CLEVLAND, OH – A week ago, the Cleveland Browns played perfect football at home versus the New Orleans Saints. They flipped the familiar script their fans have grown used to over the years. On Sunday, that same losing script returned as they fell to the Baltimore Ravens on the final play of the game, 23-21 on a Justin Tucker game winning field goal as time expired. Here are my thoughts and observations from Sunday’s devastating loss.
Execution is Everything: The difference between average and good NFL teams is what was witnessed on Sunday. The Browns had two opportunities to put the Ravens on their heels late in the game and failed miserably on both of them. It’s a learning process that will take time though and Cleveland simply does not know how to close – yet.
After a well called defensive series that resulted in a Tashaun Gipson interception, the Browns got the ball inside the Ravens 35 yard line. The first play Cleveland runs is a toss sweep in which rookie running back Isaiah Crowell takes an 8 yard loss. The Browns then fought their way to get back in field goal range (just barely) only to see a Billy Cundiff 50 yard attempt clank off the left upright. This was one huge missed opportunity to put points on the board off a Ravens turnover.
The second blotched execution was after the defense stone-walled the Ravens on 4th and inches. With full momentum, the brown-and-orange decided to take a jugular shot at Baltimore. A total blown coverage allowed rookie receiver Taylor Gabriel to slip past everyone for a huge completion that put Cleveland inside the Ravens red zone. Good teams find the end zone there, the Browns did not. Due to poor recognition, a Cundiff 36 yard attempt was blocked and the momentum went back to the Ravens.
Hot Hand Hoyer: At the end of the day under Brian Hoyer, the Browns are 1-2 heading into the early season bye week. And, while Hoyer did not execute a final game sealing drive for just a first down or two backed inside of his own ten yard line, he did not lose the game. At one point in the third quarter, Hoyer was 14 of 15 and that missed pass came in the first quarter. The Browns signal caller was sacked only once by a physical Ravens defensive front.
Hoyer’s final stats: 19 for 25 with 290 yards and a touchdown. QB Rating: 127.1
Fans can call for Johnny Manziel all they want, but Hoyer will remain the starter. It’s not Hoyer’s fault the Browns are 1-2.
Go Go Gadget: I would have loved for the Manziel gadget play to work, it was genius. However, because Terrance West was not fully set, an illegal formation penalty killed the 39 yard positive play that would’ve put Cleveland back in the Ravens red zone.
Now, after hearing an explanation from Mike Pereira, a former NFL Vice President of Officiating, the play was illegal even without West’s penalty. Had Manziel lined up on the sidelines with his body turned towards the line of scrimmage instead of squared up facing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the play would’ve have been legal. But, you still have to like Shanahan’s creativity.
Help Wanted: Maybe it’s a good thing the bye week is here. Both Pro Bowler Joe Haden and first round pick Justin Gilbert are not living up to expectations so far this season. One huge DAWG Bone before this game was limiting the production of sly veteran receiver Steve Smith Sr. The Browns did not do that and his 32 yarder from Joe Flacco that toasted Haden on a simple go route proved to be the dagger in Cleveland’s upbeat heart. Smith ended up with five receptions for 101 yards.
Gilbert once again struggled in man coverage and I’m starting to believe that the rookie just doesn’t have “it” in the secondary. It’s early in the season, but Gilbert is much like Buster Skrine in his second year. He is trying to rely on his athletic ability alone and the instincts to be a solid corner in this league are just not there. Gilbert also gets schooled at the line when playing press-run. Cleveland must do something to get him better because his technique through three regular season contest and two preseason games are awful.
For what it was worth, I thought Skrine played very well, was in great position on many of his snaps, and has been Cleveland’s best cornerback this season.
Keep Your Head Up: Yes the Browns are 1-2 and winning games is all that matters, but for the first time in a long time, doesn’t feel like you’re witnessing “watchable” football again from the orange helmets. For a team that turns over their roster year in and year out, the Browns have faced three Super Bowl attendees in the last five seasons and each of those games have come down to the final play or drive.
The offense is clicking, there is a bona fide and legitimate threat at wide receiver in Andrew Hawkins, the rookie bruising running backs are downhill runners and producing very early, and the offensive line is slowly becoming one of the best in the league.
For a team that was supposed to be built on a solid defense, it has been growing pains. The veteran-led defense shows signs of greatness, then give up long gains and do not follow assignments correctly. The good news is – they can only get better.
Looking ahead, the Browns do not play for 14 days and a “cupcake” schedule is on the horizon for the next five weeks. Would it have lifted the hype and spirits to a different world had the Browns beat the Ravens? Yes, but to finally have a competitive team that plays with heart, pride, and determination is a breath of fresh air in “The Land”.
Keep your head up Dawg Pound Nation, this team is very capable of surprising you.
Ryan Ruiz is the Cleveland Browns Beat Writer for The Inscriber: Digital Magazine. You can follow him on Facebook: Ryan (BrownsWriter) Ruiz and Twitter @ryanpruiz24. Ryan is also a Browns correspondent for The Sportsfix. Tune in every Friday at noon on www.thesportsfix.net. Email Ryan at ryan.ruiz@http://126.96.36.199/~theinscr