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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Browns at Ravens – Game 4 Review

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.

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Posted by on September 29, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Game 4 Preview – Browns at Ravens

Preview of Game #4 – Cleveland @ Baltimore

Perhaps a short workweek will help the Browns forget about their loss against Buffalo.  The team faces the Ravens on the road, and this may be their hardest game on the schedule.  It will take heroic efforts from all areas of the team in order to score the upset, but the odds of that occurring are stacked against the Browns.

Offense:  You can bet that the Ravens will throw the kitchen sink at Brandon Weeden.  The rookie will be challenged to read the pre-snap defense correctly, put the team in the best situation each play (play call-wise), and get the ball out of his hand quickly.  The Ravens continual, defensive dominance includes the element of intimidation in order to get the opposing team out of rhythm.  To be successful, Weeden must keep the offense composed no matter the situation.  There are many young athletes that will be in the huddle who could make a costly mistake out of emotion (i.e. frustration).  Additionally, the Ravens’ defense can seemingly intercept any pass and return it for a touchdown.  From his first throw to his final one, the quarterback has got to be aware of the opposing secondary and be smart when throwing to his intended targets.  This includes deeper passes – Weeden must start connecting on these for the sake of having an offense that can score (several touchdowns per game) regularly.

Trent Richardson did not put up great stats against the Bills and this will likely continue Thursday night.  The Ravens only gave up seventy-seven rushing yards against the Patriots, who boost a stellar offense.  I hope Shurmur is patient with Richardson in this game; it appeared that the rookie was playing better in the second half before his carries stopped.  I do not think he will have a Peyton Hillis-like performance in 2010 (over 140 yards rushing), but if he can put the team in easier situations for Weeden and the offense, that could be huge for the team.  This would open up the play book as well – in addition to five or seven-step drops, the team could employ three-step drops, where a play can be made quickly and the probability of a sack are low.  I liked seeing the dual backfield of Ogbonnaya and Richardson last week.  It gives the offense two rushing and receiving options; I also have faith the two can help in pass protection as well.  Ogbonnaya can possibly play a larger role this week, as the Ravens’ rush defense is very physical and want to make it miserable for Richardson.

Pat Shurmur’s comments regarding the issues surrounding Greg Little have been scrutinized, and I will be curious to see how he handles the second year veteran.  Shurmur stated Little has got to catch the football and won’t play if the drops continue.  Additionally, the coach said he has talked to receiver about his antics (i.e. celebrating after getting a first down, while losing).  Will little be benched this week – implying he needs to get better?  Could a point be made that he is not bigger than the team, and therefore his role is reduced?  If Little loses time, which receiver fills that void (Cribbs, Norwood, Gordon, etc)?  The Browns have got to get production from this unit no matter who is out there – the Patriots had two receivers with over one hundred yards each against the Ravens.  I know Cleveland does not boast wide outs as talented as Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, but there is a possibility a receiver or two could have a solid performance (provided Weeden is given time to throw).

The front seven of the Baltimore Ravens, last week, produced two sacks and a fumble.  It won’t be easy for the offensive line of the Browns, and they must play exceptional in all aspects of their game.  Giving Richardson time and room to run is paramount – I envision more double teams employed up the middle to prevent the linebackers blowing by the offensive line and stopping the Browns’ running attack early.   Likewise Weeden needs opportunities to throw downfield, and chip blocking could be used during the longer passing plays.  I think the line can have success; but like the quarterback position, one small error can lead to a turnover, touchdown, and a huge momentum shift.

Defense:  Ray Rice gashed the defense for over two hundred rushing yards against last season.  It appears the Browns’ have done little to improve in this department, as opponents are running at will this year.  If the unit cannot contain Rice, this game could get out of hand early.  Not being able to stop your opponent is deflating, however its magnified knowing the defense will on the field more creating fewer opportunities to score (in the game).  I’m hoping John Hughes has a bounce-back performance – Phil Taylor cannot come back soon enough as the rookie has had an up-and-down season thus far.  Also, the line did not put pressure on the opponent last week; this is a dire need and a way to overcome some deficiencies the Browns exhibit (i.e. run stopping and pass coverage).  Perhaps this is the week the defensive ends exceed expectations and Jabaal Sheard, Frostee Rucker, and Juqua Parker garner a few sacks.

The linebacker unit needs a consistent player alongside Craig Robertson and D’Qwell Jackson – L.J. Fort had a good opening game but has been used more in special teams the past two weeks, and Scott Fujita is not in many snaps.  Thursday night might be the first appearance for rookie James Michael-Johnson, which could be a boost for the linebacker corps.  Having another healthy athlete available is very important, as it keeps the rotational players fresher.  Also, depth is needed when playing a physical running team where, more than likely, bumps and bruises will occur for the linebackers.  I’m intrigued to see if the rookie from Nevada can help in coverage against Dennis Pitta, who has become a reliable target for the Ravens.  Ray Rice must also be accounted for in the passing game – he is one of the best receivers at the running back position.

