Lombardi: My TNF thoughts, NFL power ratings and Week 3 preview

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Last night’s game between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers was a classic example of two teams attempting to protect themselves from their quarterback.  Neither team attempted to beat the other one, they only wanted to not beat themselves. Both Jacoby Brissett and Mitchell Trubisky have limitations, which isn’t a knock, only a reality of the NFL today.  Most every quarterback has limitations, only a few are limitless.  Teams that understand there are no perfect quarterbacks and manages those limitations are the ones that succeed, as the Browns did last night beating Pittsburgh 29-17 and covering the four-point line plus helping the books by going over the total of 38.

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Brissett has played well in three games.  He has protected the ball, made accurate short throws and converted some key third-and shorts-with his ability to sneak, using his big body.  He has played within the framework of their offense, relying on running backs Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and their offensive line to control the game, get the lead and control the clock. The Browns have played their style for three games — starting fast (they’ve outscored opponents 14-0 in the first quarter) and get control of the game, never having to become a drop-back passing team.  Cleveland has held the ball over 35 minutes in three games, allowing its defense to only be on the field for 172 plays in three games.   By contrast, the Steelers D had already played 180 snaps going into last night game.  What’s the difference? 

The Browns have a better team around Brissett and can execute a larger volume of offense. The Steelers can only manage Trubisky with a simple and easy college offense, before his overall limitations rear their ugly head.  All the talk about Trubisky being rehabbed during his time in Buffalo is simply talk.  There is no rehab for making Trubisky improved. 

After the game, there are several questions regarding both teams that need to be addressed.   Let’s start with the Browns.  The first one is easy: Can the Browns continue to win in this manner?  Yes, they can because they won’t change who they are regardless of the score. Even if they get behind in the first quarter, they will continue to pound Chubb and run the ball.  They know who they are — and will not concede or play outside their comfort zone. 

The second requires some thought:  Can the Browns adequately throw the ball in the fourth quarter to get back into the game?  The simple answer is yes.  This method and style will produce regular season wins, with help from their defense. The more complex question is: Can they win playoff games and throw the ball to come back in January?  The Browns are a 1970’s style team right now — they throw short passes (average only 9.8 yards per reception) run the ball, manage the down and distance, slow the game down and throw fewer than 35 passes per game. (averaging 30.6 passing attempts per game. If a team makes them play lefthanded, taking away their running game, by building the lead and controlling the clock, the Browns will struggle — unless when Deshaun Watson comes back and then it’s a whole new ball game. 

For the Steelers the questions are easy, but the answers are hard.  The obvious question is how much longer can Trubisky continue to play with rookie first-round pick Kenny Pickett waiting in the wings?  Playing in his sixth season, Trubisky’s limitations are well known throughout the league.  Make him play from the pocket, change the coverage post snap and make him a reactionary player.  For Trubisky to be successful, the play in the game must go as practiced, or else the breakdowns will result in a bad play. 

The Steelers have excellent skill players around him and still cannot make plays down the field, averaging 5.5 yards per attempt.  Playing Trubisky is like taking the road to nowhere — it serves no benefits short or long term.  The second and more challenging question:  Is the Steelers offensive scheme under Matt Canada good enough?  Are they a college offense?  We will never know the answers to these questions with Trubisky under center.  Their offense must be a college one if they play Mitch, and until they switch players everyone will throw blame towards Canada and Trubisky.  If you’re Mike Tomlin, you realize after three games that your defense isn’t good enough to carry the team and regardless of how well they play, by the fourth quarter they are exhausted and wore down.  Changing quarterbacks might not produce more wins for the Steelers, but it will give them a glimpse into their future — which is worth making the move. 

QB RATINGS

Where have you gone Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers?  Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.  Yes, both Brady and Rodgers have not played like Blue Chips, even though their teams won last week.  They are struggling not because of their skills, rather the skill players around them.  This week they face off and sportsbooks have the total at 42, which must be the lowest total when these two elite passers haved face off.  For me, both are still Blue-Chip players and after two weeks, here is the best of rest.