Monthly Archives: September 2013

Bengals @ Browns – Review of Game #4

Review of Bengals @ Browns – Game #4

The defense played extremely well and the offense did just enough for the Browns to win their second game in a row. One mistake by Hoyer and the offense and it may have been over; however, the unit scored and kept the ball away from the defenders – especially late. Combined with the Raven loss, the Browns are now back in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC North. I hope they are ready for the short week before their Thursday matchup.

Offense: It was another great outing for Brian Hoyer – the hometown kid put the team in position to win and did not turn the football over. The quarterback completed twenty-five of thirty-eight passes for 269 yards and hit two guys for touchdowns. As opposed to last week, he did not throw the ball to the opposing team –I am extremely excited by his growth over the week. Many believed this Bengals defense was better than the Vikings unit Hoyer faced last week – however the quarterback played smartly and took advantage of situations. A few defensive backs were out due to injury, and the wide outs made the unit pay as a result. I hope Hoyer keeps it up during the season – he will definitely have his challenges in 2013. Should Hoyer play as brilliantly as he has done as of late (including throwing it away when nothing was there), then there’s a fair chance he could be the quarterback for the Browns – at least in the short-term.

Following a dismal outing last week, the Browns put together an admirable effort running the ball against the Bengals. Willis McGahee toted the football fifteen times for forty-six yards; a huge improvement over last week’s performance. He ran hard at the end of the contest, picking up crucial first downs and burning the clock. Additionally, the Browns got a solid effort from Chris Ogbonnaya via both the run and the pass. The University of Texas star had twenty-seven yards on the ground and twenty-one yards through the air. More importantly, he was on the receiving end of Hoyer’s second touchdown. Granted, he did not dominate, but the back made a couple of big plays over the course of the game. The Browns will likely not have an exceptional running attack all year long – however playing efficient enough could be the difference between a win and a loss.

It was much of the same for both Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. The duo led all receiving targets for the Browns with fourteen grabs, 162 yards, and a touchdown. Cameron has been amazing all year long – I look forward to his play every game. Gordon made a couple nice plays, especially on third down. I have been impressed with his play and what he has done in his second year. Travis Benjamin only had one reception, but it was a huge one (for thirty-nine yards) that set up a score. I do not anticipate big games out of him, but being a part of scoring drives is what this team needs. In a diminished role, Greg Little did not record a reception.  Unfortunately, I see him more of a special teamer whose offensive spot will be replaced next season.

Outside of a few sacks given up late in the contest, the offensive live had a terrific outing.  They have improved tremendously over the last few weeks – even with a third-string guard anchoring the right side.  Hoyer escaped out of a few takedowns and was sacked three times, but it could have been a lot worse.  Additionally, the unit was able to open some holes for the running attack.  The team did not eclipse 100 yards on the ground, but McGahee’s last few bursts set up the team’s final score.  It will be hard to find a more difficult defensive line for the Browns to face, but if the guys upfront can play as well as they did against the likes of Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, and Michael Johnson then they should be fine.

Defense:  The Browns defensive line did not skip a beat without Billy Winn.  The group surrendered just sixty-three yards on the ground and continues to be the strength of the team.  Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant each had four tackles; they were around Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis and Giovanni Bernard all game long.  Phil Taylor had only two tackles, but also had a punishing shot on Green-Ellis – this really set the tone for the defense.  They will have another tough test on Thursday, facing a couple of excellent running backs that the Bills feature.  However, if they continue to play this way, the Browns can compete with anyone in the NFL.

Following the injuries to Jabaal Sheard and Quentin Groves, rookie Barkevious Mingo saw his playing time increasing significantly against the Bengals.  The former LSU standout did not disappoint – he finished the game with four tackles (two for losses), a sack, and a hit on the quarterback.  Mingo also nearly had an interception; his blazing speed was completely on display at First Energy Stadium.  Not to be outdone, Paul Kruger made plays from the other outside linebacker spot.  He hit Andy Dalton’s arm on third down, causing an errant pass and a punt.  He will be relied upon until the injured linebackers get healthy.  The two inside linebackers were extremely active in this contest – they had twenty tackles, a pass defended, and put a hit on the opposing quarterback.  Jermaine Gresham made Craig Robertson look foolish a few times in coverage, but the former North Texas athlete still had a solid outing.

A lot of the energy within the defense definitely came from Joe Haden.  The cornerback blanketed one of the best receivers in the game in A.J. Green and had four critical tackles.  It was one of his best performances of his pro career, and he finally got the better end of his matchup with his college rival.  On the other side, Buster Skrine made some plays when it counted.  He defended three passes and collected the only interception of the game.  I am willing to forgo his cushion he gives to wide outs, if he can deflect and intercept passes as well.  T.J. Ward continues to play well – especially in run support.  The strong safety finished the game with five stops, while Tashaun Gipson had six.  The University of Wyoming star also defended three passes and nearly had an interception (on a difficult pass from Dalton).  The secondary has come a long way from the opener; the perceived weakness of the team is beginning to shed that label.

Special Teams:  Whether he was injured or not, kicker Billy Cundiff had a less-than-stellar game.  The former Raven missed a pair of field goals in the first half, but made a huge fifty-one yarder in the third quarter to stretch the lead.  Spencer Lanning is putting together a fantastic season – his punts changed the field position regularly.  The move to put Greg Little as kick returner is paying dividends.  The wide receiver is not dominating, but he is getting at least an extra five to ten yards (than Bobby Rainey did) when returning the football.   

Coaching:  The coaching staff stated they would not be as reliant on Hoyer as they were last week, and that was exactly the case.  They employed the run and pass as needed, and it worked out fantastically.  Defensively, they harassed Dalton and shut down the run.  This may be the most competent coaching staff for the Browns in a long time – we are very fortunate to see the players get great guidance.

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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in NFL Season


Bengals @ Browns – Game #4 Preview

Preview of Bengals @ Browns – Game #4

After two consecutive road games, the Browns head back home to First Energy Stadium.  They are coming off a huge win and are facing a “hot” team in the Cincinnati Bengals.  This contest holds a huge swing of momentum – a win and the Browns are back in AFC North contention, while a defeat puts the team in a 0 – 2 hole in the division (and would likely keep them from the top all season long).  A victory Sunday won’t come easy, but if Chud and the team can pull it off, fans of the organization will by flying high.