Browns fans’ expectations for the secondary should not be too high – this part of the team has struggled, giving up many yards and several touchdowns the last two games.  Forcing a Joe Flacco mistake and getting a turnover (i.e. an interception) will help this unit’s confidence though.  However, facing Torrey Smith (who is coming off a great, emotional performance), Jacoby Jones, and Anquan Boldin could be the secondary’s biggest challenge this season.  Not playing aggressive (during Joe Haden’s absence) has been ineffective this season– I hope they change it up and move the cornerbacks closer to the line of scrimmage.  Buster Skrine, Tashaun Gipson, and to a lesser extent Usama Young have the speed to stay with the wide receivers; it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Special Teams:  Not too many arguments here from the previous week, outside of Reggie Hodges getting a little more distance and hang time on his punts, and better punt coverage. Stopping Jacoby Jones should be the key this week; the punt returner has taken back a couple for touchdowns the last few seasons.  Assuming this is a lower scoring game, winning the special teams battle could be the difference between a win and a loss.

Coaching:  Correct offensive play calling is crucial this game; being down seven or fourteen is not cause to start airing it out.  In the past, this has lead to turnovers and a larger deficit for teams facing the Ravens.  Sticking with the run is a part of this philosophy – it will not be pretty but the Browns should not get discouraged, as they were last week.  Defensively, it will not be like last week where the Browns were trying to force their opponent to be one-dimensional (i.e. passing over running).  The Ravens are stout in both areas, and Dick Jauron must find the right mix of play calling not to get torched by Flacco or Rice.

Prediction (My Record 1-2):  After thinking the Browns could win the previous two weeks, I have changed my tune for the game against Baltimore.  The Browns have kept it close, for the most part, every game and had a chance to pull out a win.  However, M&T Bank Stadium is a tough place to play – the Ravens just won a huge game on Sunday against the Patriots, and I don’t think they have a letdown.  The Browns lose 34-10 this week and have ten days to think about this outcome before their next game.

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Review of Game 3 – Bills at Browns

Review of Game #3 – Buffalo @ Cleveland

Oh, the disappointment.  The Browns could not make enough plays to get their first victory of the season.  The defense continued to surrender points and yardage, while the offense had a difficult time picking up first downs (especially early in the game).  It was a step back from last week, but overall not as poor of performance as the opener.

Offense:  Brandon Weeden had a tough game; the quarterback had a pair of interceptions and took four sacks in the loss.  Several drops from the receivers did not help the rookie signal caller, either.  A couple of interceptions were close to occurring, and Weeden missed a few deeper routes.  There is still room for improvement, but on the positive side he threw them at spots that could only be caught by the receiver.  The quarterback was also able to hit on his favorite route (the slant) and a couple out routes on first down.  He faced pressure almost all game long, and for the most part, handled it pretty well – not fumbling the ball once.  Converting on third downs is huge for this offense; they must be able to move the chains to avoid added pressure on their defense.  The Browns did not have any conversions in the first have but three in the second – the team will likely face more yards to gain (assuming their running attack continues to struggle in early downs) but Weeden has the arm to get it done.

It appeared that Trent Richardson was met by a defensive lineman every time get got the handoff from Weeden; the running back had to work hard for his yards against the Bills.  His touchdown run was excellent, but the rookie otherwise struggled.  Granted he only had twelve carries, but Richardson recorded a meager twenty-seven yards.  Six receptions for twenty-four yards also resulted, but it was not enough to spark the offense.  It will not get any easier for the runner, as the next two opponents (Ravens and Giants) feature stout defensive lines.  Chris Ogbonnaya had twenty total yards on four total touches and was a non-factor.  I know the Browns employ the West Coast Offense, but the team must improve their running attack if they want to compete offensively.

Jordan Cameron was a big surprise this game; the tight end was the team leader in receiving yardage with forty-five.  I liked the quick outs to him – these consistently picked up several yards on first down.  Travis Benjamin had a drop in the first half, but the rookie speeder also had forty-four yards receiving and caught the team’s lone passing touchdown.  Josh Gordon had a drop as well, but tallied three catches for forty yards – hopefully the rookie will continue to get better.  Greg Little had a rough outing, managing only seventeen yards while dropping an easy Brandon Weeden pass (he did lead the team in celebrations after a catch though).  This unit has not shown an ability to make a big play this season, only gaining yards on short-to-moderate routes.  I do not know whether it will take conformability with Weeden (and the West Coast Offense), different play calls, or more talented receivers, but something must happen to this group in order to become an asset for the franchise.

