I ended my Sunday live watch of this game thinking the Steelers controlled the Browns pretty well, but took them a little too lightly and played a little too sloppy and almost got their hand caught in the cookie jar. I thought, after Sunday, the Browns were plucky on defense, just as I thought they would be after observing them in the preseason, but that Pittsburgh really dominated the game.
After re-watching the game, I have a little different feeling. A little jolt I didn't expect to walk away from on the rewatch. Two things jumped out at me…
1: The Steelers did play sloppy. A lot more sloppy than I remembered. The offense was inefficient and they were saved by their defense.
2: Part of the reason why the Steelers looked so sloppy was because the Browns defense was superb.
Lock it in: the Browns have the best young defense in football. The Steelers also have the best young defense in football, technically. They’re just a little older and more experienced than the Browns. These are two of the best young defenses in football — quite possibly the top two best defenses in this league in the next 2–3 years.
I wouldn't be surprised if the Browns shut out the Ravens this week…nor if the Ravens shut out the Browns and it's a 0–0 tie. Worst case, all the scoring may come from defensive scores.
Pittsburgh is getting blasted for looking so bad in this game, but the Browns have a lot to do with that, and people will realize that in a few weeks when the Browns prove how good their defense really is. And it doesn't even have Myles Garrett at this point.
One more note — the Steelers blocked a punt on the very first series of the game and recovered in the end zone… a quick TD right off the bat. From that point on the Browns won this game 18–14. Let that sink in.
Fantasy player notes…
-- One of the reasons why the Steelers looked so sloppy is because Le'Veon Bell (10-32-0, 3-15-0/6) is not in midseason form… He's not even in Week 1 form. I didn't recognize this version of Le'Veon – very little bouncing his step and sluggish to get going. He's either out of shape or doesn't care. Either way, I was shocked to see it. Bell was 'human' in this game…not just because of the Browns defense. It's surprising to see – I watch a lot of football…and that wasn't the real Le'Veon Bell I just watched.
I'll assume Bell will get into game shape quickly, but this may be a thing for another couple of weeks…which may lead some of you to be able to trade low for him if we suspect he’s just warming up. If you are a current owner, you're just gonna have to grin and bear it.
-- I'm not a huge Isaiah Crowell (17-330, 2-32-0/3) fan, but I'm a buyer on a discount. He's going to be 15-20+ carries a game guy for the team with a lack of other RB talent, a decent O-Line and a rookie QB…a team that can win games because of their defense if they can hold position running the ball. This Browns defense gets me excited for what Crowell could accomplish as a compiler. Those of you looking for David Johnson replacements, Isaiah Crowell is not the most trusted, loved name in fantasy. However, I can see the RB1 possibilities given the surrounding circumstances. He's not an RB1 talent but an RB1 workload is on the way.
Part of that is because Duke Johnson is basically a wide receiver now. I think he took all his snaps as a slot receiver in this game, which sounds exciting except that DeShone Kizer is terrible. The slot resulted in five targets and two catches for Johnson. There's going to be weeks where Johnson hits a lightning strike and then too many weeks like this one for fantasy. Duke is strictly a gamble/Hail Mary week to week.
-- Speaking of out of shape Steelers not looking good, Martavis Bryant (2-14-0/6) didn't show me anything in this game. Sluggish and dropped at least one pass. Another bad week from Bryant and current owners are going to panic. But I'm not sure I would call him a buy low at this point... or any point.
-- DeShone Kizer (20-30 for 222, 1 TD/1 INT) didn’t impress me much at all in this game. He has enough arm to make pre-programmed throws. If the world is right and the timing is right Kizer can deliver. However, any little thing that goes wrong and Kizer still tries to throw the ball and he'll throw it no matter how many defenders are in the way. If Josh McCown had been the quarterback of the Browns for this very game, I feel the Browns would've beaten the Steelers comfortably.
And had the Browns drafted Mitchell Trubisky and kept Joe Haden... I wouldn't be shocked if the Browns won this division in 2017. That's how good their defense is and is going to be… and how sloppy the rest of the division is becoming.
Let's talk defense, a lot of defence…
-- Joe Schobert (9 tackles) is exactly what I said he was a few weeks ago: a Pro Bowl middle linebacker this season. He's going to make a run at leading the league in tackles. He's the best inside linebacker prospect of all the 2017 prospects by comparison.
Schobert was a pretty talented OLB prospect for Wisconsin and was drafted by the Browns last year and had a so-so preseason in 2016. His future didn't seem all that bright. Credit Gregg Williams, psychopath-at-large and new defensive coordinator for the Browns, for Schobert’s resurgence. He asked Schobert to lose weight and move to middle linebacker, and he has created a Pro Bowl linebacker out of nowhere.
Schobert was excellent in this game. He almost batted down and picked off a pass in the second half that would've changed the game as we knew it. He got his fingertips on it and changed the trajectory but it still made its way to Antonio Brown, who then turned it into a 50+ yard play. That was so close to being nothing or a turnover. It was a game changing event that flew right under the radar.
-- Credit Gregg Williams as well for recognizing Derrick Kindred (3 tackles) as a starting safety for this team. He was all over the place in this one, even though the numbers don't pop off the stat sheet. I love Derek Kindred and have for two years now.
-- The terrific rookie DT Larry Ogunjobi (4 tackles) got a nice push of playing time and helped control the middle… it's like having a Pro Bowl DL land right in your lap. Ogunjobi-Kindred-Schobert are three Pro Bowl talents that weren't playing a role last year. Add these three guys with Jamie Collins, Jabrill Peppers, Emmanuel Ogbah, and Myles Garrett and you're talking the future best defense in the NFL.
I have to say it – you have to give Gregg Williams a ton of credit for seeing what the Browns coaches didn't last year. Gregg Williams is going to become noted as a guru for what he's about to do in Cleveland unless he somehow finds a way to psychotically screw it up.
-- I keep praising the Browns defense, because when do you ever get to do that? But it's selling short how great the Steelers looked on the fence as well. TJ Watt (7 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) might be the best defensive player from this 2017 NFL Draft. He had a great game, including a nice interception at just the right time when the momentum was starting to shift a little. He was all over the place against the run and pass.
-- Joe Haden (6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PD) flipping from the Browns to the Steelers gives the Steelers an edge and the best overall up-and-coming defense today—an experienced former shutdown corner lands right in their lap. They don't grow on trees and the Steelers stole him from the Browns.
-- In the end, the Steelers have a very legitimate chance to have the top defense in the NFL this year. And next year, they'll be fighting the Browns for that title. If you were in a deep roster league and having multiple defenses on the roster is, normal you should squat on the Browns, just like you should’ve squatted on the Jaguars late last year.
Who would've thought the Jaguars and the Browns are going to lead the new decade as top defenses?