Offense:  Brian Hoyer will face a stiffer challenge this week than he did in Minnesota.  The Bengals surrendered less than 300 yards through the air by one of (if not the) best quarterback in the game in Aaron Rodgers.  Additionally, the defense forced two interceptions and a pair of fumbles.  Protection of the football must be a priority for the Browns’ offense.  They cannot win multiple games in the NFL succumbing to three interceptions and a fumble.  I have faith in the offense under Hoyer; the signal caller overcame mistakes to steal a win in the final minutes.  Professional defenses are going to make plays against the Browns; it’s how you react to them that will determine future success.  In his first start with the Browns, Hoyer has already shown a better ability to recover after making mistakes than Weeden does.

The only direction the running game for the Browns can go is up; the group produced little when given attempts last Sunday.  I do not anticipate runs on third down and short (less than four to gain) situations, but as long as one of the backs can break through the defense once in a while – I will be content.  Of the three rushers, Chris Ogbonnaya would be the most likely candidate for a big run or reception.  During the game winning drive versus Minnesota, the fullback had an excellent catch and run to make a first down.  Bobby Rainey and Willis McGahee were only given a few carries and each struggled to gain yards.  I would be surprised if their roles expanded as a result, but if the passing game is successful then the point is somewhat moot.

The arrest of Pac Man Jones (yes, his latest arrest warrants the nickname when he was extremely troubled) could put his status on Sunday in jeopardy.  That being said, the Bengals’ secondary could be thin; hopefully leading to a big passing day for the home squad.  Josh Gordon will probably not be targeted nineteen times, but I still envision a solid outing.  Davone Bess is one of the best third-down wide receivers in the league, but his drops are frustrating for fans.  Hopefully he works on that and holds on to everything on Sunday.  Will either Travis Benjamin or Greg Little step up this week?  They could find themselves with a defensive mismatch – but it will (obviously) come down to execution.  Last week was extremely disappointing for this duo; they need to come out with a chip on their shoulder and attempt to replicate Gordon.  Jordan Cameron has been spectacular this season; the tight end has four touchdowns (all but one of the team’s total) including a game winner.  I expect him to keep it up and give linebackers (like a Vontaze Burfict) fits in coverage.

Another test for the offensive line will occur in this contest.  Getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hand has been crucial – doing so limits the responsibility of the men upfront.  Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap are excellent defenders and are coming off an outing that included fourteen tackles and two-and-a-half sacks.  Mitch Schwartz will have his hands full off the edge.  Up the middle, Alex Mack and the guards will have to defend Domata Peko.  The veteran from Michigan State had two stops and a sack against the Packers.  There are no weaknesses with the visiting team’s defensive front, so the Browns must have an excellent game plan in order to deal with these guys.

Defense:  Giovanni Bernard is beginning to emerge as the Bengals’ premier running back.  Some would perceive the smaller runner as a “scat back” who avoids running between the tackles regularly.  Therefore, the defensive front will (likely) not have as difficult of a challenge to stop the run as they did against Adrian Peterson.  Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis can still carry the ball, but he will get work primarily in red zone or goal-line situations.  Phil Taylor and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen have been stout up the middle; the nose tackles are forcing the action outside and giving defenders time to make a play.  Desmond Bryant has exceeded expectations thus far – he has notched three-and-a-half sacks and is averaging just less than four tackles per game.  I would not be shocked if the former Raider made life miserable for Andy Dalton in First Energy Stadium.

Barkevious Mingo may play every snap with the defense in this game.  The rookie has looked brilliant in his two outings; hopefully he can maintain that late in this contest.  He and Paul Kruger will have good opportunities to get to the opponent – the Packers took down Dalton four times a week ago.  In evident running situations (second and long or third and short), one of these outside backers may leave the field for a defensive end like Billy Winn or John Hughes.  If Craig Robertson and D’Qwell Jackson continue to play the way they have been so far, the interior of the defense will sustain greatness.  They are strong against the run and have covered well.  The Bengals have two great tight ends in Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert – they might be the best duo the Browns play all year.  The inside linebackers might come down to Earth a bit after this game – but I do not see either one being dominated at home.

A.J. Green has been a thorn in the side of Joe Haden over the past two seasons.  The University of Florida defender has been great but lost a few battles with the talented wide receiver.  Haden will get a chance to redeem himself of Sunday, but it still remains a difficult task.  After a tremendous outing, Buster Skrine will match up with second-year pro Mohamed Sanu.  The Rutgers product has been solid but has not had a breakout game this year (and hopefully that continues).  The safeties have improved significantly from last season, especially T.J. Ward.  The strong safety finished last game with eight tackles, a pass defended, and an interception.  He and Tashaun Gipson will see many passes coming their way – I anticipate a bigger guy (like either of the two tight ends) hauling a few passes over this duo.

Special Teams:  The Browns probably have used up all of their trick plays on special teams for the season already.  I like Spencer Lanning over Kevin Huber in the punting game, while the kicking game is a toss-up (especially with Billy Cundiff’s leg injury and subsequent questionable return).  Travis Benjamin would have been the better punt returner over Pac Man Jones, but his recent fumble puts doubt in the mind of the fans.  I really liked Chud moving Greg Little to kick returner; he never got an opportunity last week – but he can make people miss in the open field.  The bottom line is the match up between special teams is extremely difficult to predict – winning on offense and defense is key in this contest.

Coaching:  Changing personnel and play calling has worked out for the Browns.  I really feel confident with this coaching unit – with one exception.  They have led all three contests at the half, but came away with only one victory.  It appears that other teams are adjusting better than the Browns are at halftime.  I look forward to this changing as the season progresses – there is too much wisdom in the locker room for them to be puzzled in the second half of games.

