood out as I rewatched their play against the offensively gifted Steelers: Joe Schobert (MLB) flew sideline to sideline to stop the run while Larry Ogunjobi (DT) stuffed it up the middle. Briean Boddy-Calhoun (CB) continued to make huge hits and have a nose for the ball, tipping it to Derrick Kindred (SS) for his first NFL interception. Carl Nassib (DE) recorded his first sack for the season while starting for the injured Garrett, and Jabrill Peppers (FS) showed off his excellent open-field tackling skills.
Peppers and the rest of the Browns special teams unit also did a great job (blocked punt, aside) of giving the Browns excellent field position on offense and forcing the Steelers to start possessions from deep in their own territory. Peppers’ longest punt return of 25 yards was 7 yards longer than any return the Browns made in 2016. Meanwhile, Britton Colquitt (P) pinned the Steelers within their own 20 yard line on all three of his punts, averaging 48.4 yards per punt, with his longest of the day going for 61 yards.
And while the Browns offense only scored 18 points, there were glimmers of what can be accomplished this season if the unit gels and rookie QB DeShone Kizer grows in his starting role. Corey Coleman started to show why the Browns drafted him in the first round in 2016, beating Joe Haden to get open often, and making 5 catches for 53 yards. His toughness was also on display when he held onto Kizer’s touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, despite huge hits from two Steelers players as he crossed into the end zone.
DeShone Kizer looked every bit the good rookie quarterback. While he gave up one interception, he completed 20 of 30 passes for 222 yards and had two touchdowns, one passing the ball to Coleman and another powering the ball into the end zone himself. He looked comfortable in the pocket and made some excellent throws. He also held onto the ball too long and took seven sacks. This week I will be looking for him to make better decisions–when to pass, when to scramble, and when to simply get rid of the ball and live to see another down. I will also be looking for a significant improvement in the run game this week, both from the offensive linemen and from starting running back Isaiah Crowell, which may prove difficult against a stout Ravens defense.
More than anything, however, I am looking for this young
team to replace last week’s “moral victory” with a real one. Go Browns.