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.