Infighting Begins as Browns Eye 0-12

Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson stands on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Cleveland, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016. The Steelers won 24-9. (AP Photo/David Richard)

|By Mike Young|

One of the few positive things you could say about the Browns — at least prior to their Week 11 loss to the Steelers — is their team camaraderie seemed to be pretty good considering the circumstances of their dreadful season.

That changed over the past week. Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor, known to ineloquently speak his mind at Ohio State, criticized the offensive line after quarterback Cody Kessler took another concussion-inducing hit and Pittsburgh recorded eight sacks.

“They can’t keep getting hit like that, and if I want to voice my opinion, I’m going to voice my opinion now, because it’s going on too much, Pryor said, Sunday, via Cleveland.com. “I don’t care if you’ve got to hold these dudes. Hold them and take the damn penalty and stop getting our quarterbacks hit. I hate that. I don’t like it.’

What went right last week

After Kessler’s injury, Josh McCown stepped in and completed a long touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter.

That 11 play, 75 yard drive was capped off by a TD pass to tight end Gary Barnidge, who is rarely targeted unless McCown plays. It also brought the Browns back within eight points.

What went wrong last week

Even an eight point deficit seems insurmountable given the current state of the Cleveland offense.  As previously stated, they allowed eight sacks to a Steelers team that came into the game tied for last in the NFL in sacks.

According to Pro Football Focus, McCown was pressured on 15 of his 33 dropbacks. Rookie left guard Spencer Drango continues to be a sieve in pass protection and, obviously, doesn’t get much help with center Cam Erving to his right.

Key moment

The Browns’ tragic narrative loop includes a seemingly endless set of untimed downs they dealt with at the end of the first half, Sunday.

Rather than attempt a field goal, the Steelers continually tried to score a touchdown with goal to go and only enough time on the clock to run one play. The first time, Briean Boddy-Calhoun bailed out Pittsburgh by holding. Of course, the half can’t end on a defensive penalty so the drive continued.

After that, Joe Haden interfered with Antonio Brown. Finally, on their third attempt at the end zone and the ball at the one, Le’Veon Bell ran it in for a TD.

Key stats

Given the facts that the Browns are starting a rookie QB and can’t protect the quarterback no matter who it is, it seems odd they would drop back to pass as often as they do.

Against Pittsburgh, Cleveland signal-callers attempted 41 passes. They didn’t have much success on the ground, but the Browns only ran the ball 13 times — top back Isaiah Crowell had eight attempts for 10 yards.

The team throws the ball on 66.11 percent of offensive plays this season, third highest in the league behind Jacksonville and Green Bay. Certainly, playing from behind doesn’t help, but neither does Hue Jackson’s unbalanced play calling.

Initial takeaway

It’s not only the run-pass balance causing issues.

Kessler doesn’t stand a chance behind a shoddy, makeshift offensive line, a weak arm that allows teams to pin their ears and rush the passer without much consequence, a tendency to hold onto the ball too long, and an inability to adjust at the line.

What does this mean moving forward

Robert Griffin III couldn’t stay healthy in Washington and left the opening game against the Eagles, prior to the offensive line’s issues in pass pro.

He may fear for his life if he returns to the field. Yet, he is eligible to do so after the Browns activated him off injured reserve and he practiced with the team in non-contact drills this week. Per league rules, Griffin has three weeks to either be activated or or will be placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.

First thoughts on next game and opponent

The 7-3 Giants, still alive in the NFC East division race and in great position for a wildcard spot, come to Cleveland, Sunday.

New York has won five straight games and found some semblance of a running game the past two weeks. Rashad Jennings averaged nearly five yards per game in those two contests against the Bengals and Bills. That will alleviate the pressure on Eli Manning, who struggled with turnovers in the middle part of the season, partially due to Jennings’ ineffectiveness and an injury to the Giants’ top back.

Injury Update

Yet again, the Browns are struggling with injuries in their secondary. Cornerback Joe Haden (groin) was limited in practice, Thursday. Same for Jamar Taylor (groin) and Tramon Williams Sr. (knee).

Several Giants did not practice, Thursday, due to injuries. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (knee), as well as offensive linemen Marshall Newhouse (knee), Justin Pugh (knee), and Brett Jones (calf) missed practice on Thanksgiving.

A prediction

Giants, 24-10.