Prediction (My Record – 1 – 2):  I really struggled with this contest; like many games in the NFL, this one could go either way.  The Browns will be fired up after Marvin Lewis’s disrespectful comments (stating they won’t have to worry too much after Richardson was traded).  However, the Bengals still have the talented roster and A.J. Green has been the difference.  The visitors pull this one out with the score being 28 – 24

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Posted by on September 26, 2013 in NFL Season


Review of Game #3 – Browns @ Vikings

Browns @ Vikings – Game #3 Review

After an exasperating and trying week, the Browns pulled out a victory during a nail-biter against the Vikings in Minnesota.  There were trick plays, a muffed punt, and several turnovers – I experienced several highs and lows during the contest.  Hopefully the Browns can take this momentum going forward, as they have two critical home games in the coming weeks.  Having said that, let’s take a look back to Chud’s first NFL victory as a head coach.

Offense:  Brian Hoyer definitely got the green light from the coaching staff; the veteran let it rip fifty-four times in the Metrodome.  Some were great tosses, while others went to defenders; all told the signal caller completed thirty throws for three touchdowns and three interceptions.  He was decisive and displayed great touch on a couple of tosses.  The rapport with both Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon was fun to watch.  His interceptions are a bit disconcerting, especially due to the fact that the ball was not tipped and was simply thrown poorly.  If Hoyer can clean this up (and the mistakes turn out to be due to rust), he can really put together a good season.  I don’t know if Weeden will get the nod when his hand heals, but I hope the former Michigan State star makes it tough to for Chud to put back in the incumbent at quarterback.

Taking away the fake punt, the Browns were only able to get roughly seventy yards on the ground.  One could argue that the team was sorely missing Trent Richardson, but I doubt he would have made such a difference.  The Browns (in keeping with today’s NFL) are employing a pass-first offense, sprinkled with several rushes to keep defenses honest.  Chris Ogbonnaya and Bobby Rainey each had a nice carry, while Willis McGahee was not surprisingly bottled up.  Perhaps the veteran needs a few games to get back into rhythm?  I do not envision the running attack gashing defenses this season – hopefully they can make a key play in a tight game however.

Targeted nineteen times, Josh Gordon hauled in ten passes for 146 yards and a long touchdown.  The Baylor wide out definitely stood out as the best weapon for the offense, and his presence proved to be monumental.  I really hope the team holds onto him for the future; he is a talented athlete who opponents have to game plan for.  I really liked the acquisition of Davone Bess – he did his job perfectly as he helped to convert multiple third downs in the game (and finished with seven grabs for sixty-seven yards).  The team finished six of fifteen on third downs, a huge improvement from the two prior weeks.  As the third receiver, Greg Little had a pedestrian game.  The North Carolina star just had three receptions for nineteen yards, but he did not drop a pass (which has been commonplace).

Facing a tough defensive front with one of the best sack artists in Jared Allen, I had my worries about the offensive line’s chances.  However, under the leadership of Joe Thomas, the men upfront played well.  Giving up three sacks is not stellar, but with fifty-four passing attempts, and it is more than manageable.  None of the five linemen got blown off the snap or were defeated by their opponent.  Hopefully this test will prepare the group for the next two weeks – they face some solid competition in Cincinnati and Buffalo.

Defense:  I’m still in love with the way the Browns’ defensive line dominates.  They held Adrian Peterson to under 100 yards on the ground and routinely put pressure during passing attempts.  I was also glad to see Ahtyba Rubin return from his calf injury, the defensive line only got deeper.  The tackle totals were down from their regular amounts, as Desmond Bryant, John Hughes, and Rubin led the group with three stops.  Four of the team’s six sacks came from guys up front – I was glad to see both John Hughes and Billy Winn take down Ponder.  Ray Horton’s defense was expected to take a few games for the team to gel, but fortunately it has been immediate (at least for the front three).

As expected, the trio of outside linebackers excelled in this game.  Barkevious Mingo and Jabaal Sheard (who left the game with a knee injury) combined for seven stops and a pair of sacks.  With Sheard and Groves being injured, depth will be tested over the next couple games.  Someone will get their opportunity, maybe Paul Hazel, or there’s a chance that Horton will employ more four-men fronts.  Paul Kruger has played well at times this year, but he must be close to dominant with only he and Mingo to play a majority of the game.  D’Qwell Jackson led the team with ten stops, while Craig Robertson tipped a throw leading to an interception and recovered a fumble.  It’s safe to say the linebackers had a solid contest.

I was really surprised by the play of both Buster Skrine and Chris Owens.  Each of the cornerbacks has surrendered long gainers this season, but they defended the pass well on Sunday.  Skrine had two deflections – plays like those can really elevate the entire defense.  Ward’s interception was huge, as it thwarted the home team’s attempt the stretch their lead.  The secondary did allow a couple of good throws by Ponder, which will occur, but they played well enough to put the team in a spot to win.  I would like to see the rookie Leon McFadden finally get some playing time – it may come at points when the contest is not close, but it would still be good for the coaches to evaluate him during the regular season.

Special Teams:  What can you say about decisions made by Chud and special teams’ coach Chris Tabor.  A fake punt and a fake field goal occurred for the Browns on Sunday – one that lead to a first down conversion and eventually a field goal, while the other produced a touchdown.  We haven’t seen anything like this since the Eric Mangini days; those two plays were the difference in the contest.  I cannot wait to see future tricks up their sleeves.  The only downside in this department was the muff of Travis Benjamin late in the second quarter.  These cannot happen in the NFL and fortunately the defense raised up to force a fumble.  I’m hoping it was a one-time thing and Benjamin produces next Sunday.

Coaching:  I really liked the play calls on both sides of the football for the visiting team; Horton was able to bring pressure and took down Ponder on multiple occasions.  The defense got burned a few times on running plays by the quarterback; these were not anticipated but I wish the Browns were better prepared.  All things considered, the Browns were coached excellently and proved to be the better team on the field.

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Posted by on September 23, 2013 in NFL Season


Browns @ Vikings – Preview of Game #3

Preview of Browns @ Vikings – Game #3

For the final time, the Browns will play the Vikings at the HHH Metrodome (before the team moves to a new venue).  Much like many series, the Browns are on the short end of the stick with a 3 – 11 record (including losing the past four meetings).  Entering this year, this looked like a less-than-desirable quarterback matchup.  Brandon Weeden’s sprained thumb further exacerbates this – it could be a quick contest with several running plays.  Both teams head into this matchup at 0 – 2; someone’s got to come out with their first victory in 2013.  (Note: my mood definitely changed in this blog after the Richardson trade, but it may not completely reflect that).

