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Winning feels good, doesn't it? Let's get in to how the Browns finally snapped their 11-game losing streak.
The news of Jimmy Haslam officially taking over as the new owner of the Cleveland Browns, and that Mike Holmgren will retire at the end of the season, has dominated the topic of conversation today. But, let's not forget that the Browns are coming off their first win of the season, as Haslam acknowledged in his press conference on Tuesday:
I was really most excited for our fans. As we left the stadium, an hour or so after the game, there were still thousands of people around, and I didn’t no better, I would have thought we’d just won the AFC Championship instead of winning our first game in 11 months.
Let's take a look at some of the reasons why the Browns were able to come away with a victory against the Bengals, starting with awarding our game ball.
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WEEK 6 - CINCINNATI BENGALS VS. CLEVELAND BROWNS (COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)
- Awarding the Game Ball: WR Joshua Cribbs - For the past couple of seasons, fans have started to question whether Cribbs still had the it factor when it came to kick and punt returns. During the 2012 campaign, particularly the past two games, he has more than delivered.
Facing a 14-7 deficit in the third quarter, Cribbs fielded a punt near his own end zone and dodged several tackles en route to a 60-yard return. That set the Browns up 30 yards away from the end zone. It only led to a field goal, but it helped Cleveland chip away to make it a 14-10 game.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Browns had the lead. After the Bengals kicked a field to cut Cleveland's lead to 20-17, Cribbs returned a kickoff 44 yards to their own 37 yard line. Brandon Weeden then led a touchdown-scoring drive for a two-possession lead.
Without Cribbs' returns, it would have made it a little more difficult to come back and win. Remember, prior to Cribbs' return, the Browns had five straight three-and-outs. They still had a three-and-out on that series too, but knowing that they got points out of it starts to change the momentum and put pressure on the Bengals.
The Browns are also ranked second in the league on both kickoff and punt returns, and that is a tribute to Cribbs. The veteran returner also had two tackles on special teams.
- Goat of the Game: S Usama Young - I think Young is a backup safety who has been vulnerable as a starter. The downside for the coaching staff right now is that they don't exactly have a lot of depth at the position to replace him.
Young was largely responsible for two of the Bengals' touchdowns. On Cincinnati's second series of the game, facing a third-and-1, Andy Dalton hit tight end Jermaine Gresham on a quick slant. Let's take a look at the GIF again:
First, we have LB Craig Robertson lined up on Gresham. Robertson gets stiff-armed at first, but there's a good chance he'll still be able to drag the big tight end down. Instead, Usama Young, who has a good opportunity to make a tackle on a guy who is busy stiff-arming someone else, completely whiffs on Gresham and takes out Robertson in the same process. Side note: I am not defending T.J. Ward's decision on this play either.
Later in the game, the Browns gave up a short touchdown pass to A.J. Green. If you only look at the GIF, you don't know who is responsible:
What you don't see is this (actually, you can see it if you look closely, but the stillshot emphasizes is more):
That is Young down on the ground. He was trying to cover Green coming out of a crossing route. He was flagged for defensive holding, and to make matters worse, he fell down too, giving Cincinnati a relatively easy touchdown.
Staying With It: Whew, I spent quite a bit of time talking about the game ball and the goat, eh? One thing I've really liked with Brandon Weeden is that with the exception of the first game against the Eagles, Weeden has not crumbled after a big mistake, like Andy Dalton did. He caught a bad break when he had a tipped pass intercepted in the first quarter. Then, he lost his starting running back to injury, the offense had a lot of three-and-outs in a row.
The Browns then finished strong with three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, even though one of those came on the defensive side. This was another great learning experience for a young (in terms of experience) Browns team, and they can use this to their advantage if they face early deficits against teams like the Ravens and the Steelers later this season.
"Coop" It Up on Third Down: In his first regular season NFL game, Josh Cooper saw 21 snaps and was targeted three times, coming away with two catches. Here is a recap of each of his three targets:
1st Target: On the opening possession, the Browns faced a 3rd-and-7. Cooper started out in the slot, with Greg Little on the outside. As you can see in the circle, Little does a little pick play of sorts to shield the cornerback who is in man coverage on Cooper. Weeden doesn't hesitate going to his former college teammate for 28 yards and a first down.
