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.