It was a solid defensive performance, but the offense didn’t show up against the Steelers. In the final game of the year, Cleveland made it close but ultimately lost 13-9 after a hail mary pass to end the game could not be completed. It was a similar story for the 4-12 Browns who’s great pass defense kept them in the game, but their inept offense never really gave them a chance.
The Browns held a battered Roethlisberger to just 221 yards passing with no touchdowns. It was the rush defense that struggled once again, despite the Steerers losing Mendenhall early to what some believe is a torn ACL. Redman took over as the feature back and ran for 91 yards and the only touchdown of the game for either team. The Steelers ended up running for over 160 yards as a team.
Seneca Wallace did not perform well in his third start of the year. He completed just 16 of 41 passes for 177 yards, no TDs and an INT. He was able to scramble for 44 yards, which actually led the team. That is more of a hit on Hillis than anything, as he could only manage a meager 30 rushing yards on 10 carries. This team will not win through the air, but it was clear that they didn’t think the running game would work against the stout Pittsburgh rush defense.
Greg Little was held without a catch on 5 targets. It was poor ending to a promising rookie season for Little, who ended up with over 700 yards receiving. He had his ups and downs, but he has emerged as the number one target on this team. Josh Cribbs ended up the leading receiver with 7 catches for 91 yards. He had probably his best year as a pass catcher, finishing for over 500 yards. He may be a bigger part of the offense next year, depending largely on what happens in the offseason.
It should be an interesting offseason for the Browns who have a lot of questions to answer. They have some holes, obviously in the run defense and the passing game. They also have a top first round picks, including the 4th overall pick. There second one will come down to where Atlanta finishes in the playoffs. Everyone in the world thinks Andrew Luck is going first overall to the Colts, but after that it becomes more of a question mark. The Browns can go a number of ways, with the next top players including CB Morris Claiborne, OT Matt Kalil, WR Justin Blackmon, and QB Robert Griffin III. Of course, the Browns two best players are Haden and Thomas, so they likely are hoping one of the two offensive play makers fall to them. It will be interesting to see if Holmgren will give up on McCoy so early, but if Griffin is there, I think he will be the pick without a doubt. Blackmon would be a great consolation prize and would give this offense some serious fire power along with Little.
The running back situation has to be decided as well. Hillis won’t be under contract, but I would be surprised if the Browns don’t ultimately re-sign him. He clashed with management earlier this year about a contract extension, but he lost a lot of leverage when he couldn’t stay on the field this year. He ended up with just one 100 yard outing, which won’t exactly wow potential suitors in the free agent field. Of course the Browns don’t have much leverage either. They drafted Montario Hardesty in 2010 with the expectation that he would ultimately become the lead back. He can’t even stay on the field, so there is no way the Browns would be ready to hand him the starting reigns. I think the most likely scenario will be Hillis signing a short deal, one or two years, that will allow him to prove he is healthy and effective. Then he can seek that big contract next offseason. Cleveland could go another way as well. If they have had enough of Peyton, they could seek out a free agent to compete with Hardesty, or take Trent Richardson who should be available at there 4th overall pick. There is a lot of talent at RB in this draft, so it won’t be surprising to see them take one with their second first round pick also.