BALTIMORE - DECEMBER 24: Peyton Hillis #40 of the Cleveland Browns runs the ball against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Browns 20-14. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
Many teams in the NFL stuck with the status quo this season despite the lockout, including the Cleveland Browns. After a decent start-to-the-season record-wise, the Browns are heading into Week 17 with many of the same old stories: a big question mark at the quarterback position and a head coach who has not been able to win a single game against a division opponent. Pat Shurmur's Browns did put up a nice second-half fight against Baltimore this past Saturday, but it wasn't enough to deliver a long-awaited Christmas present to fans. Let's get to the full review of the game...
CLEVELAND BROWNS (4-11)
BALTIMORE RAVENS (11-4)
WEEK 16 - CLEVELAND BROWNS VS. BALTIMORE RAVENS (COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)
- Goat of the Week: QB Seneca Wallace - There were several negative moments for Wallace in this game, but his biggest one was his decision to audible to a run play just before the end of the first half. That cost the Browns some points, or at least a couple more shots in the end zone.
Then, after the Browns had gotten back in the game 20-14 (which Wallace helped play a role in), Wallace made two poor throws/decisions in a row. On a third down play, a heavy blitz came but he was unable to deliver a strong enough throw to Peyton Hillis in the flat. Then, on fourth down, he went to Hillis right away in the flat, which was a problem since a defender was on top of Hillis and just drove him out of bounds. If Wallace executes better on either of those two plays, the drive continues and we might be talking about a different outcome.
Wallace also had a first-quarter interception on a hanging ball in the flat intended for Mohamed Massaquoi.
- Awarding Game Balls: RB Peyton Hillis - This game showed just how far the patchwork offensive line has grown over the season, and it also showed why Hillis is the type of running back we need to re-sign for next year. He can take it right to these physical AFC North defenses. We even got to see him to mini-hurdles for the first time this season as he went over the 100-yard mark against a Baltimore defense. Even when the Browns were shut out in the first half, Hillis' strong running style made it possible to set up some nice playaction passes in the second half.
- Cribbs Hobbles His Way to a Score: I was stunned as I watched Joshua Cribbs race toward the end zone for an 84-yard punt return touchdown, one that sparked Cleveland's comeback attempt. It was a feel-good moment that had to bring you back to about 2-3 years ago, when returns like that were a regular thing for Cribbs. I couldn't help but rewind the tape and watch how slow Cribbs appeared to be going on the return, presumably due to his groin injury.
Even as he headed into the end zone, he appeared to be reaching for his groin. More stunning, for as "slow" as Cribbs seemed to be moving, he was gaining steps on the defenders behind him. I'm glad Cribbs finally got to break the big one. For as frustrating as it has been for fans not seeing the "old" Cribbs, I'm sure he's been just as frustrated at his lack of production on special teams.
- Cornerbacks Get It Done: I thought Joe Haden did a great job on Torrey Smith and the other receivers he was on during the game. There was a controvesial play early where Haden seemed to let Smith go by him, with safety Mike Adams a bit late on safety help up top. Still, I thought Adams did a good enough job defending the pass without interference. The referees disagreed as they threw the flag, leading to an easy Ravens touchdown. Sheldon Brown also had good coverage on Lee Evans several times. Evans finished with four targets and no catches, although Haden was covering him at least once.
- Evan Moore Fills in Well: He's not a physical player who will move a pile forward -- we saw that at the end of the first half. With Moore as the starting tight end (by default) though, we finally saw a game in which he was targeted often (seven times). He came away with 5 catches for 35 yards and 1 touchdown. Several of his receptions came in tight windows, so I don't think he showed any fear of "getting hit" prior to the catch. Tight end Jordan Cameron tried to make a nice diving catch for a first down, but he couldn't hang on as he came to the ground.
- Tremendous Effort by Little: Near the end of the second quarter, Greg Little caught a pass behind the line of scrimmage and was about to be hit for a loss of a couple yards. Little fought through several tackles on his way to a gain of nine yards. He finished the game with 4 catches for 40 yards. He made a nice one-handed catch too but it was out of bounds due to the pass. This was the second consecutive solid outing for Little, who is making up for his stretch of games with drops.
- Maiava Cutting Out the Blockers: The Browns' run defense has been a bit better the past couple of weeks, and I think that Kaluka Maiava has played a big part in that. Maiava is penetrating into the backfield, often cutting through the blockers low to get a hand on the running back in the backfield. Maiava was tied for the team lead in tackles against Baltimore with seven.
- "What If"...The Other Way: I can't bring up all of these "what-if" scenarios involving the Browns if I don't bring up the ones involving the Ravens. After having an early touchdown reception, tight end Ed Dickson blew it later in the game. Flacco delivered him two perfect passes, both of which would've gone for big gains and probably crushed any chances the Browns had at coming back. There weren't even any defenders near Dickson, and he didn't take a big hit; he just flat out dropped them.
- Mitchell Gets Involved on Offense: I was happy to see wide receiver Carlton Mitchell finally get some action in a regular season game. How long does a guy have to wait? Unfortunately, he did have one drop out of three attempts. On another catch, he caught a pass near the sideline and it almost looked like he could've turned it upfield if he had kept his balance.
- Doghouse, or Just Banged Up? It's rare that you see an active non-quarterback who doesn't participate in a single snap on gameday. Besides Thaddeus Lewis, running back Montario Hardesty was the only player who did not play a single snap. I can't imagine Hardesty was in the doghouse, so my guess is that he was basically "inactive," and would only play a little bit if Hillis or Chris Ogbonnaya went down. Speaking of Ogbonnaya, he made a nice catch with Ray Lewis defending him neat the end of the first half. With how far back the Ravens were playing in coverage, that was a good, quick read by Wallace.
- Special Teams Tackles: The Browns had four special teams tackles. S Mike Adams, LB Quinton Spears, WR Joshua Cribbs, and RB Chris Ogbonnaya each had one of those tackles.
- Brownies: The Browns were 5-of-13 on third-down conversions...one of the reasons the Browns' defense struggled early was because Baltimore started 5-of-6 on third-down conversions...the defense did better after that because the Ravens only went 2-of-11 on third down the rest of the way...I thought the Browns' special teams units kept coming close to blocking Shayne Graham's field goal attempts.
Up next, the Browns take on the Pittsburgh Steelers for the season finale. I know our draft position is on the line, but who wouldn't love a big victory over the Steelers to kick off 2012?