Browns at Raiders – Game #12 Review
Amidst the soggy conditions, the Cleveland Browns were finally able to pull out their first road victory of the season. Like most games this year, the team appeared to be dominant at times while struggling and making rookie mistakes during other parts of the contest. It was good to see the Browns defeat a perceived “lesser opponent” – this shows growth; the visitors can take care of business when presented with the opportunity.
Offense: Brandon Weeden completed twenty-five out of his thirty-six passes for 364 yards (a career-high) and a tremendous, long touchdown. It was nice to see another performance of over three hundred yards; the Browns have not had this since week four at Baltimore. The final touchdown drive was spectacular as well – Weeden led a fourteen play scoring series that ate up over six minutes and included receptions by three different targets. Some skeptics believe that defenses have “figured out” the Oklahoma State star and have adjusted accordingly. This is clearly not the case, as the opponent never really put any fear in the offense. However, the rookie also overshot and under threw a few of his targets as well – leading to his pair of interceptions. The signal caller is making errors that are correctable though (including getting passes batted down at the line of scrimmage); judging from his weekly performances, the quarterback should be able to fix these over time. Weeden played well enough to win the game (and did so), hopefully against stiffer competition his overall play will be better.
The running game for the Browns was not dominant, but efficient, against the Raiders on Sunday. Trent Richardson had twenty carries for just seventy-two yards, but had multiple hard runs (including a dominant nine-yard run that first appeared as a one-yard lunge). It seemed like clockwork that the team would rush between four and six yards on first down. His touchdown late in the fourth quarter was the dagger and put the Browns in a position to win the game. It was great to see Montario Hardesty get a few touches as well – the veteran had just five carries but compiled thirty-nine yards along the way. He has proved he can pick up huge chunks of yards in spot duty. If they continue with this formula (a fair balance of pass and run – with multiple backs), the team will be successful. In the passing game, Richardson had three grabs for twenty-three yards and picked up a critical first down in the second half. Those numbers may appear meager, but it’s all about production – moving the chains is what can decide a 20-17 contest.
Entering this game, I pondered Josh Gordon’s progress – the rookie proved he is trending positively toward stardom. He finished the game with six catches for 116 yards and a forty-four yard touchdown. If it were not for an underthrown pass, Gordon would have gone into the end zone a second time. Regardless, he played well and gave me hope that the Browns have a bona-fide threat in the passing game now and possibly for years to come. Greg Little played well and bounced back after an unproductive outing last Sunday. The veteran tallied four receptions, including a nice catch-and-run for eighteen yards. Mohammed Massaquoi was quiet for a majority of the contest, but came up with a huge fifty-four yard catch (aided largely by a great downfield block by Little). The tight ends were both active in this contest; Ben Watson totaled eighty yards on six catches. He was targeted regularly and could have had a touchdown early if Weeden did not over throw his wide-open target. Jordan Cameron had a fine twenty-three yard play on the final scoring drive – this offense is extremely successful when multiple athletes are making their imprint consistently.
There was no place to go but up, and the Browns’ offensive line improved greatly from the previous game. Brandon Weeden was only sacked once and was rarely pressured when dropping back to throw. John Greco played well and had a few nice blocks to spring longer plays. After a tough outing against the Steelers, Shaun Lauvao recovered and was a force in the middle of the offensive line. The running game faced little resistance as well; the five guys gave Richardson and Hardesty lanes to run with the football. Granted, the Browns were facing one of the worst ranked defenses, but the unit was able to make their opponent appear feeble. I look forward to the offensive line continuing their positive trend the rest of the season, as the team will not face a great defensive line until they head to Denver in late December.
Defense: The lack of output by the defensive line was rather concerning to me. I anticipated this group would have made it tough for Carson Palmer all game long – that was not the case, however. A pass rush was never apparent in the fifty-four drop backs by the opponent (with one exception by Juqua Parker). Athyba Rubin led all defensive linemen with three tackles, while Frostee Rucker had just two stops along with a pass deflection. I was rather surprised the Raiders strayed away from their running game – Marcel Reece and Jeremy Stewart each averaged over five yards per rush. However, the duo combined for only sixteen carries; the Browns’ defensive line was having issues plugging up running lanes but were bailed out by the Raiders play calling. Hopefully the group can get back on track next week, but they will face a solid running attack in the Kansas City Chiefs.
I thought all three of the linebackers had decent outings for the Browns. D’Qwell Jackson had five tackles, while Craig Robertson and Kaluka Maiava each finished the contest with four stops. Maiava also had a great forced fumble early on in the game, but the Raiders were able to recover the loose ball. The group’s (along with the safeties) coverage in passing situations was less than stellar though. Tight end Brandon Myers gashed the Browns to the tune of fourteen grabs for 130 yards and a touchdown. His position has hurt the defense a majority of the season; Dick Jauron and the coaching staff must figure out the best defensive combination to limit tight ends. This may go against the defensive coordinator’s philosophy, but I would like to see (at least) one of the linebackers employed in multiple blitz packages. This includes the speedy James-Michael Johnson, who was primarily used in special teams (this game). Facing a less-than-mobile quarterback, the Browns should have been able to take down the signal caller more than one time.
It was evident that the game plan for the opponent was to not throw anywhere near Joe Haden. The veteran was largely avoided and finished the contest with just four tackles and a pass deflected. As a result, long-time veteran Sheldon Brown saw a majority of passes come his way; he did give up a couple of longer receptions but also had five tackles, four passes defended, and an interception. His strength of open field tackling was on display, as the cornerback made a crucial stop on third down to force a punt. With Usama Young and Dimitri Patterson sidelined with injuries, undrafted rookie Tashaun Gipson got the start at free safety – he ended up leading the team in tackles with eight. Gipson and second-year pro Eric Hagg surrendered several longer gains in the passing game, but for the most part played adequately for the secondary. I thought T.J. Ward had an up-and-down game. The University of Oregon athlete was around the ball and made a few tackles but also had an easy drop of an interception. Buster Skrine had a couple nice pass breakups in coverage, but had a bone-headed personal foul on special teams as well. I look forward to the secondary becoming a strength for the Browns when the two veterans return (which should be soon).
Special Teams: As expected, Shane Lechler out-punted Reggie Hodges. The Browns consistently started in poor field position, but their offense was able to bail them out – for the most part. Sebastian Janikowski still has a great leg and almost connected on a fifty-nine yard attempt at the end of the first half. Phil Dawson’s field goal streak unfortunately came to an end; fortunately those points did not hurt the Browns’ chance of winning. When including the return units, neither team dominated the special teams battle.
Coaching: Once again, it could have been because of their opponent, but the offensive play calling looked much better than it has of late. Weeden was able to connect with eight different receivers, and the backs provided a dependable running game. The fourth and inches call was a great one – the team moved the chains en route to a score. I also liked the fourth and two decision in the third quarter; Weeden dumped the ball off to Richardson for twenty-one yards. Defensively, the play calls were a little on the conservative side. This likely is due to the fact the coaches figured the Raiders would make mistakes on their own and beat themselves. Coaching helped secure this victory, and now the Browns head back home on a two-game winning streak!