Browns Week 11 vs. Steelers: Summary Report and Player Game Balls

November 21, 2023

Andy Billman Tony Camino

Browns Reflections: A Look Back at the Brown’s Victory over the Steelers

1 – What was the most significant reason for the 13-10 thrilling victory over the Steelers?

Andy –

It truly was a complete team effort, and I credit the coaching staff, led by head coach Kevin Stefanski.  Stefanski has come a long way, in my opinion. He had his team ready for the Steelers and played the way necessary to win on Sunday.  It was not pretty, and the offense at times was limited, but that was the obvious adjustment that had to be made with rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson making his second-ever start.

The defense led by Jim Schwartz also was fantastic and made proper adjustments late in the game to put pressure on quarterback Kenny Pickett.

The players made plays and they did what was needed, but that was a coaching clinic on knowing the opponent and executing.

Tony –

One word: defense. They dominated yet again, and it looked like a battle between two teams who had just lost their starting quarterback for the season the week prior. The difference, however, is Pittsburgh has no significant injuries on offense and is playing with their first-round pick at quarterback. That offense continues to look atrocious, and the Browns had no issue shutting them down aside from a big play from Jaylen Warren.

Offensively, the priority was placed on putting their defense in the best position possible and taking care of the ball, and they did that very well. It turned out to be an ugly AFC North slugfest, and the Browns beat the Steelers at their own game. The game plan was ultra-conservative but necessary, as Kevin Stefanski evidently vowed not to let the offense lose this game.

The combination of a great game plan and execution, along with a dominant defense, is a recipe for having a chance in every game. The Browns knew they could rely on their defense, and they were nearly perfect besides one big play. With the fight from this team and the elite level the defense is playing at, they will have a chance every game they play.

2 – Thoughts on DTR’s performance.

Tony –

I thought Dorian Thompson-Robinson was fine, but not great by any means. It’s tough to truly evaluate his performance, other than a couple of throws because it was evident he and Stefanski were heavily prioritizing ball protection and rarely worked the ball downfield at all. That’s going to have to change if this team wants to go anywhere, but it’s not the best idea to try that against TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith with James Hudson and Geron Christian as the main tackles.

In the coming weeks, they will need to work on DTR processing defenses and allow him to work the ball more downfield just to stretch the defense out. I loved the designs to get him out and using his legs and would love to see more zone option reads to really add another element to the run game.

He wasn’t great by any means, but he did exactly what was asked of him in this particular matchup. The rest of the season will be spent gaining confidence, and working more throws downfield against worse defenses, but that wasn’t the best game plan for a huge divisional clash that sets up the stretch run nicely. He’ll continue to improve every week, but I was very impressed with the rookie’s poise in a huge moment.

Andy –

As a reminder sticker, he went up against the Ravens and Steelers, who, as we know, are very good opponents, so this was not an easy start for a rookie in the NFL.

DTR was good and showed improvement in his second start.  Now, DTR is limited, and his grasp of downfield passing is not yet there.  He did show good athletic ability with his legs and most importantly, his decision-making was a lot better than his first start.  He is really being thrown into the fire and clearly needs some more time to develop, but on Sunday he did what was needed.

Now moving forward, the prospect of Joe Flacco is going to be very tempting. We will have to see what Flacco has left in the tank, but for now, DTR has earned the right to play and, dare I say, improve as he prepares for his first road game against Denver.

3 – What is the ceiling for the Browns talented defense?

Andy –

The ceiling is very high because of the talent, health, and leadership of MVP candidate Myles Garrett. Garrett set the tone on Sunday with his sack to start the game on defense, and on a drive where it looked like the Steelers might score a touchdown, he got a sack on second down to force a third and long, effectively ending the drive with a field goal.   Having Garrett makes the ceiling so high.

They also have the rare duo of a great defensive line and a talented, deep secondary, which forces opponents to choose their poison when attempting a downfield passing game.

The Browns could still improve their run defense. For some reason, it seems that once in a game, they give up a big play for big yards.  That must be fixed, especially in December when they play the Jaguars and Texans.

This defense is elite, and the coaches are playing to the strength of the team.

Tony –

Without a doubt, this is a Super Bowl-caliber defense. If the offense plays at an average to slightly above-average level, they have a chance to beat any team in the league because of how dominant they are on that side of the ball. The Browns are far and away the best defense in terms of EPA per play and success rate, and they have dominated the game at every level.

The defensive line is where it all starts, with Za’Darius Smith, Myles Garrett, and Ogbo Okoronkwo excelling at pressuring the quarterback and changing the line of scrimmage. The defensive backs are a perfect complement on the backend, as they might have the best trio of cornerbacks in the NFL.

Simply put, this defense is at a Super Bowl level. It’s more like a defense that can carry you to a Super Bowl, not one that can win one solely relying on the likes of Patrick Mahomes or Tom Brady on the other side of the ball. If the offense can find a new identity and continue to take care of the ball, this team has a true chance every week thanks to the defense.

4 – With a 7-3 record, will the Browns make the playoffs?

Tony –

Winning on Sunday was huge for keeping the divisional hopes alive, but it was even more significant for the Browns’ chances at a Wild Card spot. The Texans and Steelers currently hold the sixth and seventh spots with 6-4 records, and the Bills are right behind them at 6-5. Sitting at 3-2 in the AFC North and 5-2 in the AFC, the Browns currently hold tiebreakers over most teams.

With the eighth-easiest remaining schedule, the Browns only have tough games remaining against Houston, Jacksonville, and a surging Denver team next week. Outside of those matchups, they still face the Jets, Bears, Jake Browning-led Bengals, and Rams, giving them a favorable path to the postseason.

The AFC North is still in play, as the Browns trail the Ravens by a half-game. However, the Ravens have the fifth-hardest remaining schedule and lost Mark Andrews for an extended period. The path to 10-11 wins is laid out easily, and the Browns will have a legitimate shot in every single game going forward, with the toughest part of the schedule behind them. The Browns are poised to make the playoffs and may even compete for the AFC North crown until the end.

Andy –

Yes, the Browns are going to the playoffs in 2023.  They finally get slight relief in the schedule. Of course, next week, they play the dreaded Broncos, who have been playing much better lately. That said, upcoming games with the Bears, Jets, and the injured Bengals without Joe Burrow also seem to favor the Browns.

The only warning label is the Browns can not take any more significant injuries to the team.  There are seven games left, so the possibility of an injury remains, but that’s the only major concern I see moving forward. 

I actually believe the Browns can manage the quarterback situation just fine and make the playoffs, just need to stay healthy.

Game Balls

Tony – Kevin Stefanski

Andy – Myles Garrett and DTR

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