Game #6 – Bengals @ Browns Review
Alas, the Browns finally get into the win column; I hope to see many more of these this season. Production came from many different areas and players, some of which were not expected. The young roster stepped up and added to the fans’ hope for this team going forward. What was encouraging was the Browns’ ability to fight back when it seemed the team had little hope to get points – let alone a victory.
Offense: On his 29th Birthday, Brandon Weeden did not disappoint. The rookie quarterback had a more-than-efficient performance; throwing for 230 yards and two touchdowns. His lone error came on a batted pass in the air, resulting in an interception. Only minimal adjustments appear to be necessary for the Oklahoma State product – mainly keeping his passes high while releasing the ball. Weeden hit eight receivers, including his college teammate and the third-string running back. It’s evident that the quarterback is good enough to get multiple receivers involved -regardless of who it is. This is a sign of a good quarterback; a signal caller will not always have his “go-to guy” in the lineup, he will have to make do instead. Granted, this isn’t Eli Manning missing Hakeem Nicks or Aaron Rogers without Greg Jennings, but it is a good sign when undrafted free agents can come in and make an impact in the passing game.
As expected, it was tough sledding for Trent Richardson (when getting carries). The rookie had only thirty-seven yards on seventeen runs before leaving the game with a stomach injury. It appeared holes were not made from the offensive line, but the runner was also not running with the authority fans have been used to. Fortunately, Montario Hardesty filled in well – gaining fifty-six yards on fifteen carries. His production was unexpected, but it was a huge boost to the offense as it struggled early on. The second half (where Hardesty played a majority of the time) saw the Browns score a pair of offensive touchdowns and two field goals. This was much more than the lone score in the first half; the running game was not dominant but it put the team in manageable situations where they could get points.
The story of the Browns’ receiving unit centered around the Joshes; the rookies had the first and second most yards for the team. For the second week in a row, Josh Gordon hauled in a long touchdown strike – this one went for seventy-one yards. Consistently hitting on these is huge for the offense; Gordon can be the team’s number one receiver if he keeps making similar plays. Josh Cooper, an undrafted rookie also from Oklahoma State, had a pair of grabs for thirty-nine yards. His totals were not flashy, but it appeared as if the professional game was not too quick for him. I envision fairly solid performances going forward – the youngster will have chances now to study his production and determine the best way to match up with cornerbacks. Greg Little had a few catches and found himself back into the receiving (statistical) category. It wasn’t much, but perhaps he can build off this when heading into next week’s game. Alex Smith was used strictly as a blocker and was not targeted, but Jordan Cameron had a huge catch in the red zone before the Ben Watson touchdown. The tight ends worked well together and helped give the offense another option when it needed one.
The offensive line was not as stellar as they were last week, but the drop-off was not that significant. Weeden was sacked twice on his twenty-nine passes – not great but not terrible either (the best part was that the quarterback protected the ball during these instances). As the season progresses, the line has performed adequately or better in pass protection; I feel this will continue to strengthen. As stated previously, the Browns running attack was not very productive. Geno Atkins and Domata Peko each had five tackles and were around the ball when Richardson was rushing. The run blocking by the offensive line (especially the interior) has been up-and-down in 2012 – hopefully next week will be a bounce back game for the group.
Defense: Sunday’s game was another one that lacked a pass rush by the Browns. Until the Bengals were forced to throw, the defensive front could not make it hard for Dalton in the pocket. Jabaal Shard had a deflection, while Juqua Parker hit the opposing quarterback – otherwise there was little for Browns fans to be excited about. Emmanuel Stephens led all defensive lineman with two solo tackles – this low output cannot occur if the Browns’ defense wants to be successful. Rookies John Hughes and Billy Winn had rather quiet games, combining for three total tackles (granted they faced many double teams). The defensive play of the game occurred when Winn picked up Andy Dalton’s fumble and ran down the field – essentially ending the game. The team needs to get Athyba Rubin back as soon as possible; he would vastly help against opponents in the running game. Granted the team gave up only seventy-six total yards, but this could have been even lessened with another solid athlete in the middle.
Craig Robertson led the linebacker corps with seven tackles. The veteran played fairly well, with the exception of being unable to cover Jermaine Gresham on his fifty-five yard touchdown. He does have his limitations, but the first-year player can be a viable member of this unit (in 2012 and beyond). D’Qwell Jackson had a decent game (with six tackles) following his concussion; he was in on coverage a few times but was unable to be disruptive in the opponent’s passing game. James Michael-Johnson and Kaulka Maiava had rather quiet games, combining for just five tackles. I’m willing to cut rookie Michael-Johnson some slack, as it was the first time he saw extended action at linebacker. Covering tight ends and limiting runs should be two of the primary responsibilities for linebackers. On Sunday, the Browns’ unit underachieved in the former and was decent in the latter. They face another good tight end next week; I hope they are up for the challenge.
There was a sizeable improvement in the play of Buster Skrine from the first meeting against the Bengals. The second year athlete from Tennessee-Chattanooga had a team-high eleven tackles and nearly an interception. He was not burnt deep (which was key); the same could be said about Sheldon Brown. The longtime veteran was in on three pass deflections and had an interception and a touchdown. His number of snaps may be reduced throughout the season, but I am confident when he is in there in passing situations (provided he covers the secondary or tertiary target). Joe Haden slipped and gave up the long A.J. Green touchdown grab in the second half. However, the cornerback also had a huge interception in the third quarter. I did not expect Haden to play a flawless contest; he certainly did not but will get back to where he needs to be in the coming weeks. Besides an interception from Usama Young, the Browns’ safeties did not make a huge impact on the game as well. What T.J. Ward did best was blanket Gresham while others could not – he was relatively able to reduce a playmaker’s role.
Special Teams: I think that it is safe to assume the Browns won the special teams battle on Sunday; Josh Cribbs had a sixty-yard punt return, setting up a field goal. The former quarterback had a couple nice kickoff returns as well; his average of 31.5 yards was much higher than Brandon Tate’s average of 20.3 yards. Reggie Hodges continued his woes in the punting game; the veteran averaged only 44.3 yards (compared to a 50.6 yard average to his counterpart). He did have a nice punt downed at the five-yard line late in the contest however, making it extremely difficult for the Bengals offense.
Coaching: The offense awoke in the second half, while the defense contained the Bengals – outside of one deep pass to A.J. Green. It appeared correct adjustments were made at half time. This has been a criticism of Pat Shurmur, perhaps he and his staff have finally gotten it and are able to figure out the best way to attack their opponent. It will be interesting to see if this was a one-time occurence, or if continues on a weekly basis.