PITTSBURG, PA – Scratches in my notebook when the Cleveland Browns set a record in the NFL playoffs with 28 points in the first quarter to lead 35-10 at halftime over Pittsburgh. The Steelers made four … counts … FOUR turns in the first half. The browns were exceptional in every aspect of the game.
1. In the first game of the game, Pittsburgh center Maurice Pauni clicked the ball over QB Ben Roethlisberger’s head. It was so high and so far the ball ended up in the Pittsburgh final zone, where it was restored by Cleveland defender Carl Joseph for TD. Pouncey had several other photos that were off target.
2. Seeing this moment, you would think that this is the first game of Punsi in the playoffs. But he is a veteran, a nine-time Pro Bowl selection. On their next possession, Roethlisberger panicked under pressure and intercepted MJ Stewart.
3. The Browns then launched a new fast TD when Baker Mayfield hit Jarvis Landry in a 40-yard pass. It took 5 minutes, 1
4. The browns were not finished. Roethlisberger threw his second interception in the first quarter, Cleveland’s defense Sheldrick Redwine made an excellent catch. Hunt then scored another TD. They had a 28-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
5. Nick Chubb rushed for 17 and 28 yards in his first two runs in the game. At the start of the game, Pittsburgh looked like a team that hadn’t trained in a week. They also made stupid penalties and the browns were super sharp.
6. Browns turned three turnovers in Pittsburgh into three TDs. The other remarkable part of the first half was how the Browns’ attack overcame Steeler’s defense. The holes were huge. Steelers looked confused. Pittsburgh did poorly. The Steelers seemed far more focused against Pittsburgh last week, when the game meant nothing to the Steelers.
7. Meanwhile, the browns played without pressure and full of confidence. The Browns’ quick start in this game is remarkable because they only had one workout all week due to COVID’s limitations.
8. Think of the Browns, acting head coach Mike Priefer has been a football coach for 26 years. He is a coach at four different colleges. The Browns are his sixth different team in the NFL. His title with Browns is a special teams coordinator. But during those 26 years as a coach, he was the head coach for only one game. That was with the Vikings in Minnesota in 2016.
9. I doubt that there was ever a playoff game like this, in which a team is not only without its head coach, but also a key assistant coach. Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski was not only not in this game because of COVID-19, Browns was with Bill Callahan. He is an offensive coach of the team and also very close to Stefanski. During games, Callahan stands next to Stefanski. Callahan’s office is right next to Stefanski’s office at the team’s headquarters in Berea. Callahan was one of four assistant coaches who were not with the Browns for the game.
10. I knew that Prifer and Stefanski were together at the Minnesota coaching staff in 2016. Then Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer underwent emergency eye surgery, which led to Prifer having 24 hours to prepare for senior coach against Dallas. Why didn’t the work go to Stefanski? In 2016, Stefanski was the coach of the running defenders. I forgot that Stefanski did not become a QB coach until 2017. He never called a game until the last three games in 2018. He was the offensive coordinator of Minnesota in 2019.
11. All this is to point out how quickly the 38-year-old Stefanski has risen in the ranks of coaches. I’m not sure if he will win it, he has to be the coach of the year in the NFL to lead the Browns to a record 11-5. Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt was calling the plays tonight. Van Pelt has not called plays in play since 2009, when he was Buffalo’s coordinator. But he has extensive experience as a QB coach.
12. With Pro Bowl keeper Joel Bitonio (COVID) out, the Browns finally started Michael Dunn in the left guard. That was not the plan at the beginning of the season. The Browns had veteran Chris Hubbard and rookie Nick Harris as backup officers. They both have knee problems.
13. I had to look at Dunn. He played in Maryland, where he honorably mentioned All-Big Ten. He was not drafted into the NFL in 2017. He was on training squads with Aries, Jacksonville, Miami and Browns. This is the first time he has been on the field for a real game in the NFL.
14. Starting from a corner for Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson (both with COVID) is Robert Jackson. Before last week’s game against Pittsburgh, Jackson’s regular season defense attempt consisted of a total of six clicks. He played 67 clicks in the 24-22 victory over the Steelers.
15. I mentioned all these obstacles that the Browns face to emphasize how remarkable the performance was in the first half. Cleveland had to be the team that wasn’t ready to play. Instead, it was Pittsburgh, a team without further challenges.
16. Chubb rushed for 53 yards in eight runs, Hunt had 44 yards in four runs. Mayfield was sharp, 10-out of 15 passes for 111 yards. He had two TD passes.
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