The offensive line had its problems against the Bills’ tough defensive line; the end result was that Brandon Weeden appeared to be rarely comfortable in the pocket and the running game was non-existent.  Mitchell Schwartz held his own against Mario Williams, but still allowed a sack and a few QB pressures.  Alex Mack was called for some holding penalties and caused Kyle Williams to look stellar on other plays.  Facing several great athletes in the coming weeks (i.e. Haloti Ngata, Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, etc.) could make it really hard for the offense.  I hope the unit can get their act together before Thursday, especially in run blocking, but that appears to be a tall order.

Defense:  Technically, the Browns recorded a sack of Ryan Fitzpatrick, but the defensive line rarely made it difficult for the opposing signal caller.  Aythba Rubin had a decent game with a pass deflection and being in on a couple plays.  Jabaal Sheard played much better than he has this season; the second-year veteran finally got pressure and a hit on the quarterback.  Juqua Parker recovered the Bills lone fumble (and could have returned it – if it weren’t for a poor call), but did not account for much otherwise.  It looked to be a long day for the Browns after Spiller’s receiving touchdown.  However, the running back left the game with an injury, but his replacement (Tashard Choice) filled in well – ninety-one yards on twenty carries.   This game did not quell fears for Browns’ fans; the team continues to give up many yards on the ground regardless of who the opposing runner is.

The Browns played in more nickel and dime packages, thus limiting the number of linebackers involved on each play.  Craig Robertson led the team in tackles, while D’Qwell Jackson recorded a couple stops himself.  The veteran committed a costly personal foul late in the first half when the team appeared to be gaining momentum, however.  (Jackson stated he thought the play was not over, but it cost the team regardless.)  This unit was killed on screen passes – not being able to get off blocks and tackle the receiver early.  Overall, the linebackers played average; they were not involved in any huge plays for the defense like the previous two games.  They need to get back to that level for the team to have a chance at success.

The secondary did not allow as many passing yards as they did the previous week (giving up only 208), but the end result was the same.  The Bills were able to find the end zone three times through the air – this is not good news for Browns’ fans.  The defensive backfield, especially the cornerbacks, is struggling without Joe Haden and opponents are taking advantage of this.  The passive coverage schemes continued, which allowed Stevie Johnson and the other receivers to have separation and pick up yards easily (thus putting the defense in a tough situation).  Buster Skrine played better from last week, with a pass breakup in the end zone.  Tashaun Gipson replaced Trevin Wade and played reasonably well in both coverage and in run support; I expect to see more of the rookie this season (assuming he progresses).  It was interesting to see Usama Young fill-in for Eric Hagg at free safety – he did not give up a huge play and will likely continue in that role.

Special Teams:  The special teams did their jobs this week – coverage was solid on punts and kickoffs, while Josh Cribbs had some of his longer returns of the season.  Reggie Hodges was so-so and Phil Dawson did not really have much opportunity.  The team did not lose in this part of the game – if there was a silver lining that came from the contest.

Coaching:  The offensive play calling was decent once again – I liked the quick hitch to Josh Cribbs and the throws to Jordan Cameron.  Brandon Weeden has got to start connecting on the longer lobs; he is close but is still not making the plays.  Execution by the receivers must improve – they are staple of this offense and drops are killing opportunities to score points.  I wish they would have tried to run the ball more in the second half as it appeared as Richardson got going, but I understand that yards were hard to come by on the ground.

It’s pretty hard to criticize the defensive play calling; it appeared the team was out-manned and unable to do anything to slow down the Bills’ offense.  When blitzes were called, Fitzpatrick got rid of the ball early; the front seven rarely stopped the opposing runners when Dick Jauron put the team in position to.  It was frustrating for fans – a feeling of hopelessness arose and rooting for offensive penalties and mistakes ensued in order for the Browns’ defense to get off the field.

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Preview of Bills @ Browns – Game 3

Buffalo @ Cleveland – Game #3 Preview

Well another 0-2 start for the Browns is not what the fans want to see; however Sunday is another winnable game for the team.  Buffalo has been Jekyll and Hyde so far this season; after getting blown out in the opener, they went home and beat the Chiefs handily.  I believe it is safe to assume this game can go either way.

Offense:  Following an initial poor outing, Brandon Weeden improved greatly; now it becomes imperative that the signal caller has a repeat performance on Sunday.  The Bills did surrender over 300 yards passing last week – however most of that was due to the fact the Chiefs were losing and were forced to throw to catch up.  The Bills both hit and sacked the opposing quarterback five times; it appears the Browns will face a better defensive front than they did in Cincinnati.  If Weeden can continue to get rid of the ball while facing pressure (like he did when throwing to Chris Ogbonnaya and Alex Smith last week), the defensive game plan may become ineffective.  The secondary Cleveland will face is very young and athletic; the Browns’ quarterback cannot make a mistake in staring down a receiver.  Such an error could lead to an interception and possibly even a touchdown.  Assuming Weeden plays the way he did last week, this should not be an issue.

