The Cleveland Browns have been fighting an uphill battle in each of their first four games. The script has been the same.
Step 1: Fall behind early due to porous defense and no offense.
Step 2: As Pat Shurmur would put it, "battle" back into the game.
Step 3: Whether it be offense or defense, one of the units fails to come through for that finally rally.
Moral victories let you be optimistic for the future, but that's not what this team or the fans want to settle for right now. The Browns haven't shown the ability to overcome the deficits they've faced in these games. Against the Ravens, the Browns fell behind 9-0 in the second quarter. They almost rallied back by the end of the third, but by virtue of being behind, one mistake makes things even worse. After a pick six by Brandon Weeden, Cleveland was down 23-16 heading into the final period. If the Browns are able to mount a touchdown or a pair of field goals in the first quarter of games, it will make a world of a difference for how the rest of the game goes. Let's get to my complete review of last Thursday's loss to the Ravens.
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WEEK 4 - CLEVELAND BROWNS VS. BALTIMORE RAVENS (COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)
- Goat of the Game: WR Greg Little - Should I spare you the explanation? Maybe the picture below will convey the message simply enough:
As frustrated as I have been with Greg Little, we do need to ride things through with him for the rest of the season. Right now, the Browns are an 0-4 team. Clearly, we're not going to become the first team in league history to make the postseason after that type of start. The rest of the season should be about trying to continue to develop the talent you have. Little is still a second-round pick from a year ago. The number of drops he's had have been bad, but players have worked through them before. I'm not saying he will, but I'd rather see if he can evolve over the next 12 games before the team makes a decision on his role for next season.
- Awarding the Game Ball: K Phil Dawson - Despite seven dropped passes by the Browns, one of the reasons they were able to stay in it was Phil Dawson. Think about it -- this past weekend for Washington, Billy Cundiff missed three field goals: from 41, 57, and 31 yards out. Dawson, meanwhile, went 3-of-3 from 51, 50, and 52 yards. Each kick was down the middle with plenty of room to spare. We saw Lawrence Tynes from the Giants come up short on a 55-yard field goal attempt to win the game against the Eagles on Sunday Night. If the Browns didn't have an awesome kicker like Dawson, we may have been looking at a 23-7 loss.
- Too Many Pass Attempts? This marked another week in which the Browns passed the ball a lot more than they ran it. Brandon Weeden attempted 52 passes, while our running backs combined for 15 carries. Last year, I would have been upset by that disparity. This year, that hasn't been the case. The reason is the appreciation I have taken in Weeden throwing the ball down the field and giving our receivers an opportunity to make a big play. Trent Richardson ran the ball hard against the Ravens again, but with how they lined up on defense for a lot of plays, they challenged Weeden to beat the blitz. Weeden came through, but his receivers didn't. If those catches are made, disparity would have been lessened.
- Where Things Go Wrong (First Drive): The introduction talked about the poor start to games that the Browns are having offensively. Let's take a look back at their first drive. The first play had Trent Richardson gaining a tough seven yards up the middle. On second down, Brandon Weeden hits Greg Little on a quick slant after a three-step drop. First down.
On the next play, the Browns got a bit creative by having a rolling pocket to the right for Weeden. Weeden showed the type of mobility I had been looking for from him and then delivered a precision throw at the sidelines for Little. He dropped it. That is the drive killer for Cleveland. The Browns gained three yards with Richardson on second down.
Facing a third-down situation, the Browns weren't able to pick up the pressure coming from the middle, and Ray Lewis gets a free shot at Weeden. None of the receivers are looking at this point, so Weeden has to unload to Chris Ogbonnaya in the flat to the left. The pass gets tipped by the defender on the far left of the picture, and Cleveland has to punt.
- Where Things Go Wrong (Second Drive): On the next drive, the Browns try to get creative again by hitting Joshua Cribbs on a wide receiver screen. Ben Watson can't sustain his block, which disrupts the play, but Cribbs still manages to get two yards. The next play is a run by Trent Richardson for three yards.
On third down, you can see Ray Lewis coming free again. The Ravens seemed to do a good job pre-snap disguising what they were going to do, which is why Chris Ogbonnaya has no one to block to Weeden's left. You can see the Browns with an option over the middle this time, and that is Joshua Cribbs. Lewis hits Weeden as he throws, resulting in a low throw, but Cribbs has the hands to make the catch and register a first down.
The next play is a drive killer again, and it involves Greg Little. The Browns threw him a quick pass behind the line of scrimmage for a WR screen. Upon catching it, Little falls, resulting in a loss of two yards. On second-and-long, the Ravens are playing the run, giving two of the Browns' receivers single coverage. The play still goes to Richardson, who runs into Ben Watson on the play and gains nothing. This time, on third down, the Ravens only bring four guys. Weeden has time to throw, but Jordan Cameron can't haul in a high (but catchable) pass. Cameron ran his route about two yards short anyway; if he went that extra distance initially, maybe it's an easier catch for him. The drive ends, and the Browns punt.
