Full disclosure: I was watching the game Sunday and was thinking of how to formulate the game into words. A Tale of Two Cities came to mind..."It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," speaking of course about the first half and second half, respectively. Well, after Brian Hoyer's game winning drive, that all got thrown out the window. What replaces it? Initially, speechlessness. Leading up to the game Sunday I truly didn't know what to expect. And if we've learned anything from this short season thus far, it's to expect the unexpected.
So Sunday the end result was a W, and while it feels good to have that first W under the belt, the Browns now might be faced with more questions than what they started. Who starts, Brandon Weeden or Brian Hoyer? Did winning ultimately hurt the team in the long run? Etc. Etc. I'll try to review the game, and try to answer some of those questions in the meantime.
Odds are if you're reading this, you watched the game, so I won't bore you with the details of every play. I'll put my takeaways in simple bullet form for your reading and viewing pleasure:
First Half -
- If you were anything like me, you were a bit concerned with the defense on the first drive of the game. The Vikings put together an 11 play, 80-yard drive in just over 5 minutes. The drive was capped off by an Adrian Peterson TD run. Peterson had 7 carries for 28 yards on the opening drive. For as good as the defense has looked this year, this was surprising.
- Cleveland responded on offense in a big way. Incomplete pass, Bobby Rainey's first career rush for 1 yard, incomplete pass, punt. I was one of the fans that thought Cleveland had to come out and not go three-and-out. But they did it anyway. However, they over came both the Vikings big first drive, and the Browns lack of a first drive.
- Welcome back, Josh Gordon. I love when the team gives you those jump-out-of-your-seat moments, and the Josh Gordon 47-yard touchdown was the first one of those for me (there were multiple). Gordon showed no signs of rust from his 2-game suspension, which is good. All Browns fans have wanted to see what the offense would like with Josh Gordon back, and clearly he adds that dynamic threat they've been missing.
- Hoyer's 2nd TD to Jordan Cameron was a thing of beauty. Hoyer found Cameron in the back of the end zone for a 19-yard TD strike. The ball was right on the money and Cameron made a nice snag for the TD.
- Trickeration leading to points is always a good thing. Trick plays are great fun, but they're only great fun if they work. The Browns employed not one, but two trick plays Sunday. The first was a Josh Aubrey direct snap on 4th and 1 from their own 38. Aubrey took the ball up the middle for the first down, and would ultimately go for 34 yards. That lead to a Billy Cundiff 38-yard field goal.
- On the next possession Craig Robertson tipped Ponder's pass over the middle, and T.J. Ward was able to pick it off which set Cleveland up with good field position. The Browns would take advantage of that field position. After a big 21-yard catch by Josh Gordon, the Browns drive fizzled out at the Minnesota 11. Chud pulled his second fast-one of the day and came out in field goal formation, but the Vikings failed to notice Jordan Cameron split out to the wide side of the field. Spencer Lanning received the snap, turned and passed it out wide and Cameron (literally) walked into the end zone. That would put the Browns up 24-14.
- The end of the first half was sloppy. Travis Benjamin muffed a punt that lead to a Vikings field goal. Up 24-17 with a minute to play the Browns came out looking for more. However, Brian Hoyer would throw a bad interception that gave Minnesota the ball right back. Minnesota got down to the Cleveland 10 yard line with under 15 seconds to play. Jabaal Sheard would then sack Christian Ponder forcing a fumble while doing so, and the ball was recovered by Craig Robertson. Craig Robertson attempted to house the fumble, but really just ran around to end the half, which was fun to watch.
Second Half -
- Cleveland came out with all the momentum after some huge plays in the first half, the strip sack to end the half, and got the ball to start the second half. Hoyer would quickly throw the ball to the defense for his 2nd interception.
- The Browns responded on defense however, stripping Adrian Peterson. Unfortunately the Browns couldn't capitalize. Both teams traded punts for a few drives before yet another Hoyer interception opened the door for the Vikings to tie it up at 24 a piece.
- After a drive early in the 4th gave the Vikings the lead 27-24, the Browns hopes were getting thin as the clock was winding down. After the Browns punted with 4:29 left, the defense had to come up big, and they did. With the help of a timeout and incomplete pass, the Browns were able to get the ball back and preserved just over 3 minutes to put together a game-winning/tying drive.