Trent Richardson will face another group of tenacious defenders on Sunday that include the likes of Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams; the rookie will not get complacent from his 100 yard plus rushing game, however, and will look to outgain that total.  The Bills allowed 150 total rushing yards last game (after giving up 118 in week one), so the probability that the Browns will be successful on the ground is pretty good.  I love seeing screen passes to Richardson as well – watching him in open space is very exciting.  (More importantly, it is refreshing to finally see a quarterback that can effectively utilize this play).  I am not sure whom the Browns will use as their third down back, but I expect either Jackson or Ogbonnaya to have a couple receptions and pick up ever-important first downs.

Previous years for the Browns included inconsistent play by the wide outs, which lead to an unproductive unit.  However, if Mohammed Massaquoi and Greg Little can assume the roles of the #1 and #2 wide receivers on a weekly basis (i.e. leading the team in receptions, yardage, etc.), the passing offense will be a strength throughout the season.  When a team commits their two best cornerbacks to the Browns’ top targets – Josh Gordon, Josh Cribbs, and possibly the tight ends can cause coverage mismatches that favor the offense.  Weeden spread the ball around nicely last week, hitting eight receivers, so I envision the other options (outside of Massaquoi and Little) getting open and making plays for the Browns.

A key for the Bills’ success will be how well they can get to opposing quarterback; the team did not record a sack in their loss but had five in their victory.  You can bet there will be many blitzes dialed up against the Browns in order to force their rookie quarterback into mistakes and turnovers.  After improving from a tough opening week, the Browns’ offensive line will have to continue to prevent pressure coming immediately; four of the five sacks came from the Buffalo defensive line against the Chiefs.  I liked seeing the Browns use Richardson to chip on passing plays – he allowed Weeden to complete a pass downfield with his block.  If the team has to do that again this week, so be it – it reduces a receiver on the play but can eliminate a negative outcome (i.e. a sack, turnover, injury, etc).

Defense:  The defensive line will have their hands full trying to contain C.J. Spiller, who has rushed for over 120 yards in both games this season (not to mention he’s the leading rusher in the NFL).  They will have to limit him at the line of scrimmage, as the athlete has shown an ability to break off a long run.  Ryan Fitzpatrick has not been throwing the ball much this year, and with the success of their running game, expect to see a healthy rotation of defensive lineman for the Browns as they will likely face several rushing attempts.  Hopefully Billy Winn will be healthy from his concussion to give the defense another option.  But the way John Hughes played last week (six tackles, a sack, and a hit on Andy Dalton) gives me hope the interior of the defensive line should be able to battle at the line of scrimmage regardless.  Additionally, the Bills have not given up a sack this year, so Cleveland’s pass rush (which has eight sacks – second in the NFL) will have to find a way to badger the opposing quarterback.

Assuming there has been no meeting with Roger Goodell (to review the bounty ramifications), Scott Fujita could be on the field more this week.  He is known as more of a run-stopper (as opposed to stout in pass coverage); the anticipated game plan of keeping the ball on the ground would dictate increased playing time for the veteran linebacker.  It appears rookie James Michael-Johnson may not be fully healthy to help the team – expect to see a fair amount of L.J. Fort, Craig Robertson, and Kaluka Maiava once again.  In the passing game, defending Scott Chandler will be the key for the linebackers; he is a solid player but not a game-breaker like Jermaine Gresham.  The possibility of C.J. Spiller catching passes out of the backfield must be guarded against – stopping the runner in the open field is challenging enough on rushing attempts.

The drop-off from A.J. Green to Stevie Johnson is not considerable; the Browns must find a way to blanket the opponent’s leading receiver better than they did against the Bengals.  Johnson had a forty-nine yard touchdown last week, so the threat of big play is always there.  I would assume the Browns would continue to play several yards off of him to reduce the chances of this.  Also, I hope the team reinforces the importance of tackling, as it was miserable last week.  Hopefully Sheldon Brown will return from injury – the physical cornerback can help make plays in the running game and after opponents catch the ball.  Outside of a few plays made by T.J. Ward, the safeties for the Browns have struggled in both pass coverage and run support.  Neither Eric Hagg nor Usama Young have taken the reins at the free safety spot – hopefully week three will be a breakout game for (at least) one of them.

Special Teams:  It goes without saying (but I’ll mention it anyways) that the Browns’ special teams have to forget about last week and redeem themselves.  The Bills had a punt return touchdown against the Chiefs, so some concerns persist for Browns fans.  This appears to be the only issue (albeit, a huge one) for the units – so if the kicking, punting, and return teams can maintain status quo or even improve, and they do not allow a long return, their performance will be acceptable for the game on Sunday.

