Review of Game #9 – Ravens @ Browns
What a tremendous outing for the Cleveland Browns. In front of their home crowd, all parts of the team did an exceptional job. The offense put the ball in the end zone multiple times, the defense forced turnovers, and the special teams forced a fumble. I was even impressed with Chud and his coaching decisions – this team is capable of big things if they can put it all together like they did Sunday at First Energy Stadium. The first win over the Ravens since 2007 was a great one; so let’s break it down.
Offense: Jason Campbell turned in another brilliant performance. The signal caller completed twenty-three of his thirty-five passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns. As is always important, the former Auburn star did not commit a costly turnover (one may have prevented a victory in this game). He took three sacks, but like last week, it could have been much worse if it weren’t for Campbell’s scrambling ability. In the second quarter, the Browns’ quarterback sustained a rib injury (he later returned, however) – allowing Brandon Weeden to enter the contest. Outside of an end around, the offense appeared to be lifeless once again with the backup in the game. Jason Campbell must remain healthy if the team wants a crack at playing more than sixteen games this year.
I still do not understand why the Browns continue to give the football to Willis McGahee so much. The veteran could only muster thirty-one yards on twenty-one carries – I am all for giving running backs twenty carries or more, but that must come with production. Fozzy Whittaker was given two carries and got eleven yards; he is not a “between the tackles” runner, but I would like to see him get a couple off-tackle or outside runs. In the receiving game, Chris Ogbonnaya hauled in five passes for thirty-nine yards. I believe he can compliment McGahee and Whittaker in the running game, but it appears that the coaching staff wants to use him purely as a blocker and receiver. There is plenty of room for growth with these running backs; I believe that big plays and touchdowns will come.
Greg Little and Davone Bess really surprised me; the pair of wide outs has had their issues this year, but both came up huge against the Ravens. Little had a game-high total of 122 yards receiving on seven receptions (no drops, either). He did have a dumb penalty in the second quarter, but fortunately the offense overcame it to score a touchdown. If can keep this production up, the Browns’ offense can have huge games. After a miserable game in Kansas City, Davone Bess had a pair of touchdowns – including an exceptional cut and run after securing a grab from Campbell. I thought Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron had off days; fortunately others stepped up in their absence, however. Gordon had just forty-four yards on three receptions; it was good for second-most on the team but much less than Browns’ fans are used to. The tight end Cameron had just one catch for four yards; I understand he will not dominate every game, but hopefully he can have solid outings after the team’s bye week.
This was a bounce back performance for the offensive line as well; the unit was far from dominant but they played hard and smart. False starts and holding infractions were either non-existent or limited – and the offense was able to be effective. Terrell Suggs collected seven tackles and a sack, but I felt the line kept him from having a huge day. Elvis Dumerville was invisible and did not record even one tackle. The only time the defenders got to the quarterback with ease was when they loaded up the middle while Weeden dropped back. None of the five guys upfront got beat badly and I like how they are coming along. The running game was stagnant as usual, but as past history indicates – this team can pass for a win.
Defense: Yet another commendable effort by the Browns’ defensive line. The guys upfront plugged holes and limited the visitor’s running attack. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce combined for only twenty-eight yards on seventeen carries. The home team made their guests one-dimensional and it worked as a result. Phil Taylor, Desmond Bryant, and Ahtyba Rubin did not garner tremendous stats (five combined tackles) – but all three were extremely disruptive at times. Armonty Bryant is starting to look like a steal as a seventh-round draft pick. The rookie finished the contest with three tackles, a sack, and a hit on Joe Flacco. As anticipated, the return of Billy Winn really helped the guys upfront. The former Boise State star had a pair of tackles, took a snap at fullback, and provided rest for the starting ends. This type of dominance can give the Browns a shot to play with any team in the league.
The linebackers for the home team also had a very good game on Sunday. Jabaal Sheard paved the way with three tackles, two hits on the quarterback, and a sack. Quentin Groves exceeded expectations after returning from injury; the veteran had an impactful sack on Flacco late in the contest. I thought Mingo and Kruger hassled the offense regularly, even though they did not accrue great statistics. The duo put up five tackles and defended a pass – their speed was on display on the outside. D’Qwell Jackson came away with nine stops and did an excellent job at holding down the middle of the field. The “quarterback of the defense” is putting together a nice season and his leadership is obvious. Craig Robertson had one breakdown in coverage but otherwise was solid. The linebacker had six stops and helped greatly in run support.
The trio of cornerbacks combined to control the Ravens’ offense. Chris Owens had a team-high nine tackles, a hit on the quarterback, a sack, and defended a pair of passes. He is excelling at blitzing and taking down the opposing signal caller. Joe Haden came up with his first interception of the season and blanketed Torrey Smith all game long. Outside of one long play, the top wide out of the visitors was held in check. Buster Skrine made a tremendous pass breakup on third down to force a punt. The cornerback also had three tackles – his improvement this year has been great. T.J. Ward continues to have a masterful 2013 campaign. The strong safety made seven stops, a sack, and put a hit on Flacco. The only secondary member who I thought was disappointing was Tashaun Gipson. His blown assignment late in the second quarter led to a touchdown being surrendered. He also failed to make any tackles and defended just one pass. I expect him to play better and know he can correct his errors.
Special Teams: Instead of the Browns making the huge mistake, it was the visitors who blinked in the special teams category. Tandon Doss’s muffed punt provided good field position, and the Browns scored a touchdown as a result. Spencer Lanning was brilliant in punting, and Billy Cundiff made his only attempt. The return games were average for the home team, but they won this matchup from the one costly mistake.
Coaching: This game likely surpassed the Vikings game as the best coached contest by the Browns. Chud was aggressive multiple times and while going for it twice on fourth down, the Browns converted. Ray Horton let several guys run free to get to Flacco and it worked five times. The Browns refrained from playing it safe – it was validated and I expect it to continue all season long.