Offense:  With Brian Hoyer starting at quarterback, the Browns must be smart in their passing attack.   The opposition can be thrown upon – allowing nearly 300 yards through the air last week, but they also intercepted Jay Cutler twice.  This opportunistic defense could be treacherous if a reserve quarterback makes a poor decision and/or misses his target.  Fortunately, he will have Josh Gordon back this contest – perhaps we will see a deep pass or two to the previously suspended wide out.  Weeden made a couple of nice throws in the preseason, where only the receiver could catch it – this must be replicated by Hoyer if the Browns want a chance to win on Sunday.  Nonetheless, I foresee a very vanilla game plan but they can still find the end zone as well.

For his entire rookie season and both games this year, I (like many in the media and fans alike) have been clamoring for more touches for the running back.  However, it appears both the previous and current coaching staffs feel the offense can be successful with other areas of the team.  This is definitely true after Richardson was shipped out on Wednesday.  The offensive line has been light years behind where they were last season, and it has been tough to find crevasses for the rushers.  The Vikings surrendered 129 yards on the ground last week; however, there’s no way the Browns eclipse this total on Sunday.  There’s no reason to believe the visiting team will have success on the ground; the Browns will likely have to rely on their defense and passing the ball.

Following a pair of contests that included underperforming starting wide outs, the number one target finally returns.  Hopefully Greg Little (assuming he learned how to catch this week) and Travis Benjamin can take advantage of avoiding the top defensive back in Josh Robinson.  However, the Vikings still have a solid starter on the opposite side with Chris Cook.  The Bears were able to find their top two targets fourteen times for 189 yards against the home team; the Browns have an opportunity move the ball through the air.  It appears the safeties (Harrison Smith and Jamaraca Sanford) are very active in stopping the run.  They tallied sixteen tackles and only one pass defended.  As a result, the matchup the visiting team will look to exploit is in the slot/tight end position.  Jordan Cameron will have another big game, while Davone Bess will secure multiple catches.

Despite having one of the best sack artists in the game (Jared Allen), the Vikings had trouble getting to the quarterback last week.  Hopefully the Browns study the game tape and duplicate their blocking techniques to keep their quarterback upright.  Potentially getting back right guard Shawn Lauvao would certainly help the offensive line, but right tackle Mitch Schwartz has played poorly as well.  If Joe Thomas walls off Allen regularly, I would not be surprised to see the home team move the defensive end to the other side to provide an easier path to the signal caller.  The Browns will allow pressures and take a few sacks, but I see a steady improvement as well.  When the pocket is clean, the offense must execute in all facets of the passing game.  No matter how well the blockers play in rushing attempts, Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson will constantly be there to greet Trent Richardson.

Defense:  This will be a great challenge for the defensive line of the visitors.  Adrian Peterson remains one of the top backs in the NFL and is coming off a 100-yard game.  If the offense can move the chains, the defense will actually get a rest and a have a good chance to slow down the University of Oklahoma product.  Phil Taylor and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen have become one of the best nose tackle tandems in the league – I look forward to them winning the point of attack up the middle.  That makes it imperative for Billy Winn and Desmond Bryant to plug holes on the edge.  Peterson typically gets his better runs when he “bounces it outside”.  If Rubin is held out of this contest, I think the ends will be fatigued and the opposition will break off a couple of nice runs around the corner.  It will not be a monumental day, but one that will see at least one rushing touchdown.

The play of Craig Robertson and D’Qwell Jackson really gives me faith that the middle of the defense can prevent long gains.  The duo has been stout facing running backs but has been up-and-down against the pass.  After scrutiny as a perceived “reach” in the NFL Draft, tight end Kyle Rudolph is one of the best in the league.  Christian Ponder’s security blanket can catch and run in the open field, as well as be a primary touchdown target in the red zone.  Another score for the former Notre Dame target should be expected on Sunday.  The emergence of rookie Barkevious Mingo now gives the Browns four (assuming Quentin Groves is healthy) options at outside linebacker.  Ray Horton must be salivating this week – Ponder is not an established signal caller and is susceptible to pressure.  He does have a terrific ability to run, so if the Browns can not take him down, there must be another option nearby to finish the play.

Joe Haden will be lined up predominantly against veteran Greg Jennings; the former Packer is not anticipated to be the one to kill the defense.  Jerome Simpson is a fast wide out that gets the opportunity to be covered by Buster Skrine or Chris Owens.  One thing that gives me faith is that he is a smaller, quicker target.  The cornerbacks should be able to keep up with Simpson, and they will not see a ball thrown where only the wide out has a chance at it.  For once this year, I believe that the entire secondary will be able to limit the opponent.  The wildcard is rookie Cordarrelle Patterson; he has only three catches in two games but is a first-round talent.  Both safeties have been adequate but not great – there is no excuse for shoulder tackles, and the pair must wrap up runners and take them down.  I want to see either Ward or Gipson have a breakout game in Minnesota and anticipate a Ponder interception coming their way.

Special Teams:  For the first time this season, the Browns will be playing indoors.  Although they are unaccustomed to this Spencer Lanning and Billy Cundiff should be unfazed – that being said, the Vikings have the edge in both the punting and kicking units (with Blair Walsh and Jeff Locke).  The return games favor the home side as well; Patterson took a kickoff to the house last week.  The only way the visitors can get an advantage is if Travis Benjamin can excel in returning punts.  A close contest will doom the Browns, and they cannot let it come down to special teams.

Coaching:  As stated, the Browns must put the offense in the best position to get yards.  They do not have to throw it fifty times (nor down the field routinely) to succeed.  Chud and Turner must get many guys involved, especially with Hoyer at the helm.  We were promised aggression by the defense and it must be displayed at the Metrodome.  Speed from the edge and power up the middle are what I want to see.  The players now must make the plays – initiating contact early and not allowing broken tackles.

