Review of Game #4 – Cleveland @ Baltimore
Yet another close loss – these are piling up and the team desperately needs to get in the win column; for the coaching staff, front office, and fans alike. I am getting tired of these “moral victories” mentioned by some – the bottom line is that you have to win in the NFL. A loss is a loss; no matter if you are playing the Ravens, Jaguars, or the Packers.
Offense: I was not surprised Brandon Weeden made the big mistake against the Ravens; there seems to always be one when the Browns play their rivals. Thursday night included an interception returned for a touchdown, which completely changed the game’s momentum. I will give Weeden some credit, as he got past it and continued to play hard until the game ended. Additionally, the signal caller did not get frustrated when his receivers dropped passes (i.e. like Jay Cutler) – however those continue to plague the offense. The three hundred twenty passing yards could have been much more if the wide outs held on to the ball; likewise, the forty-eight yard completion percentage would be higher also. I thought, for the most part, Weeden had a solid game against a very good defense – the pressure did not get to him and he only took one sack. The rookie got the ball out early, moved in the pocket when necessary, and was able to fit his passes into tight windows.
For the second week in a row, Trent Richardson ran tough but did not have a ton of yards. He finished with only forty-seven on the ground, but the team relied more on the pass when they fell behind in the second half. The rookie did have four catches for fifty-seven yards; overall, a pretty good outing. Continuing to utilize the third-overall pick in both aspects of the offense gives their quarterback an additional option, who is a threat for break a long gain. Richardson threw a few good blocks in the passing game as well, keeping Brandon Weeden upright (which was imperative). I thought Chris Ogbonnaya played exceptionally in his role; the reserve running back did nothing in the rushing game but had a few catches and flattened Ray Lewis on a passing play. He has been very dependable this year and I can see why the coaching staff continues to put him in over Brandon Jackson and Montario Hardesty.
The receivers (as a group) played respectably, but the underlying theme is “what could have been”. Several Brandon Weeden passes either went through, above, or around the hands of Greg Little, Jordan Norwood, or Travis Benjamin, etc. It’s extremely frustrating for fans and the coaching staff as this seems like a simple part of the game; the rain is not an excuse, and the athletes must be able to haul in catchable passes. On a positive note, nine players caught a pass for the Browns with Little, Richardson, Norwood, and Watson each recording at least four. The potential is obviously there – an example is the for forty-three yard sideline catch Little made in the second quarter with a defender all over him. The absence of Mohammed Massaquoi was not large; although he has been reliable this season, the passing game did not stop without the veteran. Perhaps he catches the throws from Weeden that were dropped from the others (but that is speculative). The unit, I feel, is improving statistically but must clean up their drops. If they continue throughout the season, expect another shake up to follow.
I was impressed by the offensive line’s performance by the Browns; giving up only one sack to this stellar defense is something not common for this franchise. Jason Pinkston was the only one, who appeared to get beat on a few plays, but going against Haloti Ngata is a tall order and the offensive lineman could have played a lot worse. In the running game, they opened more holes for Trent Richardson to run – these were missing from the matchups with the Eagles and Bills. Again, they have room to improve, but the unit took a step forward, and I envision them progressing throughout the season.
Defense: The defense, as a whole, had one of their better games. There were a few breakdowns, which lead to big plays for the Ravens, but the Browns were in the game (late) due to shutting out their opponent in the first and fourth quarters. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce each had about fifty yards rushing – low totals for this defense. Although they combined for just about one hundred yards, I thought the rushing defense kept their opponent in check. Aythba Rubin had a very good game – with six tackles, a sack, and a hit on the quarterback. Billy Winn, at the other starting tackle spot, played well also; the rookie had five tackles and put pressure on Joe Flacco on several occasions. It was great to see Jabaal Sheard finally crack into the sack category; the second year veteran recorded his first one since the 2011 season. No one in this unit really struggled, and if they continue to play this way, the Browns can make it tough on opposing offenses.
It was status quo for the two dependable linebackers for the Cleveland Browns (D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson). The duo combined for fifteen tackles, a pass deflection, and the only turnover forced by the defense. Jackson did well in the running game – preventing Rice and Pierce from longer carries. Robertson got stiff-armed early on in the contest; this appeared to light a fire in the first-year veteran. He appeared to be around the ball the rest of the game and had a huge interception when Flacco and the Ravens were in the red zone. A touchdown there would have made such a difference – the veteran home team would have benefitted from positive momentum and a louder stadium. Scott Fujita played his best game of this season, garnering a sack, a quarterback hit, and six tackles. Kaluka Maiava did a decent job – he will likely never dominate a game but will not get run over or be out of place consistently, either.
Dimitri Patterson had a team-high eleven tackles; this is not a good thing though, as the cornerback gave up several receptions against Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, and Jacoby Jones and had to tackle them. Teams know he is not a number one cornerback and have been attacking him; Patterson did deflect two throws but has not been in position consistently to break up passes or get an interception. I’m beginning to feel better about Buster Skrine – he continues to progress from his performance two weeks ago versus the Bengals. The under-sized cornerback fought hard and played reasonably well against the Ravens. Sheldon Brown, and safeties Tashaun Gipson and T.J. Ward had quiet games and were not huge factors for the defense. I thought Usama Young played exceptionally against the run and when blitzing – the free safety recorded four tackles, a sack, and some pressure for the passing game of the opponent.
Special Teams: The injury to Josh Cribbs really took the air out of the special teams units – it lead to a turnover and put the team in a hole. Fortunately, Cribbs walked off and the defense stepped up unscathed. Filling in for the Pro Bowler, Travis Benjamin had a great forty-yard punt return and a couple decent kickoff returns. Phil Dawson made three field goals – all of which were over fifty yards (nothing to see here, just another game for the veteran). Reggie Hodges continues to be up-and-down; I hope he can do whatever it takes to start getting more distance on his punts. Winning the field position battle is very crucial for this team, while the offense and defense fluctuates between good and bad (on a weekly basis).
Coaching: Once again, I thought the offense shied away from running Trent Richardson in the second half. I understand the team was down a couple of scores, but the Browns could have thrown in a couple of runs where they passed. Outside of that, there are not really any complaints about the offensive coaches – I thought the injury to Cribbs eliminated a few plays intended for the team. Defensively, Dick Jauron called a pretty good game. I liked the secondary not playing off the line too often, and the blitzes on first down.