Coaching:  The team must clean up their penalty situation; there was far too many infractions committed by the Browns (ten penalties totaling 103 yards).  The team does not need another obstacle to overcome, and the team cannot use replacement officials as an excuse.  I was content with the offensive play calling last week, and hope they continue to run similar plays and formations.  Defensively, adjustments obviously need to be made – I believe the secondary can be more aggressive than last week without fear of giving up several touchdowns.

Prediction (My Record 1-1):  I see the offense picking up where it left off against Cincinnati, as well as the defensive backfield improving as well.  Pat Shurmur said this game is a must win for the Browns.  I believe Spiller will have a good day for the Bills but the Browns’ defense will keep Fitzpatrick in check.  This is the week the Browns finally get a win, with the final score being 30 – 23.

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Browns @ Bengals – Game 2 Review

Review of Cleveland @ Cincinnati – Game #2

Another frustrating loss for Browns fans – losing by seven is never a good thing, even if the team scores 27 points (tying the most points the team scored in a game last season).  Unlike week one, this contest was different, in terms of the team’s offensive and defensive outputs.  Like the first game, there were encouraging parts of the team (like scoring a third quarter TD, a rarity last season) as well as disappointing ones (like the secondary’s play).

Offense:  Brandon Weeden actually looked like an NFL quarterback in this game – he hit open receivers, threw a couple TDs, and avoided a fumble when pressure came.  I did not envision him throwing for over 300 yards, but the rookie was able to accomplish that feat.  He also completed just over seventy percent of his passes – something not seen by a Browns’ quarterback in awhile.  What impressed me was the fact that Weeden improved throughout the game – the opposite was the case last week.  It was not a perfect performance, but a huge improvement from the opener, and if the rookie can continue to play like this, the team will be able to win some football games.  I had confidence in Weeden and felt he could make plays entering the contest; Sunday’s performance helped solidify this belief.

The other first-round draft pick (and rookie) also improved from week one.  Trent Richardson had a great game – rushing for over 100 yards (on only nineteen carries) and having 30 yards receiving with a touchdown scored each way.  His vision of the field while running seemed better – Richardson saw holes close up and changed his direction immediately, on a few occasions.  He is a dependable asset and will continue to get better – the Browns offense will rely heavily on him this season.  I was surprised to see Chris Ogbonnaya get as many snaps as the third down running back – Brandon Jackson played well last week in this spot.  Ogbonnaya had six catches for seventy-three yards (and ran hard) but had a huge drive-killing fumble.

Mohammed Massaquoi continues to lead the team in the receiving department, in terms of yardage.  The veteran had ninety yards receiving and appears to be the best option for Brandon Weeden.  Going forward, it will be important to have a reliable target for the quarterback – Massaquoi has proven his ability to hold on to the football and make a play.  The other receiver that finally stepped up was Greg Little, who not only got his first catch of the year, but his first touchdown as well.  It gave me much comfort that the second-year veteran was able to shake off his problem of dropping passes and have a solid outing.  As far as tight ends go, Alex Smith had a few good grabs – as long as he can extend drives, the offense should be in good shape.

I though the offensive line played ok, which has been a huge improvement for the Browns.  It appeared every lineman got beat on one play or another, but the quarterback was sacked only two times.  Mitchell Schwartz seemed be in several individual battles to avoid giving up a sack, but the bottom line was that right tackle did not allow Brandon Weeden to get hit.  The offensive line created holes for Trent Richardson to run, which the runner took advantage of.  Room for improvement still exists from the line, but this was a step in the right direction for the unit and I hope they continue to work well together before the next game.

Defense:  Even with the injury to starter to Billy Winn, the defensive line found a way to make plays.  The Browns held their opponent to less than one hundred yards rushing as a team – this has been a difficult task over the past few seasons.  This gives me hope next week against a team that features a solid running attack.  Juqua Parker had a fine outing, recording both a sack and a hit on the opposing quarterback.  John Hughes also had a good performance – the rookie was able to beat the Bengals’ offensive line (causing disruption) on several plays.  The production of Jabaal Sheard and Aythba Rubin was not great, but the two have proven they can be dependable players who, at the worst-case scenario, can be in defensive line rotations.

The only Browns’ linebacker who did not take a step back from last week was D’Qwell Jackson.  The veteran had three sacks, several hits on Andy Dalton, and the lone turnover forced (interception) by the team.  Should the younger players struggle with inconsistency – having Jackson play well is paramount for the Browns’ linebackers to be (at least) respectable.  Craig Robertson and Scott Fujita overall had decent games for the team, while L.J. Fort and Kaluka Maiava failed to make impactful plays.  (Having Fujita return did lessen the number of snaps for the younger outside linebackers, however).  I believe this unit did not have a terrible game though and the players will play better in the coming weeks.

