Browns Fall to Colts – Missed Opportunities


It feels like we all JUST heard the same complaints, arguments and speculation only a week ago-And it’s mainly because we did.

In a game they could have, and should have been won by at least a dozen points, the Cleveland Browns fall to the Indianapolis Colts, 25-24 after Andrew Luck led a slow, grinding drive and capped it off with a 1-yard TD pass to T.Y. Hilton with 36 seconds remaining. The loss drops the Browns to a precarious 7-6, and after being the darlings of the league a month ago they have now dropped 3 of their last 4, with the latest loss AGAIN coming from a fellow conference playoff contender.

With the Bengals, Chiefs, Dolphins and Bills all losing, the Browns are still alive, but they are likely facing a scenario in which they need to win the remaining 3 games to stay alive in the playoff race. Heck, beating the Bengals next week would put the Browns back into contention for the division title.

Where does anyone start in discussing this game? The quarterback situation will obviously dominate the news this week, as it did last, and for good reason. Simply put, Brian Hoyer played awfully, even if you excuse the drops from several receivers. Why he played the whole game and what will happen next year are both great topics, and I’ll touch on them later this week after giving some time for the dust to settle.

While having Jordan Cameron back in the lineup was helpful (4 catches for 41 yards), Miles Austin is clearly going to be missed. He was having a strong year, and always seemed to be a dependable target on 3rd down, something the Browns could have desperately used today. With Josh Gordon being neutralized today (only 2 catches for 15 yards) Austin’s dependability would have been immensely helpful.

Until the end of the game, it was a fantastic day for the defense. If anyone would have been told that the Browns would score 2 defensive touchdowns, force 2 more turnovers and sack Andrew Luck 3 times, I’d imagine they’d think the Browns won the game. Unfortunately, as we so often talked about the Browns finding ways to win these close, wild games earlier this year, they found a way to lose this one. On 4th down inside the Browns’ 5 yard line with 44 seconds left, Colts RB Dan Herron plunged ahead into the line and looked to be stopped for a loss. Ballgame. Or at least it would have been, except Herron managed to bounce right and gain 2 yards, setting up Luck’s game-winning throw.

It’s hard to criticize the defense with the way they had played all day. And frankly, had the offense taken care of business better, the Browns could have been sitting with a double digit lead anyways.

But as the offense had put together clutch drives and made key plays earlier in the season, the defense needed to do so here and didn’t.

These are the plays that good teams make to win, and to the Browns credit, they have several times this year. But all of the “woulda, coulda shoulda’s” today speak to the fact that this team still needs to work harder to be true contenders.

Some more quick thoughts-

– The writing is probably on the wall for Billy Cundiff. The Browns were trying out kickers in Berea this past week and with another miss under 40 yards, it’s hard to imagine the Browns gained any confidence. My prediction machine hasn’t been extremely on point this year but I at least wouldn’t be surprised if the Browns decide they need to make a change.

– The growing pains continue for the running backs. There’s clearly some trouble running outside the hash marks, although some of that seems to be from a lack of blocking. In the 2nd quarter, Isaiah Crowell planted right in front of a hole big enough for a dump truck to get through, but for some reason cut back left and was stopped for no gain.

The next play he hit the hole with conviction and ran for a touchdown. The ability is obviously there, he just needs to consistently be patient. Terrance West had a pretty similar up and down day.

Travis Benjamin looks to be getting his confidence back. For the past few weeks he’s been returning punts like he can’t get to the sideline fast enough, but today he was showing off the speed and elusiveness that makes him such a dangerous returner. If he keeps it up its only a matter of time until he breaks one for a touchdown…

…but the special teams penalties have to end for that to happen. The improvements in the return game are continually erased by holding calls. Special Teams Coordinator Chris Tabor may have dug himself a hole that he can’t get out of.

-Most glaringly are the problems the Browns are having in capitalizing on turnovers:

The Browns are having a myriad of offensive issues, but if they can improve this stat they can hopefully ride the defense into the post season.

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These are the kinds of games that could tear a team apart, with one unit playing well and the other seemingly hopeless. Frankly, the reverse situation happened last week after the defense failed to stop Buffalo after Manziell’s TD run. Fortunately, the players are getting ahead of the issue and preaching their unity.

But all the talk in the world about accountability means nothing if the Browns don’t step up and make the plays they need to in key situations, no matter how they’ve played throughout the day. The team has thrived on that for much of the season, but sadly they have mostly failed the past 4 weeks. The season is on the line and next week’s game against Cincinnati, and if the Browns don’t get back to their clutch play we’ll quickly be relegated to talking about the draft.

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