Prediction (My Record – 1 – 1):  At the beginning of the season, this was a game I felt the Browns could win.  With the quarterback situation up in the air, and the trade of Richardson, the odds are a little longer now.  Considering their offense is in a little bit of a “funk” and the team has rarely wins when I attend, I’m going to pick the favorite.  The Vikings win at home by the score of 24 – 10.

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Posted by on September 19, 2013 in NFL Season


Browns @ Ravens – Review of Game #2

Review of Browns @ Ravens – Game #2

Yet another dismal streak continues for the Cleveland Browns – they have now lost eleven consecutive meetings against the Baltimore Ravens.  The first half gave fans of the visiting squad hope, as they lead 6 – 0 over the reigning Super Bowl champions.  However, mistakes and the inability to move the football ultimately cost the Browns.  It was very disappointing; they are getting close but still cannot get over the hump.  Cleveland now faces a 0 – 2 record and a possible start to another long season.

Offense:  Well, there were some positives with quarterback Brandon Weeden.  The signal caller avoided turning the football over all game long.  He also completed twenty-one (which could have easily been twenty-six completions) of thirty-three throws for 227 yards.  His toss to Jordan Cameron was solid and set up the Browns’ first score.  Although his receivers let him down from time to time, the overthrow of a wide-open Chris Ogbonnaya stuck with many Browns’ fans.  Weeden did not find the end zone, and fans’ patience appears to be wearing thin with this offense.  The group has only scored sixteen points in their first two contests combined, while other teams in the league are scoring four or five touchdowns a game.

It can be argued that opponents are solely game planning to stop Trent Richardson.  Regardless if that’s true or not, the first-round draft pick is struggling to find yardage on the ground.  He toted the football for just fifty-eight yards on eighteen carries (with the longest rush being nine yards).  Through the air, the running back caught all five passes his way for twenty-one yards.  Richardson can be a productive NFL player, but it’s starting to become apparent that he is not one of the better backs in the league.  The long runs and running through defenses have not been on display for quite some time, but he is the best option the Browns have.  I would not be surprised to see the team draft another rusher next fall, but I am still pulling for Richardson to get back to where he was at Alabama.

Once again, the only dependable receiving option for the team was tight end Jordan Cameron.  He lead the Browns with ninety-five yards from Weeden; the former USC star is really putting together a nice season.  The same could not be said for the wide outs.  Aside from a couple catches from Davone Bess on third down, (which became first downs) the targets could not make a play.  Greg Little had four grabs on twelve targets – he had multiple drops and many were disappointed with his performance.  Travis Benjamin caught the only pass thrown to him for twenty-two yards, but the coaching staff was content with not throwing multiple passes his way.  I doubt Josh Gordon can transform this unit into a successful one, but its not like there are any options out there who are better.

The offensive line is the most overrated unit on the team; the once-perceived best part of the team has just been dreadful.  Weeden was sacked five more times and the running “attack” put up just sixty-five yards.  After a complete disaster last week, Oniel Cousins played better this week.  He did not excel by any means, but the guard played adequately on Sunday.  Will Shawn Lauvao make this front five better?  I have been more than frustrated that Weeden has been pressured and holes are not available for Richardson, but getting a right guard back will likely help minimally.  Right tackle Mitch Schwartz appears to have regressed from his rookie season – the right side of the line looks porous.  I am willing to see if this group can improve as the season goes along, but if it remains status quo then changes will need to be made in the offseason.

Defense:  Once again, the defensive line was dominant for the Cleveland Browns.  While Phil Taylor clogged the middle and incurred several double teams, the beneficiaries were Desmond Bryant and Billy Winn.  The pair combined for nine tackles and accompanied Jabaal Sheard with a quarterback sack.  Filling in for Taylor (at times) was Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, who also had three stops in this contest.  Whenever Ahtyba Rubin returns from his calf injury, this front will be one of deepest – and best – in the league.  They have been shutting down the run (ninety-nine yards on thirty-six carries) and forcing opponents to pass.  They face a tall order next Sunday, but if they keep it up then they will routinely give the Browns a chance to win.

Despite playing significantly less than the starters, Barkevious Mingo’s impact was fully on display in Baltimore.  Batting down passes, garnering a sack, and hitting the opposing quarterback all occurred in his first game as a professional.  Jabaal Sheard had eight tackles, a half of a sack, and a hit on Joe Flacco.  Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves (who left the game with a sprained ankle) each had a decent game – they both had a tackle for loss but were not entirely disruptive.  D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson tackled the opposition fifteen times and surrounded Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce when they had the ball in their hands.  The coverage for this duo improved from week one – I have been impressed so far with both inside linebackers.

It was more of the same for the cornerbacks.  Joe Haden allowed Torrey Smith to have a big third down completion in the second half, but he played excellent overall (and was not the problem).  Flacco found Marlon Brown and Brandon Stokley several times en route to converting eight of sixteen third down attempts.  Who was covering this duo?  You guessed it, Chris Owens and Buster Skrine – the two are good enough to not get burned but have not shown an ability to defend the pass regularly.  I hope the safeties provide a little more help to these cornerbacks, as it is needed.  Tashaun Gipson finished with eight tackles; he and T.J. played well in spots but had their issues as well.  The secondary will be the Achilles’ heel for this defense until the cornerback play improves.  If Skrine and Owens continue to surrender long completions, the Browns will have to turn to rookie Leon McFadden.

Special Teams:  The Browns lost every part of the special teams battle – with one exception.  Kicker Billy Cundiff made two field goals (including one from fifty-one yards), while his counterpart missed both of his attempts.  Spencer Lanning did an ok job punting, but his touchback hurt the team, as the ball was close to being downed on the one-yard line.  Bobby Rainey finally crossed the twenty-yard line on a kickoff, but the return units continue to be unimpressive.

Coaching:  The three delay of game penalties are unacceptable; the visiting team looked unprepared.  That rests on the coaching staff; they must do a better job on the road next week.  Offensively, they employed Richardson a bit more (which was nice to see).  They did not make Weeden throw too much and put him in more comfortable situation – the shotgun.  However, it did little as the offense sputtered again.  The defense eased in Barkevious Mingo, who got his first sack and was disruptive.  Horton can try his best to make Owens and Skrine improve in coverage, but its becoming apparent they are the weak spots of the unit.