The secondary for the Browns struggled mightily throughout the game.  The absence of starter Joe Haden (and to a lesser extent, Sheldon Brown) was apparent – the Bengals picked on Buster Skrine most of the game.  Trevin Wade showed both poor coverage and tackling ability on the Andrew Hawkins’ fifty-yard touchdown play (Eric Hagg also had poor pursuit angles and was unable to run down the receiver).  There was an additional forty-four yard touchdown surrendered by the secondary, these types of plays are not acceptable (especially when they come from “non-Pro Bowl players”).  The Bengals were successful in employing several quick throws to A.J. Green – the cornerbacks for the Browns were more than ten yards off the receiver.  I understand the team did not want to get beat deep, but Dick Jauron felt a huge cushion was necessary; this helped the opponent compile stats and put their team in a better position to score.

Special Teams:  Back to the drawing board for the Browns’ special teams; the first punt coverage was simply embarrassing – many several missed tackles led to an Adam “Pacman” Jones touchdown.  If the team wants to win games, this must be avoided.  Reggie Hodges had a solid day (sans one short punt), while Phil Dawson made a great fifty-yard field goal.  I thought Josh Cribbs could have taken a few knees in the endzone; he opted to return these kickoffs and could not bring it past the twenty-yard line (thus giving the offense worse field position).

Coaching:  I liked the offensive play calling this game; a couple end arounds by Travis Benjamin is a good option for gaining yards.  Weeden worked the middle of the field and had success – including a touchdown to Greg Little on a skinny post route.  I liked how the team continued to use Richardson in the passing game, even though the running back dropped one last week.  The defensive play calling was conservative, especially in the secondary (which was expected).  This will likely continue for the next three weeks until Joe Haden comes back, I just hope Skrine, Wade, and Patterson improve vastly in both coverage and tackling.

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Browns @ Bengals – Game 2 Preview

Cleveland @ Cincinnati – Game #2 Preview

The Browns go on the road for the first time on Sunday and it’s also a divisional game – these are critical if the franchise wants to see progress.  Recently, there have been several seasons for the Browns without winning a divisional game (0-6), including last year.  If the team is truly going in the right direction, a win against the Bengals would be a nice, first step.

Offense:  Sunday cannot come soon enough; I am over the performance of Brandon Weeden last week and want to see how he responds.  I am confident the rookie quarterback can shake off what occurred at home and can start hitting on his easier throws (some of the issues were from the receivers not executing and some were Weeden lacking touch).  To see if he really learned from watching the Eagles’ game film, the quarterback has to break his routine of locking his eyes on to a receiver, thus tipping off the defense and likely leading to an interception.  Joe Flacco had a tremendous passing game against the Bengals on Monday night – granted he is on a better team, but it gives me hope Weeden can put up decent numbers in his second game.  I can guarantee you he does not throw four interceptions, but I’m not too confident he will pass for over 300 yards either.

Likewise, I look forward to seeing Trent Richardson tote the football once again.  Assuming he received a valuable learning experience, the running back should understand how fast the NFL is and how quickly running lanes close up.  The Ravens put up 122 yards on the ground against the Bengals in week one – however the leading rusher only put up sixty-eight by himself.  I do not expect Richardson to have a huge day in terms of yardage; I just hope he can be efficient.  This means picking up 3rd and 1 consistently – something that could not have be said the prior week.  If Trent is lacking explosion early (being he’s still not fully healed or just ineffective), I hope the Browns give Brandon Jackson a series or two of playing time.  This would be for a change of pace – whether the backup is getting carries or catches out of the backfield.  The team can then go back to the number-three overall pick later in the game; perhaps the rest and Jackson softening up the defense will be good for the team.  Judging from last week, this should not make the Browns’ running attack any worse.

I believe the receivers have the potential for success against the Bengals’ secondary.  The question is whether some of the guys can actually step up and make plays.  Greg Little was invisible (when he wasn’t dropping passes) last week and needs to become a reliable target if this passing game wants to have any success.  I could see the Browns running a few more routes over the middle, as the sideline throws were not open last week.  If the team can be successful at these, which will cause the defense to adjust and therefore Weeden will target other areas of the field (like deeper and sideline routes).  The tight ends did not do much in the game either – Jordan Cameron had a drop and Alex Smith was another open target missed by the quarterback.  This is a position that should be relied upon to gain moderate yards and set up shorter conversions for the offense.

