Ravens @ Browns – Game #9 Review
The losing streak hits ten for the Browns against the Ravens; the game on Sunday included a few missed opportunities by the home team. Red zone futility and costly turnovers did the offense in, while the defense put the team in an early 14-0 hole. Fortunately, the Browns are now on their bye week and can get an opportunity to rest (and hopefully get this game out of their heads). The frustration continues for the fans – hopefully the team can come out swinging after their break, but as the season continues, hope is dwindling.
Offense: Brandon Weeden chose to impersonate Colt McCoy this game – the rookie had several check downs on crucial third downs and tossed a pair of interceptions. The depleted, opposing unit was able to put their clamps down when the Browns’ offense was in a position to put six on the scoreboard. Weeden’s only touchdown was called back due to an alignment penalty (which was inexcusable). Whether it was the return of Terrell Suggs or the rest and re-focusing of the team during their time off, but the Browns’ offense could not move the ball the way they did in the first meeting. Hopefully Weeden can forget this performance and work on improving his play, while avoiding the type of mistakes that occurred on Sunday. A bright spot for the quarterback continues to be the ability to get many involved in the offense (even if their yardage total was not large) – he hit different seven receivers against the Ravens.
One thing that Pat Shurmur finally grasped (regarding the offense) was the concept that a steady dose of Trent Richardson is a good thing. The rookie rusher carried the football twenty-five times for one hundred five yards. His value to the team is vital, as several of the scoring drives included multiple rushes from Richardson. Without any output from Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya, the team had to lean on its workhorse in the receiving game as well. This came in the form of six receptions for thirty-one yards (including getting a key first down) – nothing too great but effective nonetheless. The missed opportunities on third and one in the first quarter really hurt the team. This may sound like a broken record, but perhaps a carry or two by Richardson might have continued the drive instead of being forced to punt. The Ravens capitalized on these and dominated, leading the contest by two touchdowns.
Greg Little had another nice outing on Sunday – grabbing five passes for fifty-two yards. Also of note, the veteran did not have a costly drop this contest; huge for his psyche and the offense’s ability to move the ball. Josh Gordon had a pair of receptions, but his biggest plays were his crack-back block that was erroneously (in my opinion) penalized and the touchdown that wasn’t. Instead of taking a 18-14 lead with the extra point pending, the Browns settled for a field goal and took a 15-14 advantage. Travis Benjamin only had one catch, but it was an important one. The rookie was able to make the field goal attempt easier before halftime (which was converted). Coming off an injury, Mohammed Massaquoi tallied just one reception for six yards. Whether the game plan did not include him, or he was simply unable to get open, but the University of Georgia alum did not help his team much. Additionally, the Browns chose not to activate Josh Cooper for the game. The rookie may find himself fighting for playing time while other wide outs get healthy. (Assuming he was activated) would Cooper have outplayed Massaquoi if passes were thrown his way? That is a big decision the coaching staff might have to make – down the road.
Paving the way for a 105-yard rusher, as well as only giving up just one sack (for a loss of two yards) and the offensive line had an all-around solid game. The group was not called for holding as well – their counterparts rarely beat them on a given play. In the first half, the offensive line prevented Brandon Weeden from facing pressure on passing plays. The second half of the game saw multiple blitzes by the Ravens – the opponent was able to limit the window of opportunity to a few seconds, but no huge sacks were taken by the Browns. The offensive line (along with Richardson) appears to be one of the few dependable aspects of the Browns’ offense this season. The team may not put up forty points every contest, but allowing time and space to work is very important if they want to win games in the NFL.
Defense: Allowing touchdowns in the first two drives drew comparisons to the Colts game a few weeks ago – along with the same outcome. Fortunately, the Browns’ defense was able to shut down their opponent for the next two-and-a-half quarters, which included multiple three-and-outs. Some unfortunate penalties and players being out of position allowed the visitors to score the go-ahead touchdown and leave the stadium with a win. Jabaal Sheard finally got back into the sack category, taking down Joe Flacco once. He and Frostee Rucker led the group in tackles – with eight and six respectively. Juqua Parker seems to make the most of his opportunities; he only comes in on third downs but always finds a way to the quarterback. The pair of rookie defensive tackles had rather quiet games but were not dominated by the Ravens’ offensive line either. Phil Taylor came in on several situations, but fans may remember him most from the play where he almost picked up a Ravens’ lineman by his leg. I hope the bye week gives the second-year pro time to get back into shape where he can participate in the majority of the snaps.
D’Qwell Jackson had nine tackles and did well in coverage on multiple occasions; he continues to be the star of the linebacker corps. James Michael-Johnson had six stops as well – he played well, despite not making an impactful play. Once again, I thought Kaluka Maiava had another solid outing. He had a pair of deflections and was in on six tackles, as well as one “body slam”. Tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson combined for four catches and forty-four yards. The linebackers and secondary did their jobs to contain a couple of opposing playmakers in the passing game. Flacco started the contest going four for four on third down conversions; this eventually became five out of fourteen opportunities. The defense was able to get off the field and put the offense in advantageous situations. I would have liked to see someone in the front seven get consistent pressure on passing plays, but like many games this year, it did not occur.
Joe Haden had a poor start to the game, surrendering catches to Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin during their touchdown drives. However, the leader of the Browns’ secondary made a couple plays the rest of the way and almost came away with a difficult interception. Sheldon Brown did very little to positively impact the contest. The former Eagle whiffed on a would-be tackle as Bernard Pierce galloped into the end zone. T.J. Ward continues to be active in stopping the run; the safety recorded seven tackles and led the unit. Fortunately, he did not get burned in the passing game as well – I like seeing the steady progression of the third-year veteran. Usama Young recorded a pass deflection and had four tackles. He allowed a deeper throw to be completed by the opponent but was otherwise reliable. Only giving up 153 passing yards should permit a team to garner a victory – this obviously did not happen, however.
Special Teams: The return game for the Browns was mediocre; Josh Cribbs averaged more than his counterpart but could not flip the field for the team. Five field goals for Phil Dawson – he is one of the best kickers in the league and is extremely dependable (but I’m pretty sure everyone already knew that). The punting game for the Browns was improved, but Reggie Hodges had nowhere to go but up. The veteran did not have any “shanks” and avoided mistakes.
Coaching: In losing yet another close game, several decisions made by the coaching staff (in particular Pat Shurmur) were second-guessed by media and the fans. The Browns were in the red zone five times and never threw the football in the end zone once; fans grew wary when they ran Richardson for a two-yard gain on third and long. The continual two or three yard routes, when the team needed eight (or so), was frustrating for those supporting the home team – the end result was either a field goal or a punt, depending on what part of the field these occurred. I understand the Ravens’ secondary is stellar, but not going for six may have cost the team the game. Watching the Browns burn timeouts hurt as well; Brandon Weeden appeared to be disappointed that the offense was not in position to get a play off in crunch time.