Game #7 Review – Browns @ Colts
One step forward, two steps back – I believe this was the worst game played by the Browns this season. Considering their opponent, I was shocked and disappointed by the fact the visitors were defeated in almost every aspect of the game (and by an inferior squad). I was hoping the positive momentum from last week would carry over, but instead a new losing streak begins for the Cleveland Browns.
Offense: Brandon Weeden played a very good game, which would have been great if not for a dropped touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter. Instead, the rookie threw for two hundred sixty-four yards and two touchdowns –while completing 25 of his 41 passes. He avoided sacks, turnovers, and even ran for a first down; Weeden’s game appears to be progressing nicely. On a couple of misfires, Weeden threw it away from the defender (avoiding a possible huge mistake) and lived to see another down. Once again, he was put in a position to throw the ball more than he should have, but the signal caller held up well and spread the ball around (to nine different receivers). Weeden targeted both Joshes (Gordon and Cooper) on multiple occasions, and the pair led the way in terms of yardage. My confidence with the Browns’ passing game has grown exponentially this season – the quarterback can heave it all over the field and get long gains.
I did not realize that running the football was optional; apparently this will be the case for the Browns in 2012. Trent Richardson is still not 100% and that was evident – he had eight carries for eight yards and two catches for eleven yards. At least the coaches took him out of the contest earlier than they did last week; I would expect the team to be careful to not risk further injury with their rookie rusher. Montario Hardesty had twenty-eight yards on seven carries (a 4.0 yard average) – I was disappointed he did not have more carries in the second half. I believe he could have had a decent game, as he continued to show his nose for any opening (created by the offensive line) and made the most of each carry. Chris Ogbonnaya added three receptions for seventeen yards and had a six-yard carry. This offense cannot afford to be one-dimensional; they must consistently run the football every contest. Whether the offensive line is dominating, or the team simply needs to put themselves in manageable situations, carries should be given to whomever is healthy and can produce.
Greg Little came to play on Sunday; the second-year veteran found the end zone for the second time this year (matching his total from last season). He came away with six catches for fifty-two yards; I look forward to seeing if he can keep this up in the coming weeks. I think Josh Cooper is a keeper and I hope he sticks around with the team; the rookie made some nice receptions and appears to be a dependable target. Josh Gordon, once again, had a touchdown on a long route. He is the team’s deep-threat and defenses will have to make adjustments to account for him. His drop was crucial and may have cost the team a victory, but I am not going to kill him over it. He owned up to the heartbreaking situation (not using the sun as an excuse) – we can root for this becoming motivation for Gordon. Ben Watson and Jordan Cameron combined for four receptions; the offense is clearly not centered on the tight end position. The only difference between this week and last week was that they did not come up with the huge grab.
Protecting Brandon Weeden was a priority for the offensive line, and the unit did exactly that. All game long, there was time and room for the Browns to throw – the play calls are working in that respect. It’s hard to determine whether the line would have been productive in the running game as well. I thought John Greco filled in admirably for Jason Pinkston and the team did not miss a beat without their starter (who may miss the remainder of the year). No one on the Colts defense had more than six tackles, and Robert Mathis and Cory Redding were inactive for the contest. I do not think the remaining defensive linemen would have been able to win in the trenches on a consistent basis (assuming more running plays were implemented).
Defense: The most depressing/disappointing thing from this game was how effective the Colts running game was. Vick Ballard and Delone Carter were doing their best impressions of Walter Payton and Barry Sanders; the Browns made the duo look exceptional (combining for over 140 total yards). Against a unit that has struggled mightily all year long, the Browns failed to shut down their opponent on the ground. I understand there are injuries along the front four, but the defense should be better against a runner who has had sixty-seven rushing yards through the first five games. Losing the battle upfront is deflating enough, but the Browns were not playing the Washington Redskins of the 1980s and their fantastic offensive line. Frostee Rucker and John Hughes led the way with three tackles each – this unit is not tackling, thus proving the opponent was moving the ball down the field regularly. It will not get any easier the next couple of weeks for the defensive line; hopefully Phil Taylor returns as soon as possible to give these guys a boost.
Continuing with the theme of futility on defense, the linebackers did not do much to encourage the fans. Throughout the game, no pressure was put on Andrew Luck, and the only sacks came from either the secondary or were caused by excellent coverage (and the defense getting to the quarterback after several seconds). The Browns are severely lacking a playmaker (or two) in this unit and have been forced to play late-round picks and undrafted veterans due to injury and ineffectiveness. James Michael-Johnson was invisible again – being in on just one tackle. On a positive note, Craig Robertson and D’Qwell Jackson totaled six tackles each, with Jackson notching a pass deflection as well. I thought Kaluka Maiava played one of his better games this season; garnering a sack and a hit on the quarterback.
It was not going to be easy covering Reggie Wayne, and the veteran had a solid performance (six catches for seventy-three yards). The only other receiver to have a decent game for the Colts was Donnie Avery – the Browns pretty much held everyone else in check. They allowed less than 200 yards passing and no touchdowns, which can win many contests in the NFL. Granted, they faced a rookie quarterback with a talent-depleted unit, but perhaps it can be something to build upon (in future contests). The three leading tacklers for the Browns were Sheldon Brown, Buster Skrine, and T.J. Ward – they did a good job tackling running backs who blew past the front seven. In the second half, the defense finally woke up and shut down the Colts’ offense. Joe Haden was not challenged and therefore did not have a big impact on the game (likely a wise decision by the opponent).
Special Teams: A couple of holding penalties by Ray Ventrone killed the Browns’ in the field position battle and caused drives to start inside their own twenty yard line. The team was able to overcome one of these, via a Greg Little touchdown. Following the score, the snap during the extra point was not held properly and the team failed on the PAT. Reggie Hodges also had a poor, twenty-yard punt after the Browns refused to go for it on fourth and one. Overall, the Browns’ special teams got dominated, and even being marginally better could have contributed to a victory.
Coaching: The major topic emanating from the defeat was Pat Shurmur’s decision to punt rather than try a fourth and one (late in the game) from the 39-yard line. Owner Jimmy Haslam was visibly frustrated, and the faithful in section 615 were not amused as well. Additionally, Shurmur shied away from the running game in the second half (while the team never trailed by more than eight points). I understand if the game is out of hand, but the head coach has been making some head-scratching decisions this season.