Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
What did an historic 21-21 tie game against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers do for the Browns?
Did it ... ?
A. Keep the optimism meter on the rise for a turnaround season.
B. Confirm that Myles Garrett will be a game-changing defensive force who will be in the conversation for defensive player of the year honors.
C. Justify the selection of cornerback Denzel Ward with the No. 4 overall pick of the 2018 draft.
D. Raise more questions about the coach and starting quarterback.
E. All of the above.
Yes, E. is the obvious answer.
But D. is the problem.
A disturbing disconnect: We saw on Hard Knocks that Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley come from different coaching cultures. We knew that. Haley, raised under the demanding Bill Parcells, challenged Jackson’s practice of managing players’ health with days off in training camp.
Jackson snuffed out the conversation by saying, “At the end of the day, I get to drive this bus, and I'm going to get it the way I want it. That's it, period. That's just how it works."
What happened on Sunday is a whole different story.
For three weeks, Jackson had insisted that receiver Josh Gordon would not start the Steelers game, as some weird consequence for missing a month of training camp and all the preseason games because of his personal leave of absence.
Jackson said that no player was entitled to a starting position. He also said Gordon would be on a pitch count in his first game.
And the exact opposite happened.
Gordon was on the field for the first play, surprising even Jackson – the head coach. Gordon was summarily benched for the remainder of the first series and the next two possessions in the first quarter. And then he was on the field for 68 of the remaining 73 offensive snaps in the game.
After the game, Jackson lamely explained, “The personnel group got him out there in the first play. I saw it just like you did. Not what I wanted, but we will get through that, too.”
On Monday, Jackson refused to elaborate on why Haley did not honor his boss’ instructions regarding Gordon’s first game.
“Like I said, just miscommunication,” Jackson said. “Move on from it. It is what it is. We worked through it, it is done with.”
Pressed on whether Haley was aware that Jackson did not want Gordon to start the game, Jackson said, “I think to keep talking about that does nothing, nobody any good. He played the first play, did not play for however many plays after that. There was a mistake in that, and we moved on from it. That is it.”
Either Haley didn’t know what Jackson wanted or didn’t care.
Either way, it’s a bad optic for Jackson that there would be any miscommunication concerning the handling of perhaps the most dynamic offensive player on the team in a season opener.
And what about the pitch count?
“Yeah, I was not surprised by that,” Jackson said.
Fine. So how does Jackson explain Gordon receiving only three targets in 69 snaps on the field?
“We just … we got to play better offensively,” Jackson said. “Just overall, everybody. We got to get him opportunities where he can make plays. Him, David, all of them. We got to get our skill guys going and moving in the right direction. I think that is the whole unit issue. I do not think it is one particular player. I do not think it is just the quarterback, or those guys individual. I just think it is a unit issue that we got to continue to address and get better.”
Each of the three balls targeted to Gordon were underthrown. He made a great catch off the helmet of cornerback Cameron Sutton for the touchdown that tied the game. One underthrown ball was broken up by Joe Haden; else it would’ve been a 47-yard touchdown. The last one was intercepted by Sutton inside the 10 on the last play of regulation.
Which brings us to Tyrod Taylor.
A disturbing debut: Taylor is playing ahead of rookie No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield because the Browns believe he gives them the best chance of winning.
The entire organization was traumatized by DeShone Kizer’s turnovers last year and enamored with Taylor’s low interception rate, along with his professionalism and leadership ability.
Even though Taylor is new to the offense and team, nobody envisioned a debut like he had against Pittsburgh – 15 of 40 for 197 yards, one TD, one interception. Taylor was sacked seven times and ran eight times on keepers for 77 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown.
He was dinged early, under pressure a lot, and never got in rhythm throwing the ball or commanding the offense. He dinked and dunked and ran, and missed seeing – and throwing to – open targets in the middle of the field.
In truth, it was the best and worst of Taylor on display.
He made more plays with his legs than with his arm.
He protected the ball in inclement weather, but didn’t make plays with the game on the line in overtime.
The Browns have a rare talent in Gordon. He is the offensive equivalent of Garrett. Three targets to Gordon in 69 offensive plays is an inexcusable waste of talent.
We don’t know how long Gordon will stay eligible. Jackson and Taylor would be advised to exploit Gordon while they have him because after just one game, the clock is ticking on both of them.