The Cleveland Browns played one good quarter of football on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, and it was not enough to get the win, as the team fell 27-17 to their Ohio neighbors. Losing the season opener has been a habit for this team, as they have won only one season opener since returning in 1999 (2004 against the Baltimore Ravens), and this season’s opening loss was no different than year’s past.
Penalties (11 for 72 yards), mistakes, and an inability to move the ball were what contributed to the Browns downfall on Sunday afternoon, and the efficient offense of the preseason was only available for brief glimpses in the first half. After the Browns scored their second touchdown to take the lead at 14-13, the offense essentially disappeared, managing only a field goal in the second half.
The Browns knocked rookie quarterback Andy Dalton out of the game at the end of the first half, as Phil Taylor hit him hard, injuring Dalton’s wrist. The defense was hard-hitting during the entire game, playing physical and breaking up a number of plays (Joe Haden broke up five pass plays of his own). The defense also had four sacks, two of which belonged to linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.
The real shame of this game, though, is that the defense will be remembered for coming out of the huddle slowly as the Bengals quickly snapped the ball, catching the Browns off-guard, allowing Bruce Gradkowski to throw an easy touchdown to A.J. Green late in the fourth quarter. Head coach Pat Shurmur believes the Bengals illegally snapped the ball that led to the game-winning catch. He had this to say about the play:
“My understanding is when the offense changes personnel, the defense is allowed to do so as well and have time to do it. I’m going to go back and watch the tape, but we’ll all see if that actually happened.”
The Browns are a very young team, and games like these should be expected as part of the maturation process. That doesn’t make the loss feel any better for fans, but this is something everyone – both the players and the coaches – can learn from. Hopefully, the Browns will be better prepared for next Sunday’s game in Indianapolis.
Here are some more notes on the Browns’ loss to the Bengals:
- It was an ugly day for Colt McCoy, as he went 19 of 40 for 213 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, but he wasn’t getting a lot of help from his offensive line, particularly on the right side. With right tackle Tony Pashos out, new acquisitions Oniel Cousins and Artis Hicks were given the job of protecting that side, and there wasn’t much success. The Bengals were able to consistently get pressure on McCoy, often forcing him out of the pocket.
- McCoy also didn’t get a lot of help from his receivers, who dropped far too many passes. The West Coast offense – and any offense for that matter – will only succeed if the receivers can catch those short to intermediate passes and that just wasn’t happening on Sunday.
- One of the few bright spots of the game was tight end Evan Moore, who finished with three catches for 35 yards and a touchdown. It may not look like much, but it is obvious right now that McCoy and Moore have the best connection on the field.
- Wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi had an impressive game as well, leading all receivers with 77 yards on three catches. It was surprising to see him inserted as the No. 1 receiver, but he played well.
- A.J. Green is going to be a great NFL receiver. A lot of credit needs to go to the defense for containing him, as his only catch came on the 41-yard game-winner. Unfortunate, yes, but Joe Haden was solid in defending him throughout the rest of the game. Sheldon Brown was notably burned on an early move by Green.
- The disturbing trend of the second half was the Browns’ inability to throw the ball downfield. In the first half, McCoy connected on two deep throws, one of which resulting in a Ben Watson touchdown. McCoy was accurate in those throws, and the Browns seemed to develop an offensive rhythm. Nevertheless, the second half was a different story, as most of their offensive series were full of checkdowns, often the result of McCoy being pressured.