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Keeping it close: The Cleveland Browns lost another game that came down to their final drive before ultimately falling short to the Baltimore Ravens 23-16. Is this a moral victory?
No such thing as moral victories:
I don't believe in moral victories. Losing a game close that most people don't expect you to compete in is still a loss. There can be positive things to take note of, but if the final score is still in the opposing teams favor, there's no victory. This year the Browns have kept three of the four games within one possession. The other was within two. As a Browns fan, this feeling should be familiar. In the past two seasons Cleveland has had at least half of their losses within one possession. It goes back even farther if measuring the amount of losses within two possessions. In the four seasons from 2008 to 2011, three of them had nine losses within two possessions, and the lone standout, 2009, had eight of them. This speaks to the parity in the NFL. The gap between winning and losing in this league often isn't all that large. The issue for the Browns, at least in this season, is that can't seem to start or finish games. When the difference between winning and losing comes down to only a mere handful of plays, Cleveland needs players that can make them and coaches that can call them.
Despite his claims otherwise, Pat Shurmur's offense continued their trend of coming out flat to begin the game. It took the Browns until 7:24 left in the second quarter before they passed their own 40-yard line. It was on that drive, their sixth of the game, that Cleveland scored their first points. Starting from the six, they drove 94 yards almost entirely through the air and capped it off with a 1-yard touchdown run by Trent Richardson to put the game back within three.
A "dropped pass" isn't an official statistic, but there is no doubt that the drops have plagued this Browns' offense through the first quarter of the season. It doesn't tell the whole story, but checking out the number of targets compared to catches made can at least give you an idea of where this passing game is struggling. Greg Little and Jordan Norwood had 10 targets each, but only recorded four receptions, respectively. Tight end Jordan Cameron was targeted six times but only came away with one catch. Travis Benjamin was targeted five times and only caught two. All of the aforementioned players had drops. On the flip side, Josh Cribbs went two for two, but was knocked out of the game after a hard hit to the head on a punt return late in the first quarter. Josh Gordon went one for one but was mostly a non-factor, seeing the least number of snaps other than the injured Cribbs. Veteran tight end Ben Watson may have had the best outing catching five of the six balls that went his way for 52 yards, his highest numbers of the season.
Despite five dropped passes on Thursday and more controversy over celebratory first down gestures, the Browns cannot afford to bench Greg Little. They need every receiver that they can get right now, especially with Mohamed Massaquoi's status uncertain. When you're winless and potentially coaching for your job, leaving your leading receiver on the bench to send some sort of message would not be wise, not when your other options are either also dropping passes or not getting open.
The Browns' run game is still very pedestrian. While Richardson did have a much better outing this week against the Ravens than he did at home against the Bills, this team still needs more of from him. We know what he's capable of from the game against the Bengals. Cleveland needs more of those kinds of performances. With Shurmur at the helm, the scheme isn't likely to change. Richardson has to make plays. Short yardage goal-line touchdowns are good, but game long rushes for only six and seven yards is disappointing.
As with every game the Browns have played since Haden's suspension, the secondary continued to struggle. They are a liability at this point. Anquan Boldin, on his way to a game and season-high 131 receiving yards, was giving Dimitri Patterson fits. Of course, Torrey Smith had a fine night as well with six catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. Ray Rice actually did just as much work after the catch as he did rushing.
Speaking of which, the Browns' defense actually did a good job of keeping Rice in check on the ground. They held him to a season-low 49 rushing yards on 18 carries and no touchdowns. It was actually Baltimore backup rookie RB Bernard Pierce who came in and rushed for 48 yards of his own on only six carries that allowed the Ravens to run for over 100 yards as a team.
Even though Flacco and the Ravens' passing game had a good enough night to win the game, the Cleveland pass rush was getting pressure. Each of the team's four sacks came from players recording their first of the season, including second-year Jabaal Sheard, Ahtyba Rubin, Scott Fujita, and Usama Young. This ties the Browns once again for fifth in the league in total sacks.
Undrafted LB Craig Robertson manages to nab his second interception of the season. He still only played in 54 percent of the defensive snaps, down from 86 percent last week. Robertson's interception marked the only forced turnover of the game for the Browns, a category that hasn't favored them outright since Week 1 against the Eagles.
If moral victories did exist, I suppose these are what they would have been in the Week 4 loss:
Although his passer rating might suggest otherwise, Brandon Weeden looked good against the Ravens. The interception to Baltimore's Cary Williams was a terrible decision. The silver lining to that mistake, however, was that he came back out seemingly unaffected by the previous mental error. Despite quite the slew of drops, including possible touchdowns, Weeden still managed to pass for 320 yards and made history.
His 320 yards are the second-most by a Browns rookie, trailing the 322 he totaled earlier this season at Cincinnati on September 16. Weeden is the only rookie in team history to throw for 300 or more yards multiple times in one season. He joins Derek Anderson (three in 2007) and Kelly Holcomb (two in 2002) as the only Browns to throw for 300 or more yards multiple times in a single-season since the club returned in 1999.
One other interesting tidbit is that in both of those years (2002, 2007) the Browns finished with a winning season.
If there were ever a player that personifies moral victories, Phil Dawson would be it, and I mean that in the best possible way. Kicking three of three 50+ yard field goals in one game is incredible feat for anyone, but to do it at 37-years-old makes it that much more impressive. He's solidified his status as one of, if not the greatest post-expansion Browns player.
Once again, this team has shown flashes of competence. The touchdown drive was one, for example. They just can't seem to manage any sort of consistency. On offense, it's primarily an issue with the receivers. On defense, it's primarily an issue with the secondary. Overall, I still have my reservations about Shurmur's head coaching. Though, I'm not sure Jimmy Haslam will come to the same conclusion when he gains league approval and can begin to make franchise decisions.