- Where Things Go Wrong (Third Drive): The Browns had a great-looking play to start the next drive, and I'll talk about that in my "plays to remember" post later tonight or tomorrow. On the next play, Trent Richardson had another good run to get Cleveland to midfield. Unfortunately, the play was called back due to a holding penalty on Joe Thomas. I thought it was a tacky hold, but it's the time of penalty that you just have to deal with. If that wasn't the drive killer, then the next play was: on 1st-and-20, Weeden threw a pass to Greg Little that would've cut the first down distance in half. The outcome of the play?
Ouch. That's three consecutive drives that Little had a bad play. Facing a 2nd-and-20, the Browns basically mailed it in for the next two plays with a run play and another WR screen that didn't get them much yardage.
- Where Things Go Wrong (Fourth Drive): The Browns were down 7-0 heading into their fourth drive. The first play was a low throw by Brandon Weeden, intended for Travis Benjamin. The throw could have been higher, but is still appeared to hit Benjamin in the hands, and he had a little bit of time to come back to the ball too. Second down is a nice five yard run by Trent Richardson. On third down, there are no routes over the middle again despite the Ravens bringing pressure. Weeden's pass to the sideline for Chris Ogbonnaya is incomplete. Another punt.
The Browns went three-and-out on their fifth drive after another dropped pass and a sack before finally finding some success the rest of the game. There were still plenty of missed opportunities by receivers later in the game, though, by players like Greg Little and Jordan Norwood.
- Bottling Up Ray Rice: It's tough to stop Ray Rice on the ground and through the air. If he struggles in one element, chances are he is going to succeed in the other. Considering Rice averaged 174.5 yards per game against the Browns last year, holding him to 96 total yards is a big reason the Ravens didn't point up a lot more points. Instead, the Ravens relied on Joe Flacco to come through, and he did just that, connecting with Anquan Boldin 9 times for 131 yards despite decent coverage by Dimitri Patterson. The players who excelled in limiting Rice's runs were Billy Winn, Ahtyba Rubin, Frostee Rucker, Jabaal Sheard, and D'Qwell Jackson. It was a complete effort up front, but Winn, in particular, continues to impress me.
- Snap Counts on Offense & Defense: If you missed them, here are the links to our Week 4 snap count trackers for offense (link) and defense (link). On offense, with Mohamed Massaquoi and Joshua Cribbs out, the coaching staff opted to give more reps to Travis Benjamin and Jordan Norwood than they did to Josh Gordon. On defense, Craig Robertson still saw plenty of reps as the nickel linebacker, but Scott Fujita and Kaluka Maiava were back in the 4-3 defense. Sheldon Brown saw starter reps over Buster Skrine.
- Special Teams Tackles: The Browns had five tackles on special teams, one each from FB Owen Marecic, LB Tank Carder, LB Craig Robertson, LB Kaluka Maiava, and CB Johnson Bademosi. S Ray Ventrone was active and played more than anyone else on special teams, but did not register a tackle.
- Making the Punts Nonreturnable: P Reggie Hodges continues to be instructed to punt with the intention of not even allowing a return. He had seven punts; two of them went out of bounds, one was downed by the Browns, three were fair caught, and one was returned for no gain. It makes Hodges' average lower (41.4 yards per punt) and I think we need to be more aggressive in trying to pin teams back in those situations, but he appears to be doing what is being asked of him.
- Brownies: LB Craig Robertson did a great job dropping back into coverage for a first quarter interception. ... As much as I hate the hit on Joshua Cribbs, it fell within the rulebooks and one that I'd love to see one of our special teamers make (minus the injury). ... The Browns only converted 3-of-15 (20%) of their third-down attempts. ... LB Scott Fujita did a nice job busting up a fleaflicker that the Ravens tried to run. ... Brandon Weeden was only sacked once but got hit eight times. ... The Ravens were credited as having 11 passes defended. ... I still like Jordan Norwood's elusiveness, but his strength is not going up for the football, apparently. ... TE Benjamin Watson is starting to become a security blanket for Weeden. ... If the Browns need an extra receiver this week, they should just activate Brandon Jackson and split him out wide ... Jon's Week 4 reflections can be found here.
Up next, the Browns will take on the Giants this Sunday. Cleveland has a good track record as of late when it comes to beating defending Super Bowl Champions, so who knows how things will unfold. The Giants are a team that struggles to begin the year, so Cleveland might catch them at just the right time.