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Posted by on September 16, 2013 in NFL Season


Browns @ Ravens – Preview of Game #2

Browns @ Ravens – Game #2 Preview

Now it’s time for the team to go on the road to face the defending Super Bowl champions.  The Ravens are coming off a tough game against the Broncos but will have ten days to prepare for their home opener.  The guys in purple are also expected to receive their rings for winning the title – emotions will be high and the crowd will be rowdy.  The Browns will have a very difficult task if they want to get their first victory of the season.

Offense:  I never thought I would be saying this, but perhaps the way Brandon Weeden can get back on track is to face the Ravens’ defense.  Granted, he’s no Peyton Manning (who had 462 yards passing and seven touchdowns last week), but I hope to see Weeden sling a couple of touchdowns and avoid costly interceptions.  The signal caller should be able to move the ball downfield and find his multiple targets.  However, taking off my homer glasses, I think he will play better than he did against Miami – but not by much.  I see him reducing his interceptions to just one, but I cannot see the quarterback getting more than two scores through the air.

This Trent Richardson thing (a.k.a. his ineffectiveness) is definitely a head scratcher.  The Browns have limited his carries in games, and when given opportunities the runner has struggled to find big gains.  The Ravens did an excellent job of limiting their opponent last week (to sixty-five yards) on the ground.  Maybe the Browns’ coaching staff is worried the back will not make it out of a game healthy if he has thirty carries in a game, but I think Richardson will be limited again on Sunday.  The rusher will be bottled up (I see less than seventy yards) – his only hope of success will be a short touchdown burst.

I hope Greg Little and Travis Benjamin magically become better football players this week.  The duo had a couple catches, but they also had a few passes bounce off their hands.  This is the final game without Josh Gordon, and the wide receivers will likely struggle to generate yards and points.  Both Tori Gurley and Josh Cooper had a catch last week – they are currently reserves, but if Little and Benjamin play poorly then either might get a shot at additional opportunities to be involved in the game.  The success of Julius Thomas for the Broncos last week proves that Jordan Cameron can have another big day.  The tight end rescued Weeden multiple times last week; I expect him to keep it up in Baltimore.

Not much more needs to be said about Oniel Cousin’s play last week – if the coaches stick with him at right guard then help will be need by either Alex Mack or Mitch Schwartz.  The team must also try to move Weeden out of the pocket (likely to the left) to keep him from being sacked over and over.  I am one for inserting Garrett Gilkey at right guard, but Chud defended Cousins during his press conference on Monday.  The offensive line will have to game plan against Elvis Dumerville and Terrell Suggs – the pair of pass rushers are excellent, and the Browns must be better than surrendering six takedowns of their quarterback.  I would not be surprised with a bounce back performance by the line, but they will not dominate the Ravens by any means.

Defense:  The front three of the Browns played exceptionally last week, even with in the absence of Ahtyba Rubin.  I would be surprised if they do not put up a similar performance against Baltimore – Ray Rice will get some yards on the ground and via quick passes, however.  They will not be gashed regularly, and the defensive line will put pressure on Joe Flacco.  The rotation held up very well last week, as some of Desmond Bryant’s best plays were late in the game (including his sack).  If somehow this is a close contest, fresh defensive linemen could tilt the scales in the Browns favor.

This is the game where Paul Kruger should be extra amped up; the former Raven will attempt to prove why he deserved a huge contract.  Joe Flacco is coming off a performance where he was taken down four times; the opportunity is there for the Browns to put heavy pressure on their opponent.  Regardless of Mingo’s status, it should be status quo for the outside linebackers.  They have looked very good so far, but Jabaal Sheard must improve for them to be considered great.  The home team has several receiving targets (in their backfield) who have to be accounted for.  Ray Rice, Vonta Leach, and Bernard Pierce are all capable of catching and running for several yards.  The two inside backers failed in coverage last week – if they do not improve, the entire passing game for Flacco will open up.  That would make for a very long day for the Browns.

If Chris Owens and Buster Skrine are not picked on regularly, the Ravens aren’t doing their homework.  Joe Haden will be draped on Torrey Smith all game long – I look for similar success as he had facing Mike Wallace.  The (potential) loss of Jacoby Jones in the receiving game really hurts the home team, as the talented wide out regularly makes huge gains for his offense.  Marlon Brown and Brandon Stokley are the two targets who must be shut down.  The former is a rookie and the latter is an aging veteran; I do not envision a Brian Hartline type of day (nine grabs for 114 yards and a score) by either of these two.  The Browns should not get burned in the passing game, but if they cannot get off the field it will not matter.  The reigning Super Bowl MVP has shown a great ability to convert third downs against the visitors.  The safeties played adequately last week, but I want to see them make a couple more plays in both the running and passing game – Tashaun Gipson and T.J. Ward still have room to improve.

Special Teams:  After a few subpar preseason performances, the special teams for the Browns played well (outside of a few short kickoff returns).  I have confidence in the punting game and coverage units, and Billy Cundiff has not given me a reason to doubt him.  This is another area where the visiting squad can have an advantage, but the home team will get the W if it comes down to a Justin Tucker field goal attempt.

Coaching:  Coach Chud pulled a Pat Shurmur last week – that is never a compliment.  Going pass heavy is fine if you are equipped with an Aaron Rogers or Tom Brady.  However, Brandon Weeden has not proven himself to play mistake-free football.  That said, the team must run the football more and get more offensive players involved.  The defense was coached well last week; the only adjustment I would advocate is rolling up coverage on the outside.  Giving up too much room really hurt the team – many out routes were caught and Hartline’s touchdown was on an out-and-up where Buster Skrine allowed the former OSU star to breeze right by him.

Prediction (My Record – 0 – 1):  After a miserable opener, this team will have to prove to me that they can play well enough to win.  The Browns have struggled so mightily within the division over the past couple of years, and I cannot find a reason why that trend stops.  The Browns lose in Baltimore 24 – 13 and limp to yet another 0 – 2 start.