This may sound like a broken record, but as the offensive line goes – so goes the entire offense.  The Browns can ill-afford to consistently lose the line of scrimmage battle; they currently do not have a quarterback who can win a game despite this.  I’m willing to be patient with the rookie and second-year players – however I am pulling for vast improvement this week.  Whether it’s keeping a tight end in to help the right tackle or using a running back to chip-block defensive ends, the Browns have got to make sure Weeden has time to throw and defenders are not there to greet Richardson in the backfield.

Defense:  It’s going to be hard to replicate the defense’s performance against the Eagles – I do not see the Browns forcing five turnovers again.  However, they can improve upon their rush defense, which gave up over one hundred yards to one guy yet again.  Facing a good running back like Benjarvus Green-Ellis will be a challenge for the defensive line.  It is going to be up to Aythba Rubin, Billy Winn, and John Hughes to win the point of attack in the middle of the field – forcing the Bengals’ running game outside.  Hopefully, then the defensive ends can continue to get up the field and prevent longer running plays.  Getting so much pressure from the front four was a great sight to see – a less mobile quarterback should yield (at least) similar results.  If Frostee Rucker and Jabaal Sheard play like they did last week, the Browns can make it difficult for the Bengals’ offense.

The linebackers will be challenged more in the passing game this week.  No offense to Brent Celek, (he’s a very good tight end) but the Bengals have a great target in Jermaine Gresham, whom is a threat for any defense.  Also, the Browns gave up several receptions to the running backs last week; Green-Ellis is not known as a great receiver, but the Bengals might add this as a part of their game plan.  Additionally, the corps have to step up in and fill the gaps against the Bengals’ running game.  The defensive line is not perfect and L.J. Fort, Craig Robertson, D’Qwell Jackson, and Kaluka Maiava must be in position to make a play so the secondary is not forced to make a tackle twenty yards or so downfield.

We all knew the Joe Haden suspension was coming, and it was handed down on Monday evening.  The cornerback will be out the next four games, and the Browns’ secondary (as a result) could have its problems.  Dimitri Patterson will move up to starter and Buster Skrine will now become the Nickel cornerback over the next month.  Last week, facing the number one receiver, Haden gave up a few big plays – you can bet the Bengals will force the ball to standout A.J. Green until the Browns can stop it.  If Dalton and Bengals’ offense have success in the air to their wide receivers, it could be a long day for the Browns’ secondary.  Also, losing Haden’s physicality will hurt the Browns as well; the opponent may try to see if his replacements can tackle and perform in bump coverage.

Special Teams:  I love Phil Dawson and the fact he’s such a solid kicker, but I want to see him kicking more extra points and less field goals.  I would be content with similar results in the coverage and punting units.  The same can be said for the return game as well, although a very long return by Josh Cribbs or another returner would not be the worst thing for this team.

Coaching:  The type of passing plays called by Pat Shurmur will be scrutinized heavily in this game, based upon the outcome of last week.  Will they tailor the offense to be more friendly to Weeden by giving him shorter, low risk (in terms of being intercepted) passes?  Also, Shurmur stated that he left in Richardson ten to twelve plays too many against the Eagles; it will be interesting to see if the team gives opportunities to other players this week.  As with many things in football, play calling comes into question more when a team loses – let’s hope there is no play calling debate after week two for the Browns.

Prediction (My record 1-0):  I think Weeden and the offense gets on track this week, the problem is how much of a drop-off for the defense (from week one) will occur.  I believe the Browns will be there at the end; like last game the outcome could likely be decided on a couple of plays.  I see the Browns pulling out a late victory 24-20.

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Review of Eagles @ Browns – Game 1

Review of Philadelphia @ Cleveland – Game #1

Another season opener, another season opening loss – this was a frustrating one.  Any time a team loses by a point, the fans can remember one play that could cause the outcome to go the other way – leading to a victory.  There were a several of these yesterday for the Browns in their 17-16 defeat.

Offense:  On the bright side, Brandon Weeden can only go up from here.  Beginning his NFL career, the rookie went 12 for 35 with four interceptions; slightly better play may have won the game for the Browns.  He did have a couple nice slant passes to Mohammed Massaquoi early on to move the ball.  Weeden was also not helped out on a few plays; Greg Little’s bobble lead to an interception in the red zone and Owen Marecic’s drop on third and two lead to a punt, where Philadelphia then scored a touchdown just before halftime (which would not have been possible if the fullback held on to the easy pass).  Nonetheless, the quarterback had several errors throwing the ball.  I anticipated a couple, but I was disappointed at how many and how off-target a few throws were.  I know the rookie will get better, but his play was hard to watch.

