The Browns and Ravens matchup featured a lot of good aspects of the Browns as a football team. The problem is when the team loses, everything focuses on how awful everything is and how much hope there is not. The other thing that is depressing is the fact that the issues the Browns have do not appear to be going away this season. They may get a little bit better but they seem to be what they are going to be. Nevertheless, it is time to look at all of the positives and negatives from this game.
One of the most highly anticipated parts of this season was the acquisition of Barkevious Mingo and what all he could do for this defense. It was unclear how much run he would get with his lung issue he was coming off of, but he did not disappoint. His first snap ever in a regular season game was the first sack of his career. Mingo simply blew right by Bryant McKinnie and took Joe Flacco to the ground. Mingo was also active on special teams and drew two holding penalties in the game. Perhaps the most impressive play he had was how he ran all the way up field while the Ravens set up a screen and then chased it down from behind and tackled Ray Rice. Not everything was great for Mingo as he did go for a kill shot on a punt return when he failed to break down and try to make a tackle. Instead, he whiffed completely and the Ravens got really good field position. Mingo should only continue to improve with more time, but he is really fun to watch in the meantime.
Billy Cundiff kicks off well and he has not missed a field goal yet. To a chorus of boos both times he came out on the field in Baltimore (one of his former teams), Cundiff knocked down a pair of field goals including a 51 yarder to close out the half that put the Browns up 6-0. While people will never let Phil Dawson go, Cundiff has not done anything wrong. When he does, people will unload on him, but so far, so good.
One of the key negatives to this game was the play calling by Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner. It was not bad for the most part throughout the game, though people can find legitimate reasons to complain about the play calling when they were in the red zone, but the fourth quarter was a panicked disaster. They had the third of their inexcusable three delay of game penalties called after having to use a timeout to prevent a fourth in the first quarter. Trent Richardson touched the ball once in the fourth quarter and was off of the field quite a bit on third down throughout the game.
Beyond the fact that they should have kept feeding Richardson the ball and forcing the issue with the run the way the Ravens did, running the ball 36 times for 99 yards, but they stopped throwing the ball to Richardson as well. His only touch was a four yard dump off to Richardson; no screens, no designed passes in the flats, no runs. With the lack of weapons on this roster right now, finding ways to get the ball to what is supposed to be a franchise player is crucial. Chud had a weak excuse about keeping him fresh last week, so he must have been exhausted in the fourth quarter. Chud and Norv are both better than that and they have got to be willing to stick to their plan and find ways to get him the football.
The offensive line struggled on the right side again. Oniel Cousins was better than last week but still largely a weak link and Mitchell Schwartz had a trying day as well. The Ravens had 5 sacks and while Schwartz had tough draws with Cameron Wake last week and then Elvis Dumervil this week, he showed far more capable last season. Having better guard play inside of him would certainly help, but there are definitely questions about his ability to handle speed to the outside and Schwartz seems overly concerned with what is going on inside of him. It will be worth watching to see how he bounces back for the Vikings because the Bengals are going to be incredibly difficult. Hopefully, the Browns will have a healthy Shawn Lauvao back for that game, but Schwartz is having some early season struggles.
Greg Little is incredibly up and down with catching the football, but the only drop that looked really bad was the last one in the fourth quarter. The first would have been an incredibly difficult catch in a tunnel on a pass Brandon Weeden forced in between three defenders. He succeeded in threading the needle but that is a difficult catch to make. The second one looked like it was caused by Jimmy Smith coming down on his arm as the ball came into his hands. The last one where he was on a square in during the fourth quarter was a straight up drop off of his hands and one the Browns desperately needed in a tough spot.
While all of the focus this week will be on Little’s hands and some of it is justified, the larger issue is how much trouble he has creating separation. Most every pass thrown to Little is really well contested by the defensive back. He is rarely ever truly open and Weeden is forced to try to fit passes into a tight window. That makes it hard to get him the ball and makes it easier for defenders to be able to knock the ball out of Little’s hands. Even when Little made a few nice catches to move the chains, he was immediately getting hit and getting nothing in terms of yards after the catch. Weeden struggled and he is not the answer to the quarterback equation but the argument for him that receivers are not open is a valid one much of the time. Little’s inability to create space is a large part of that and is much more of an issue than his hands.
Buster Skrine gave up a couple of passes and will get destroyed for it by fans and media, but he was not bad this game. He was an active tackler, made some nice hits in the running game and came up with a big pass deflection early. Skrine is not a great player and probably never will be, but he is not the terrible cover corner that many make him out to be. That being said, when the Browns cannot deliver on the pass rush, the coverage as a whole gets exposed and Skrine is part of it. Ray Horton sends a lot of players on the blitz at times and when the Ravens were able to pick up the blitz, which they did well, there were huge openings in coverage down the field for Flacco. He made a few nice throws and Skrine gave up a couple passes.
Chris Owens continues to be worse than Skrine, gets picked on more in coverage and misses tackles. Overall, Skrine appears to be the better player and he seems like he could be a nice nickel corner who is able to contribute as a run defender while Owens seems to struggle to really bring much to the table. The Browns need a corner and the injuries that held up Leon McFadden in training camp have hampered his improvement. With the way Owens and to a lesser extent, Skrine are playing, one wonders how bad/injured McFadden must still be if he is unable to get on the field. It might just come down to getting him fully healthy before sending him out there, but he is really the only hope for the position to get much better this year.
The Browns run defense continues to be strong as they gave up a 2.8 yard average on 36 carries from the Ravens. The Ravens have some extremely talented offensive linemen like Marshall Yanda, Kelechi Osemele and Michael Oher along with Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce but the Browns held up strong. That really looks like something they should be able to count on all season long. Phil Taylor needs to avoid stupid penalties but really played well up front and Desmond Bryant has been fantastic as he helped to secure one sack and forced the fumble on Rice that led to the game’s only turnover. The Ravens’ longest run was for 14 yards and they deserve credit for sticking with it to keep the Browns defense honest, but that is now two games to start the season where the Browns have held the opponent under 100 yards.
On the other side, while the Browns get pressure early in games with their pass rush, a combination of offensive line adjustments and perhaps fatigue work to short circuit the rush in the second half for the second game in a row. Both Ryan Tannehill last week and Flacco this week were under significant pressure in the first half of their games while able to find time and pick apart the defense in the second half. The Browns have given up a combined 6 points in the first half this season, while giving up 27 second half points. Offenses appear to be making better adjustments than Horton and the defense. That is a pretty glaring difference.
That commentary extends to the offensive side of the ball as well. The Browns have scored 13 points in the first half, which is certainly terrible, but they scored all of 3 points in the second half. The offensive output of this team is simply putrid. Just like last week, there were a number of missed opportunities and plays that did not go their way, but that is a trend to watch.
Jordan Cameron continues to be a bright spot and while the Ravens look like they put a significant focus on trying to take him out of the game, he was able to catch 5 passes for 95 yards on 7 targets, including Weeden’s best play of the game when he stepped up in the pocket and found Cameron, who then made tacklers miss and continued running. That one play amounted for 53 yards, which was basically 20% of the Browns entire day. It set them up to get in the red zone where they only got a field goal, but Cameron has been good in two games. More help in other places would only further the amount of opportunities he has.
It is remarkable how much the lack of a legitimate quarterback can short circuit a team and while Weeden’s struggles are not the only reason the Browns lost, they are a big one. There are some bright spots and areas to be excited about, but the Browns have to get a lot better in a number of important areas starting from the coaches and going down the line. The offensive coaches will get the lion’s share of the blame but the defense, in spite of how well they were able to play their ability to keep the Browns in the game, were not without flaws themselves.