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Posted by on September 12, 2013 in NFL Season


Dolphins @ Browns – Game #1 Review

Review of Dolphins @ Browns – Game #1

Another home opener for the Browns, and yet another atrocious performance.  The Browns were equally bad in all aspects of this contest – the offense turned the ball over, the defense couldn’t stop the pass, and the special teams couldn’t return well.  It appears to be another long season yet again for the young Browns, as the team could not take advantage of a home opener against a mediocre Dolphins team.  Let’s take a look at what went down for the first game of the regular season.

Offense:  In a replay of the 2012 opener, Brandon Weeden had multiple interceptions.  It could be debated that only one of his three picks were his fault, as two throws were tipped off by wide receivers.  However, he still made mistakes and the offense suffered as a result.  Weeden was able to garner nearly 300 yards through the air, but could not make it count when it mattered.  He had a touchdown called back late – thus proving he couldn’t catch a break.  Unless he turns it up significantly, I do not envision the team sticking with him in 2014.  It’s very unfortunate, but that’s where the front office appears to be.  Nonetheless, his next opponent is one that allowed seven passing touchdowns last week – we’ll see what Weeden does.

After a great start, it was tough sledding for running back Trent Richardson.  The back only touched the ball fifteen times on Sunday – thirteen of those were on the ground for forty-seven yards.  He also tallied two grabs for thirty yards; the playmaker had his moments, but never had any “wow” moments.  I hope he continues to work hard; better times will be ahead for the former Alabama product.  Fullback Chris Ogbonnaya had one catch for ten yards, but he missed a key block (which lead to a sack).  The team clearly has no confidence after Richardson, so if they want to have any success in 2013 – they must find a way to use him effectively.

The absence of Josh Gordon was a huge detriment for this offense; the suspended wide out forced Travis Benjamin into more action.  The University of Miami star made three grabs for forty-four yards, but also had a costly drop and was a part of Weeden’s first interception.  At this point, he is not a starting NFL wide receiver.  Davone Bess made a few nice plays – including converting a couple third downs.  I would like to see Weeden look for him more in next week’s game.  Greg Little and Tori Gurley combined for only forty-one yards on five grabs – the former was expected to step up without Gordon, but that was not the case.  The lone bright spot of the offense was tight end Jordan Cameron.  He finished with nine receptions for 108 yards and the team’s only touchdown.  Chud has been known for his prowess with tight ends – it’s early, but Cameron appears to be the beneficiary thus far.

The Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao injuries showed the team’s lack of depth.  It’s safe to say Oniel Cousins struggled mightily against the Dolphins.  The guard acquired penalties (one that negated a touchdown), allowed defenders to blow by him, and failed to open holes for Richardson.  I want rookie Garrett Gilkey to start next week.  Mitch Schwartz had a tough task of attempting to block Cameron Wake.  The second-year pro held his man to only four tackles, but the Dolphin also had two-and-a-half sacks.  The only two linemen who stood out were John Greco and Alex Mack.  Neither of the two was flagged for a penalty nor gave up a sack.  It was overall a poor outing by the offensive line, but a couple of Browns’ members had satisfactory performances.

Defense:  The offseason was quiet for Desmond Bryant, but the former Raider had a terrific outing on Sunday.  He had a pair of sacks; a pass defended, and hit Ryan Tannehill on four occasions.  John Hughes, Billy Winn, and Phil Taylor accompanied him to be a part of a unit that did an excellent job versus the run.  They allowed only twenty yards on the ground; this may have been one of the best performances against running backs I have seen from the Cleveland Browns.  With Ahtyba Rubin coming back from injury, this might be one of the best defensive lines in the league – however, the overall defense is far from stout.

The play of the linebackers ranged from good to subpar.  Paul Kruger had four tackles and a sack, while Quentin Groves also notched his first sack as a member of the Cleveland Browns.  I though Jabaal Sheard had a disappointing outing; he had trouble getting to the quarterback and never appeared to be dominant.  Craig Robertson and D’Qwell Jackson totaled fourteen stops in the inside.  The duo was stout in stopping the run, but they were hurt in the passing game.  Charles Clay had timely catches and picked up key first downs against the Browns.  The fullback was wide open on multiple occasions and made his opponent pay.  The linebackers, overall, had their moments but still have room to go until they are great.

The secondary of the Browns (outside of Joe Haden) had a horrible performance.  Haden blanketed Mike Wallace all day long; the cornerback did not have a bad play except for one dropped interception.  On the other hand, Chris Owens and Buster Skrine allowed Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson to have big days.  The cornerbacks surrendered 191 yards and a touchdown to this duo, and the Browns looked very porous against the pass.  I hope Leon McFadden comes around quickly; the team desperately needs another reliable cornerback – they do not have one right now.  T.J. Ward had a few hits in this game; however, he didn’t have any specular plays and also dropped an interception.  At the free safety spot, Tashaun Gipson played well – he had an interception and three tackles.  However the secondary was the reason why the Browns defense was not great, it was (somewhat) expected but still bad.

Special Teams:  Outside of a nice Travis Benjamin punt return; the Browns were not good in the return game.  Bobby Rainey tried his best to take back kickoffs, but he only crossed the twenty-yard line once.  Spencer Lanning had a fantastic outing; this might prove to be a great find for this front office.  The punter averaged forty-five yards per punt and avoided a shank that his predecessors might have succumbed to.  He only had two opportunities, but Billy Cundiff made the most of them.

Coaching:  Offensively, the play calling could have been more run-heavy.  It might not have made much of a difference, but Weeden completed just over half his throws.  Perhaps Richardson could have put the team in more advantageous spots.  For the defense, Horton employed rushes and blitzes regularly.  They didn’t start working until later in the contest, but I liked how he was persistent.  I don’t know if he can make the secondary play better, but he’s got to try.

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Posted by on September 9, 2013 in NFL Season


Dolphins @ Browns – Game #1 Preview

Preview of Dolphins @ Browns – Game #1

It is finally here, the 2013 NFL regular season! It goes without mention the Browns’ poor record to kickoff the season, but hope and faith still remain with the fan base. The odds makers determined this game to be relatively even; the crowd will be loud (but that hasn’t stopped many opponents in the past). Davone Bess faces his former team, and the third and fourth quarterbacks taken in the 2012 Draft square off at First Energy Stadium. One positive is that the home team is undefeated at this newly named venue; they look to continue that streak on Sunday.