The running game for the Browns was not stellar as well; Trent Richardson only managed thirty-nine yards on nineteen carries.  Some of it was the running back not hitting open holes, and part of it was the offensive line not creating room to run.  Richardson was able to knock Kurt Coleman’s helmet on a ferocious run, I look forward to more of these type of runs in the future.  I hope his time off was the reason Richardson was not as effective as he could be – I anticipate he will gain much more yards in the coming weeks.  It was nice to see Brandon Jackson have a couple receptions out of the backfield; if he continues this, he will get a fair amount of playing time this season.  The Eagles have a tremendous defense, but the Browns had better pick up their running attack if they want to have a chance to win some games this season.

I thought the receivers, for the most part, looked comparable to last season’s unit.  The volleyball bump by Greg Little (which was intercepted), and the drops of easy passes by the running backs really hurt the offense.  Mohammed Massaquoi led the way in terms of yardage (forty-one yards) and receptions (three); he could have added a touchdown if Weeden put a little air under his first-quarter pass.  Josh Gordon also had a couple nice receptions for the Browns – he will continue to get better this season (assuming the quarterback play improves as well).  Travis Benjamin had one catch and a run for thirty-five yards; fortunately the team was able to get the ball to the young playmakers.  Overall, the receivers numbers will definitely go up from here and I look forward to big plays in the coming weeks.

The offensive line, as mentioned, collectively did not perform as well as they could have.  This includes Joe Thomas – who gave up one of the sacks on Brandon Weeden.  Sadly, I thought they improved from their preseason game against the Eagles (showing how bad they have been).  If the rookie quarterback struggles this season, the Browns must keep the ball on the ground effectively.  If Trent Richardson or Brandon Jackson do not have room to run, the offense will be putrid.  Again, I know the Eagles have a great defensive unit – but you cannot get dominated this badly in the NFL.

Defense:  The Browns lack of offense spoiled the tremendous effort of its defense.  Frostee Rucker was all over the field, especially on running plays – the same can be said for Juqua Parker.  Initially, the two free-agent pickups appear to be wise decisions by Tom Heckert.  Jabaal Sheard and Aythba Rubin pressured Michael Vick several times on passing plays, and both were able to put some hits on the quarterback.  The unit was responsible for giving up 110 rushing yards to LeSean McCoy, which was disappointing, but they did keep the playmaker out of the endzone.  Overall, I thought the group played solid – not perfect – and can still get better.  If Billy Winn can continue to be in many plays, the team should feel good about their defensive tackle situation during Phil Taylor’s absence.

The most surprising part of the game was how well the Browns’ linebackers played.  Craig Robertson, L.J. Fort, and D’Qwell Jackson all had interceptions and Jackson returned his for a touchdown.  Robertson also had a few deflections, put a hit on Michael Vick, and lead the team in tackles (for the game).  I thought Kaluka Maiava had a solid performance as well – my expectations were more than met by the veteran.  Playing without Scott Fujita, I thought the unit would struggle a bit sans the on-field leadership.  This was not the case however, and like the defensive line, the linebackers played well and can still get better.  However, if they play like they did against the Eagles, the Browns’ defense will have put together a fine performance.

Joe Haden had a up and down game – he gave up a couple longer receptions to DeSean Jackson but also had a huge interception in the second half.  The cornerback also had several tackles and a pass deflected.  T.J. Ward may have had his best game as a member of the Cleveland Browns – the safety started the game off with a sack and a forced fumble.  The University of Oregon product also recorded eight tackles and put two hits on Michael Vick.  After Sheldon Brown’s injury, Dimitri Patterson filled in nicely and kept the team from giving up a deeper passing play.  I thought Eric Hagg made some plays in the passing game as well – missing most of the preseason hurt the safety as he struggled at times, but I believe his play will improve – beginning next week.

Special Teams:  Another multiple field goal game for Phil Dawson – just another day in the office for the longtime kicker of the Browns.  The coverage units did not give up a long return, which was pleasant to see – considering the Eagles have an ability to break long ones on punts and kickoffs.  I thought Reggie Hodges played decent-to-good; not spectacular but not horrible either.  Josh Cribbs looked like the guy from a few years ago on the kickoff returns, I was hoping he could break one but he still had a reliable performance.

Coaching:  After the D’Qwell Jackson touchdown, I fully expected Pat Shurmur going for a two-point conversion; this was not the case and the team lost by a point.  If the teams scored in the forty or fifty point range, I understand going for one there (as more touchdowns are expected later in the game).  However, at the offense’s pace, it’s hard to justify not going for two.  (I understand hindsight is 20-20; but the thought of going for two, for me, came during the contest.

The other issue I had was with the play calling throughout the game.  After completing a few quick slants, I thought the team did not go back to these (and should have).  Going forward, if the team is successful at a certain type of play that should continue to employ that regularly until the defense can stop it.  Dick Jauron called a good game defensively – they gave up yards but played well enough to beat the Eagles.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2012 in NFL Season