Review of Bills @ Browns – Game #5
Well the Browns garnered their third consecutive victory on Thursday, but it came with a price. Brian Hoyer left early with a severe knee injury and will be sidelined for the rest of the season. On the other side of the ball, the Browns also knocked rookie E.J. Manuel out of the contest with a knee injury. The Browns’ backup quarterback was simply better than the Bills’ reserve signal caller. Toss in a couple of touchdowns by other units other the offense, and it was a complete team victory. The Browns now have a couple extra days of rest until their next contest against the Lions.
Offense: I didn’t know how good Brian Hoyer was until he got injured. The starter got the ball out early, delivered a strike to Josh Gordon (which was a dropped touchdown – potentially), and displayed his ability to run. After Brandon Weeden relieved the hurt quarterback, the Browns were treated to a guy who held on the ball too long, took sacks, and stared down receivers. To his credit, the former Oklahoma State athlete had an admirable outing. He finished thirteen of twenty-four for 197 yards and a touchdown. However, Weeden also took five sacks – these will always be present as long as he is quarterback. The offense definitely looks different with him at quarterback (i.e. he is a “game manager”), and many things have to go right for plays to be successful. Alas, the team will rely on him for the remainder of the 2013 season – as he goes, the team goes.
I was impressed with the hard running of Willis McGahee all game long. The veteran fought on each carry, frequently against a defense that geared up for the run. At the conclusion of the contest, the rusher tallied seventy-two yards on twenty-six carries and got his first touchdown as a member of the Browns. In his last two matchups, the athlete has been averaging around three yards-per-carry – very similar to his predecessor’s numbers. In addition to Hoyer, Chris Ogbonnaya also left this game with an injury. The multi-purpose star got concussed and did not return to action. The team will rely heavily on McGahee for the remainder of the year, as Bobby Rainey has been very ineffective when given opportunities.
The home squad corps of wide receivers had decent outings on Thursday night. Both Josh Gordon and Greg Little caught a deep pass from Weeden, and finished with a combined seven grabs for 157 yards and a score. Perhaps Little (who had a tough night at returning kickoffs) can go back to being strictly a wide out; it appears that Weeden favors him as an option. Davone Bess had a pair of nice receptions and would have converted a third and fifteen if Weeden had better placement on his pass. Without Hoyer in the contest, Jordan Cameron became less of a weapon for the passing attack. Weeden was unable to routinely find the tight end in passing routes, however the veteran still managed to secure three catches and thirty-six yards.
Entering this season, the offensive line was expected to be a strength of the team – the opposite has been the case so far in 2013. Granted, they have looked better or worse depending on how quickly the signal caller released the football on passing plays. Mitch Schwartz got beat a few times off the right side of the offensive line, while Joe Thomas allowed a strip sack (which he fortunately recovered). John Greco was both good and bad on Thursday; the guard did an excellent job at pulling and kicking out defenders, but also struggled at staying home and protecting the quarterback. The unit has sizeable room for improvement, and I hope the coaching staff can determine the best way to keep from exposing their offensive line.
Defense: In the continuing theme of tested depth, the defensive line for the Browns lost another starter in Desmond Bryant (as he went to the hospital due to a shortness of breath). Filling in for the veteran was rookie Armonty Bryant, who notched his first career sack. Ahtyba Rubin led all guys upfront with eight tackles, a sack, and a hit on the quarterback. Meanwhile, Phil Taylor finished the contest with four tackles – the duo showed excellent speed up the middle. Two underrated guys on the line so far have been John Hughes and Ismaa’ily Kitchen. Neither were dominant, but they prevented the Bills from running all over the field. That being said, the team gave up over 150 yards on the ground – however fifty-four of those were on one play (with a few breakdowns). They cannot take anything for granted in this league, and teams will use this game film to try to exploit the Browns’ run defense.
The two starting outside linebackers had decent outings, but could not come up with “the big play”. In addition to four tackles, Barkevious Mingo put four hits on the opposing signal caller but never got the takedown. Being “sucked in” on the C.J. Spiller run allowed the veteran to scamper downfield for the score. Meanwhile, Paul Kruger nearly had an early interception, but finished with just a pair of tackles. I hope Quentin Groves and Jabaal Sheard return soon – to provide depth and different looks for offenses to deal with. The Bills never had a long run in the middle of the field. Both D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson were dominant – to the tune of seventeen tackles, a sack, and a quarterback hit. Overall, the front seven had a solid contest with an exception here or there.
Both defensive pass interference penalties lead to touchdowns for the visiting squad. I felt Haden and Ward were erroneously flagged however; the cornerback was grabbed by Stevie Johnson (and it looked like offensive interference), while the safety was simply playing good defense on Scott Chandler. Nonetheless, the secondary overcame these infractions and limited the Bills to less than 200 yards through the air. Robert Woods was the only real threat that the Browns had to limit; the rookie caught five passes for sixty-four yards. I though Buster Skrine actually outplayed Joe Haden; the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga product had two more tackles, defended two more passes, and recorded a quarterback hit. T.J. Ward was also at fault the Spiller long gainer, however the safety redeemed himself with a game-clinching interception (and touchdown). Tashaun Gipson was very active in the running and passing games; the free safety nearly had an interception and met Manuel at the sideline during the quarterback’s rush (causing his injury).
Special Teams: Travis Benjamin was electric in returning punts; the University of Miami star made the play of the game in the second quarter. His touchdown propelled the team to a first half lead, at a time when the offense and defense were not pulling their weight. The punting and kicking games were even and the home team was dominant in their coverage units. If the Browns can hinge on their special teams each contest, they will put themselves in position to win.
Coaching: What a commendable job the coaching staff – especially on the offensive side of the ball. Chud and Norv entered the contest with a game plan specifically for Hoyer; then his injury occurred. After a couple of miserable passes by Weeden, the coaches scrapped the game plan and went to a more balanced attack (both twenty-four runs and passes after Weeden entered). They also employed routes that Weeden is more successful at – like deeper posts and fades. The coaches will have to work their magic all season long if they want to pull out “Ws”, and hopefully Thursday’s blueprint can be replicated with success.