2nd Target: Later in the first quarter, the Browns were facing another 3rd-and-7. Cooper makes a nice move to get a little bit of separation from the guy covering him. With that said, a nice throw and a nice catch are both required for Cooper to be able to turn this upfield and get a first down. Both players execute.
3rd Target: The next and final time Cooper was targeted came at the start of the third quarter. This time, it was a 3rd-and-10 play. To me, it seems like the Browns called the same play they ran when Cooper was first targeted for a gain of 28 yards. This time, the cornerback doesn't get tangled up in Little's pick as much. Weeden reacts appropriately by throwing the pass to where only Cooper can get it. The timing is just a bit off by one of the two guys, but the right idea was there.
We'll see if Cooper remains part of the offense against the Colts if Mohamed Massaquoi or Travis Benjamin end up returning.
Momentum Killer for the Bengals: I really felt discouraged at the end of the first half. The Bengals had a 14-7 lead and were 41 yards away from the end zone. There were 0:19 on the clock, and Cincinnati had no timeouts. Andy Dalton dropped back and threw what looked like a duck to A.J. Green, who was in the slot. I thought one of the two defensive backs -- Joe Haden or Buster Skrine (Skrine had the primary coverage on Green) would get an interception.
Instead, Green came down with the catch. The Bengals ran up to the line, and the referee set the ball down with 0:03 left on the clock. Dalton did a pretty slow job of taking the snap and spiking the ball, in my opinion, to force time to expire. It was the right call by the officials, because the stoppage of clock rarely works precisely like that. This isn't the NBA where they review these close instances either. One thing to ponder, though: what if the Bengals had just decided to throw a pass in that situation for the end zone instead of spiking it? I'm not so sure we had an ideal matchup:
The two Browns in the yellow circles are T.J. Ward and Usama Young. Do we like them in pass coverage? Not really. Who is the lone receiver down here for the Bengals? The speedy Andrew Hawkins. If I'm the Bengals, I would've liked my odds of Hawkins beating Ward to the end zone for a touchdown. Of course, the Bengals never had their mind set on doing that, and the communication of such a thing in a short period of time is easier said than done. Fortunately, the Bengals didn't score, and that made me feel a whole lot better heading into the second half.
The Wrath of Joe Haden: Did the offense play and better against the Bengals than they had in other weeks? They played well, but I think you could say that they were just as effective moving the ball the first time these two teams met, and against the Giants. We mentioned the impact that Joshua Cribbs had on special teams earlier. The big positive was the return of Joe Haden on defense. He defended three passes, had one interception, and made sound tackles.
In the second quarter, Andy Dalton rolled out to his left and tried to throw a pass to Armon Binns, who was camped out on the sidelines (shy of a first down). Haden jumped the route and just missed hauling in an interception.
In the third quarter, Dalton lofted a pass down the left sideline for A.J. Green. Haden has the awareness and athleticism to get his head around and not only tip the pass, but spike it in the complete opposite direction of the intended receiver. The Browns forced a punt after a stop on the next play.
On Haden's interception on the following drive, he was guarding the outside receiver tight enough that he was able to sneak a peak at the quarterback. He saw Dalton rolling to his side, and Green running underneath him with Buster Skrine in coverage. Seeing the throw was about to come, Haden stopped covering his guy and was in position for a possible tip or tackle, "just in case." The tight coverage by Skrine forced the ball to bounce off of Green's hand and right to Haden.
Yes, Haden did get beat late in the fourth quarter by Green for a 57-yard touchdown. We can't let that happen, especially since we know what the Bengals are trying to achieve. It happened, what can I say. I don't think we need to try to find an excuse for Haden, such as "maybe he's not conditioned enough yet." I said before the game that Haden and Green would each have their fair share of big plays, and that's what happened. At the end of the day, it just so happened that Haden's lift ended up having more of an impact than Green's.
Hardesty Delivers: On the final two drives for the Browns, when they were trying to milk the clock and the box was loaded, Hardesty rushed 5 times for 10 yards. Those plays still count, of course, but let's take those stats away and see what Hardesty did as a substitute for Trent Richardson besides those five carries: 10 carries for 46 yards (4.6 average), and his first career touchdown. I said all along that Hardesty would fulfill the role of the starter, not Chris Ogbonnaya, should Richardson get injured, and that's what happened. That's the value of keeping Hardesty active, even if you don't play him.
