Browns at Cowboys – Game #10 Review
Yet, another close loss for the Cleveland Browns; at times the team seemed to face twelve on the field, as the referees did not do the visitors any favors. Regardless, a dominant first half was not enough as the Browns stumbled to 2-8 on the season. As the long-time expression goes, football is a game of inches and unfortunately they were not there (once again) for the team. It still appears as if the Browns are close to getting over the hurdle but they ultimately have not been able to secure wins – there are six more opportunities to get these in 2012.
Offense: Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden had a good game passing; he was able to throw a pair of touchdowns and did not have a interception. The signal caller only threw for just 210 yards, but was efficient in his play. The Browns only surrendered two sacks against a defense notorious for getting after the quarterback. One thing going against the quarterback was his completion percentage – he barely completed half of his throws (twenty out of thirty-five). Although the second half was not an offensive explosion, Weeden’s touchdown to Ben Watson was huge and gave the team the go-ahead score. Many fans believed the Browns had no shot after they fell behind, but the offense showed some resolve as they went down the field on a longer scoring drive. Hopefully, they can begin to finish off contests, but for now the team’s progression continues and there are a few bright spots.
Trent Richardson’s streak of rushing for over 100 yards came to an end on Sunday; the rookie runner carried the ball for ninety-five yards on twenty-eight carries. He also was active in the receiving game, hauling in six passes for forty-nine yards. Other than the big hit he took (resulting in a fumble), there was little to criticize from the University of Alabama star. Montario Hardesty came off the bench and was rather effective – the veteran had just four carries but averaged 5.8 yards per run. I really enjoyed the watching the Browns rush the football; the offensive line is opening holes and the runners are taking advantage of them. It will be crucial for the team to be effective on the ground over the next few games. The likely poor weather conditions will favor a conservative offensive attack – should the team employ this well, the passing game will also have a better chance for success.
Greg Little’s improvement continued in Dallas on Sunday; the second-year veteran hauled in three passes for fifty-three yards. Again, not spectacular numbers, but he was able to make difficult catches and run with the football. Just as important, Little did not have any drops once again – it appears his confidence is getting better each game. Rookie Josh Gordon had five receptions (for fifty-three yards) for the Browns. He continues to look like a reliable target and the number one receiver on the team. Josh Cooper only had one catch, but his mistake of not running his route for the proper depth cost the Browns a first down early in the game. Mohammed Massaquoi did not record any stats yet again, it appears he is not needed for this offense and there’s a good chance he may not be on the team next year. Ben Watson only had four receptions, but the veteran had both touchdowns for the Browns. The remaining tight ends had little production so Watson stepping up was big for the team.
I thought this was the best game for the Browns’ offensive line (I hope to type this after every game) – once again they were forceful in both the running and passing game. It appeared DeMarcus Ware was rushing every single play – fortunately Joe Thomas did a tremendous job of keeping him off of Brandon Weeden. Pressure never came from the interior as well; the trio of Alex Mack, John Greco, and Shaun Lauvao prevented the Cowboys coming through the middle consistently. The only criticism for the offensive line continues to be their ineffectiveness on goal line situations. They were unable to get a push and Trent Richardson was once again stuffed on third down – forcing a fourth down throw (an incompletion) instead of another rushing attempt. Therefore, the unit can still get better but status quo is rather remarkable.
Defense: The Browns knew they were facing a weak offensive line and made them look poor on Sunday. Athyba Ruvin led the group with six tackles, a sack, and a hit on Tony Romo. Jabaal Sheard added another sack to his credit – I believe he will improve in his second year while the strong play of the defensive tackles will allow single coverage on the outside. Phil Taylor, John Hughes, and Frostee Rucker each had decent outings – they all make a big play here or there during the contest. Juqua Parker continues to impress me; coming in on passing situations, the long-time veteran was relentless on the opponent. He finished the game with a sack and a pair of hits on the quarterback, as well as being in the backfield on a majority of his plays. Having the full batch of players healthy and active really showed what they are capable of, and I look forward to the group making life miserable for the remaining quarterbacks facing the Browns.
D’Qwell Jackson had six tackles and a sack for the defense; the captain played well despite not making a memorable play. It appears he will never be a dominant force, but I cannot complain about his continual, solid performances. After a couple of quiet games, Craig Robertson impressed me against the Cowboys. The University of North Texas athlete came away with a sack and put a hit on Tony Romo (along with five total tackles). Kaluka Maiava had a so-so game – three tackles and was a part of sack. Entering the contest, I was extremely concerned with how the defense was going to contain Jason Witten (who is having an excellent season and creates coverage mismatches). Fortunately, he came away with just fifty-one yards on seven catches. The same could not be said for veteran Dez Bryant though.
Without Joe Haden, the Cowboys went early and often towards the secondary of the Browns – Tony Romo heaved fifty passes on Sunday. Bryant came away with twelve receptions for 145 yards and a touchdown; a monster game for the veteran. It seemed that when the Cowboys threw it his way, one of two things would occur; a catch or a defensive penalty. Buster Skrine was forced into the starting lineup and was picked on. The younger athlete gave it his best and was never beat deep, but was called for multiple holding/illegal contact infractions. Sheldon Brown did not play well; he played several yards off the line of scrimmage and allowed the opponent to complete shorter routes with ease. If he cannot keep up with receivers in the NFL, he simply cannot be a starting cornerback in the league. On a positive note, I believe Eric Hagg, Trevin Wade, and Johnson Bademosi all had good outings. During the week, all three (likely) anticipated to just be playing special teams, but injuries forced them into the defense. There’s a case to be made that depth is starting to show, but the bottom line is that there is not another great cornerback opposite Joe Haden. Until the Browns find this guy, they will have issues stopping their opponent in the passing game.
Special Teams: Josh Cribbs had a couple decent returns, although he nearly had a costly fumble. Phil Dawson connected on both field goal attempts, including one from fifty-one yards. Reggie Hodges was punting better this game than he has all season. I thought the special teams had a fair outing, but it was not good enough to influence the outcome. Playing this way going forward is very important however, as the team cannot afford to lose the field position battle on a weekly basis.
Coaching: This loss was hard to pin on Pat Shurmur and the coaching staff. Outside of switching up the coverage of the secondary and maybe a play call here or there, and the choices by the coaches should not have been second-guessed. (They were aggressive at times and conservative at others). Shurmur continues to fight for his team and was visibly (and rightfully so) upset with the officials after a couple of calls went against the Browns. There were twelve of them total for over 120 yards; no matter the reason, these killed the team.