The Cleveland Browns Week 17 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers was always going to be a challenge, especially given the importance of the game for their opponents. In what was likely Ben Roethlisberger's final home game at Heinz Field in front of the crowd in Pittsburgh, there weren't many people outside of Cleveland rooting for the Browns. Baker Mayfield and Co. didn't do much to get supporters on their side in the loss, so here are a few Browns Week 17 takeaways from their defeat to the rival Steelers.
The loss to the Steelers officially put an end to the Browns' playoff chances, meaning the team will have its sights set on 2022 for the time being. A difficult year-end schedule put Cleveland in a tight spot, and they weren't able to escape with a win against either the Green Bay Packers or the Steelers. The back-t0-back losses saw a lot of fans pointing the finger at Mayfield, who has battled injury throughout the season just to be able to take the field.
With the Browns at 7-8 and their season all but a wrap at this point, the team will have some key decisions to weigh out for the future. Still, there are certainly some things to examine from the Week 17 loss. With that in mind, here are a few takeaways from the Browns-Steelers matchup in Week 17.
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Browns Week 17 Takeaways
3. Nick Chubb needs to be the focal point of the offense
We understand that the Browns were playing from behind for most of this game, but to limit Chubb to just 12 carries is borderline criminal. Chubb averaged 4.8 yards per carry in the loss, tallying 58 yards and zero touchdowns. While it was a pedestrian performance from the star running back, he averaged nearly as many yards per touch (4.8) as Baker Mayfield did per pass attempt (4.9). While allowing Baker Mayfield to throw spotty, inaccurate passes for incompletions is an effective way to slow the tempo of the game, enabling the struggling quarterback to make 38 pass attempts is not the recipe for success.
Chubb is a step above every other skill player on the Browns' offense, but to minimize his role in a key game against a division rival is a truly dumbfounding move. Had Mayfield been lighting up the Steelers' secondary with ease, that would've been a different story. But, Mayfield had about a mediocre performance as a quarterback can have, and failed to deliver for Cleveland in key moments. When the QB can't get it done, just give the ball to your best player, who has steadied the ship all season amid Mayfield's struggles.
2. Kevin Stefanski needs to improve, and fast
The Cleveland Browns certainly could have defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 17, but decisions from Kevin Stefanski played a part in holding the team back. For starters, Stefanski's refusal to hand the ball over to Chubb, as previously mentioned, remains a head-scratcher. The only productive member of the offense wasn't being given touches, and the results were plain to see. But Stefanski's handling of Chubb was only one of his many failures from Sunday. When Baker Mayfield and his favorite targets are struggling to connect, it may be time to change the game plan. Jarvis Landry was targeted 10 times on Sunday, catching just four passes. Austin Hooper, on the other hand, struggled with drops, hauling in just two of five targets on the evening.
While drops and poor pass accuracy can't be attributed to Stefanski, his inability to pivot from the failing game plan is what ultimately did the Browns in. Not to mention, Stefanski left T.J. Watt practically unchecked in a 1-on-1 matchup against rookie offensive lineman James Hudson. It came as no surprise to fans watching at home that Watt had a field day en route to a four-sack performance. Matching up a rookie against the league's most dangerous pass-rusher was always a bad idea, but Stefanski took it on the chin and didn't bother making any adjustments while Watt made Mayfield's life a living hell.
1. Retaining Baker Mayfield in 2022 is a huge risk
Yes, Baker Mayfield played through injuries for most of the 2022 season, something that ultimately proved not to be worth it considering the Browns still missed the playoffs. Well, after a year of pain, Mayfield will undergo surgery and put his season to an early end. Now, Cleveland will have a critical decision to make regarding Mayfield, who is due to enter the last year of his contract in 2022, when he'll earn more than $18 million in guaranteed money. The fanbase doesn't seem to have much confidence in No. 6 under center, so it may be time for the Browns to start dangling their once-considered franchise quarterback in trade talks. Another season like this and there's no chance that Mayfield re-ups with the Browns, so they may look to bite that bullet a year in advance and move on from the Baker Mayfield era.