Did Hardesty earn reps when Richardson is healthy? I don't want to think of it as "reducing Hardesty's reps." Instead, I hope it is an eye opener for the coaching staff. There are times when Richardson could use a breather on a play that isn't a third down. On the same note, it'd be nice to have a guy who they trust as a running back instead of Ogbonnaya. That's what Hardesty can bring. Even if he's only used for two carries a game, he can still be an asset on those couple of plays.
Weeden's Mistakes: I still want to cite a couple of mistakes that Brandon Weeden needs to learn from. First, obviously something needs to be done about the tipped passes. We could hypothetically be dominating an opposing team, but a simple tipped pass could kill all of our momentum when it doesn't have to. Second: be smart about the game situation. The only time I thought, "errr, rookie quarterback" to myself came in the fourth quarter on a third-down play.
The Browns needed four yards for a first down. Weeden faced a little bit of pressure from his left side after a playfake. His decision was to throw the ball quickly off his back foot to a crossing Benjamin Watson.
First, as you can see, their are four hungry Bengals waiting to eat up Watson. There is zero chance he can get a first down here unless he goes Gronk on everyone. Second, the ball is thrown ahead of Watson's outstretched arm, and you can see where it lands. That is too close for my liking to be a pick six when you have a ten-point lead and can't even get a first down on this route. The best decision for Weeden? If you can't get a first down, the next best thing is to keep the clock running. In this case, it probably would've forced the Bengals to call another timeout. Instead, the pass fell incomplete, and the Bengals got to keep another timeout in their back pocket. Boo.
- Snap Counts on Offense & Defense: If you missed them, here are the links to our Week 5 snap count trackers for offense (link) and defense (link). On offense, RB Montario Hardesty saw more action than Trent Richardson due to an injury, and TE Jordan Cameron played more than Alex Smith. On defense, all four members of the secondary played in 100% of the snaps for the first time this season, and we didn't get to see much of James-Michael Johnson with the nickel defense out there more times than not.
Finding Richardson's Injury: I know the coaching staff indicated that Trent Richardson hurt his ribs in the first quarter, but I wanted to find the play in which it happened, and I think it did. The Browns' first four plays on offense were as follows: 5-yard pass to Richardson, 12-yard pass to Richardson, run for -1 yards for Richardson, and run for 4 yards for Richardson. I tried to see if Richardson got contacted in the ribs on any of those plays, but it didn't seem like it. Three plays later, Richardson had a carry that went for only one yard. I couldn't tell if anyone got a direct shot at Richardson's ribs, but you can see at least five Bengals standing him up on the play:
Then, right after the officials blow the play dead, you can see Richardson touching his rib area as he emerges from the pile.
(Not shown), Richardson continued holding this area as he began going off the field. The next play was a third down, which went to Chris Ogbonnaya for a first down. The next play was the interception. The running back in on that play? Montario Hardesty. Case closed?
- Special Teams Tackles: The Browns had six special teams tackles. WR Joshua Cribbs and DB Johnson Bademosi had two tackles each. LB Craig Robertson and LB James-Michael Johnson had one tackle each. CB Buster Skrine and S Ray Ventrone each had an assist. The Browns gave up a big punt return (32 yards) to the Bengals for the second time this season, but they remained solid on their kickoff coverage.
- Brownies: The one gaffe that Phil Dawson has had this season is a kickoff going out of bounds; besides that, he is a perfect 12-of-12 on field goals. ... The Browns converted 7-of-17 (41%) of their third-down conversions. ... The time of possession was in favor of the Bengals, but only by three seconds. ... The Browns should have had another fumble recovery when Cedric Peerman lost a ball, but the officials said that his forward progress has stopped [bad call]. ... Great game for Sheldon Brown, who had the big pick six and showed again why he's still a good No. 2 corner, as long as there's a true No. 1 corner like Haden in the mix. ... Despite being active, RB Brandon Jackson didn't see any snaps on offense or special teams. ... OG John Greco filled in well for Jason Pinkston, but the guy I'd really like to see him in for is Shawn Lauvao. ... The Bengals "are who I thought they were."