Browns get to 5-3 – Blood, Sweat and Tears
By Joe Zevchek
I think we have a theme for this season.
On a day where the running game again mostly sputtered, the starting center was routinely dominated, and the defense once again was gashed by the run, the Cleveland Browns pulled out a win in a see-saw affair with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There seems to be some fans upset with how ugly these past two wins have been. Frankly, that’s foolish. Part of the reason for the NFL’s massive popularity is the parity that comes with it, and the good teams are often separated from the bad by only a few players, and a handful of plays throughout the season.
The post-1999 Browns have routinely found ways to lose games such as this, or the game against Oakland last week. One needs only to look back at the Jacksonville and Detroit games last year for some prime examples. But halfway through the 2014 season, the Browns are playing winning football, something we haven’t been able to say at this point in the year for 7 long years.
Last week, the Browns stayed persistent despite a slow offensive start, played solid defense throughout, and stepped on the gas in the second half to put away the Raiders, This week they overcame an inability to finish drives, giving up large chunks in the rushing game, and a fantastic game by Tampa Bay rookie receiver Mike Evans. The Browns came back not once, but twice today to take the lead and hang on to win. Simply put, they’re finding ways to win in different way, facing different situations.
They haven’t always capitalized on turnovers. Outside of the game against Pittsburgh at home, they haven’t shut down an offense. They haven’t consistently played solid, fundamental football throughout a game. True grit and determination is the only way to really explain how they’ve managed to get to 5-3, particularly with the past 2 wins, both against struggling teams. Maybe John Wayne should be the new mascot.
Some takeaways from today:
-It shouldn’t be surprising that center Nick McDonald struggled today, considering he was facing Gerald McCoy, but that was a downright unacceptable performance. There was almost no push up the middle in the running game and Brian Hoyer was mauled badly on more than one occasion. Credit offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan for calling more rollout plays in the 2nd half to negate McCoy‘s presence on passing plays. We’ll see what happens during the short week ahead but I’d imagine we see more of an adjustment in scheme rather than a shakeup in personnel. However, if McDonald plays like that again, the Browns could be in serious trouble as they look for solutions.
-The running game struggled again, despite some good bursts by Terrance West. But, there has been a consistent pattern- opponents are still respecting it. The box is getting stacked, and it’s allowed for some big-time pass plays. As long as the Browns don’t quit on it, those big passing plays should still be there, and once defenses loosen up to defend those, the running game should in turn be able to begin making gains again. Not to mention what the return of Josh Gordon should eventually open up for the whole unit.
– Despite what many people (including myself) thought, no carries by Isaiah Crowell this week. Perhaps the offensive staff is heeding the running backs’ complaints about not being able to get into a rhythm with all 3 of them playing. Seeing as how West has improved his own play the past couple of weeks, maybe this isn’t too surprising. But with the overall struggles continuing, I’m anxious to see how Crowell’s violent running style could possibly give a lift to the offense. It’s possible the short week could mean some work for him against Cincinnati, giving Ben Tate and West some recovery time after a few rough games.
– Even though he did notch a sack today, it’s getting hard to continue watching LB Barkevious Mingo out there. On at least one occasion in the first quarter, he whiffed badly on a tackle and allowed Bobby Rainey to gain 4 extra yards, and then he failed to take a good angle on a Mike Glennon scramble, giving up another chunk of yardage. I’ve been a big supporter of Coach Mike Pettine this year, but I can’t help but wonder if his constant defense of Mingo’s play was due to the way he gushed over him in the offseason. I’d rather see coach admit a mistake and adjust the depth chart accordingly. Either way, Mingo’s shoulder injury will give him a bit of a pass this season. Not to look too far ahead, but I still wouldn’t be surprised to see an outside linebacker with one of the first 2 picks next year.
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–Joe Haden has really solidified his play after struggling the first few games of the season. His tip of the ball on the Donte Whitner interception was a thing of beauty, showcasing exactly what he’s done best over the years-close in on the ball and break up the pass.
– Finally, a tip of the cap to coordinator Chris Tabor and the special teams unit. Solis coverage as usual, 2 blocked kicks and most importantly, no muffed kicks. Good special teams play will almost always give your team a chance to win.
I’ll come back later this week with my mid-season thoughts and observations for the season thus far. I’d love to hear your own comments, so leave them below and I’ll be happy to respond.