Offense: I can bet that Brandon Weeden will keep his eyes open for any U.S. flags on the field prior to the game. Besides not being swallowed by one, the signal caller must improve upon his dismal outing to start the 2012 campaign. He will not be facing one of the stiffest secondaries in the league (starters Jamar Taylor and Will Davis are injured) and he must capitalize. The Browns released Dimitri Patterson last year, and the veteran will likely see a good deal of playing time (for the visitors) on Sunday. The only real threat the quarterback will have is Brent Grimes, who is coming off a season-ending injury. A real opportunity is there for the Browns’ offense to start with a bang – I believe Weeden will have a respectable outing. The signal caller might only have a touchdown or two, but his turnovers and mistakes will be limited.

There has been a revolving door behind Trent Richardson at the running back spot. Out are Brandon Jackson and Jamaine Cook and in are Dennis Johnson and Bobby Rainey. Hopefully Michael Lombardi was able to acquire both a solid athlete to spell Richardson as well as a dependable kick returner. Both athletes had nearly a four yard-per-carry average as well as a touchdown in the preseason. I look for their production to continue, but Richardson will likely get a bulk of the opportunities. The Dolphins are the twenty-seventh ranked team against the run this season – granted it was in exhibition, but that is a perceived weakness that the Browns should look to exploit. I see Richardson having a big day early, and depending on the score, Chris Ogbonnaya or either of the two newcomers might get a crack at rushing the football late.

It’s time for Travis Benjamin, Greg Little, and Davone Bess to step up. This trio will be on the field a majority of the game, with Josh Cooper participating in spot duty. The visiting team only surrendered 173.4 passing yards per game in their August contests (good for fifth in the NFL). Each wide out may not get a ton of opportunities, so they must make the most of them. Their defined roles must be executed – Bess garnering third down conversions, Benjamin running fly routes, and Little getting open in the second level (ten to twenty yards downfield). The passing game will not put up a great deal of yardage, but catching the football and securing it will greatly help the confidence of Weeden as well as put the team in spots to succeed. Outside of Jordan Cameron’s monster second preseason game, the tight ends have been unproductive this year. The team picked up two rookies in MarQueis Gray and Keavon Milton on Sunday. I would be surprised if either saw the field on offense, thus it would appear that this unit might be quiet again. I hope Cameron can find the end zone once or twice but the Dolphins’ defense might not let that happen.

Many feel the Browns will not have issues with the outside of the offensive line this year. For good reason, tackles Joe Thomas and Mitch Schwartz will hold their own – however they open the 2013 season against pass rush specialist Dion Jordan. The rookie is big and fast; he will have success getting to Weeden but not so much to single-handedly tip the scales his team’s way. However, with Cameron Wake on the other side, Weeden will be forced to deliver his passes quickly (and perhaps errantly). I anticipate a few sacks, but as long as the Browns’ quarterback protects the ball then the offense should be ok. Oniel Cousins won the starting right guard job – the veteran will get beat from time to time but opening holes in the running game is paramount. Otherwise he could get the hook and rookie Garrett Gilkey would be inserted. Nonetheless, running plays will be geared more to the left side – using a strength to help the offense.

Defense: The healthy rotation upfront will be on hand for the home team, and I look for this being a huge advantage – especially late in the contest. Fresh legs and inserting Ishmaa’ily Kitchen and Billy Winn (who could be starters in the league) should keep pressure on the visiting offense all game. I would like to see several big hits and a forced fumble (or two) from this unit. If the linebackers breeze by the offensive tackles, the Dolphins game plan will change to more runs up the middle. This is where Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, and Desmond Bryant come into play against the twenty-ninth rushing team in the preseason. Additionally, I hope the defensive line does what opponents did to them in 2012. Rushing up field, getting their arms up, and batting down passes – causing frustration and possible turnovers.

It’s now time to see whether Paul Kruger can get off to a great start in Cleveland. The free agent acquired in March is expected to have a big season and is facing a Dolphins’ squad that features a pair of struggling offensive tackles. I envision multiple sacks and tackles for losses for Kruger and Jabaal Sheard – Mingo’s status is uncertain but if he takes the field then production will follow. Troubles with stopping the run have been a thorn in this franchise’s side since returning to the league in 1999. Craig Robertson and D’Qwell Jackson will have their hands full attempting to contain Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. The defensive duo has played well in August, but the regular season is another animal. I think the visiting team will do well on the ground, but the Browns will prevent large gains.

The biggest question mark for the defense has been its secondary; they have done little to quell those fears. Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline are a solid pair of targets, and whoever lines up away from Joe Haden can have a big day. I doubt Buster Skrine will shut down his opponent, but he will be successful if he can keep from committing penalties and getting beat. Chris Owens and Leon McFadden are the wildcards; if they look the way they have been – Ryan Tannehill will take advantage of those mismatches. The Browns’ secondary will succumb to both solid plays and catches by receivers. If they drop this game, it will (more than likely) be because the visitors flung the football all over the field. However, I feel the secondary will be good enough to give the Browns an opportunity to win.

Special Teams: Travis Benjamin, Christian Yount, and Spencer Lanning are the only three special teamers who have played well with the Browns in 2013. The kicker, kick returner, and coverage teams still need to prove they can be reliable. In a contest that could come down do a field goal or a botched punt; the Browns must win this aspect of the game. I have faith that Lanning can do well, but it all comes down to making kicks and limiting the opponent in the return game.

Coaching: I am very excited to see what Chud and Turner can do with this offense; they won’t have all of their tools just yet but should put Weeden in spots to do damage on the field. Of equal anticipation is the defense under Ray Horton – I suspect it will be similar to Rob Ryan’s defense a few years ago. However, this unit has young, fast athletes better equipped to terrorize Ryan Tannehill.

Prediction (My 2012 Record – 11 – 5): The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting different results. However, I must be insane, as I believe the Browns will win their first opener in nearly a decade. Weeden and Richardson get it done on offense, and while the defense gives up more than they want to – the Browns win 27 – 23.

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Posted by on September 5, 2013 in NFL Season