- Brian Hoyer was great on the final drive, as well as Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. Cameron was on the receiving end of the Hoyer 7-yard TD pass on 3rd down in the redzone that gave the Browns a 4 point cushion. Hoyer put yet another pass on the money where only Cameron could grab it, another beauty.
- The Vikings tried to rally, but a Desmond Bryant sack on the final play of the game secured the victory.
- The Browns won the yardage battle pretty handily. The big difference was obviously the passing game. Brian Hoyer got rid of the ball quickly throughout the day and that really was the key to this offense getting yards from the passing game.
- Adrian Peterson was held to just 88 yards on 25 carries (3.5 YPC). We've talked a lot early this season about the Browns front-seven, specifically against the run, and rightfully so. I'm sure we'll talk more and more as the season goes on because the Browns just shut down the best running back in the league on Sunday.
- One thing of note was how well this team defended the pass Sunday. Christian Ponder didn't hit the 200 yard mark, and threw no TDs, while throwing 1 INT. That's a pretty good clip for the Browns defense that has major concerns and questions in the secondary. A lot of the ability to defend the pass came again from the front-seven, they sacked Ponder 6 times.
- A random note when looking at Cleveland's rushing statistics. If asked after the game if I thought the Browns ran for 100+ yards, I probably would've answered no. But, they did. The rushing stats are a little skewed however. Josh Aubrey was actually Cleveland's leading rusher, and that came on 1 fake punt. Chris Ogbonnaya was 2nd on the team with 23 yards on just 2 carries, one carry accounted for 22 of that 23. And 3rd in rushing was Josh Gordon, who picked up 22 yards on one reverse run.
- Outside of the rushers referenced above, Bobby Rainey and Willis McGahee got the most rushes, 4 and 8 respectively. Rainey finished with 17 yards (4.3 YPC) and McGahee finished with 9 yards (1.1 YPC). So as I mentioned the big runs skewed the statistics, and the Browns didn't run the ball nearly as effectively as the box score shows.
First Downs and Conversions:
- Cleveland continued to struggle to convert on 3rd downs again this week. The Browns were 6-15 on 3rd down, 40%. The Browns have been bad on 3rd downs all season long. The opener against Miami they were flat out awful, just 1 conversion for a 7% clip. The Browns had a 26% conversion rate last week in Baltimore. So at least the Browns are improving on 3rd down.
- The Browns again went for it on 4th down multiple times. They were 2-3 on the day, both on fakes. The Browns are now 4-9 on the season on 4th down. For those scoring at home, they lead the league in 4th down attempts. They're second in conversions, 1 behind St. Louis.
Miller's Random Observations:
- Josh Gordon - I've said all along that I was anxious to see what this offense could do with Josh Gordon on the field. He is a game-changer and clearly that was showcased Sunday. Gordon finished with 10 catches, 146 yards, 1 TD. Gordon was targeted 19 times on Sunday, so clearly the Browns see what everyone else is seeing. Gordon also chipped in 22 yards rushing. It was nice to have some piece of mind after reports surfaced Sunday that Gordon was being shopped, that now it'd be "shocking" to see him dealt.
- Jordan Cameron - If it weren't for Gordon, Cameron would have gotten the game ball. Cameron continues to get better and built off of strong performances in the first two weeks, with yet another solid game. Cameron finished with 6 catches, 66 yards, and 3 TDs (!!!). That is a heck of performance. I believe Cameron is just scratching the surface of how good he can be. With Gordon and Cameron on the field, the Browns have two legitimate weapons, something that hasn't been said for a long time.
- Barkevious Mingo - Mingo finished the day with 4 tackles, including 1 sack and a QB hit. What doesn't show up on the stat sheet are some of the reasons the Browns drafted him. He's an athletic freak and his speed off the edge is scary. He also gives 110% every play. Mingo's lone sack came when Vikings RT Phil Loadholt tried to cut Mingo, but Mingo jumped back up and tracked down Ponder for the sack. His closing speed was evident on that play and it's a lot of fun to watch. Another note on Mingo; there were multiple times Mingo's speed off the edge forced Ponder up in the pocket, allowing the other defensive linemen to get to Ponder for the sack. He will be a lot of fun to watch develop.
- Jabaal Sheard - We could (and have) gone on-and-on about how good this front-seven has been. We've talked about the additions of Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant. We've talked about drafting Barkevious Mingo. But, there hasn't been a ton of talk around Jabaal Sheard, who played great Sunday and has played well all season. Sheard recorded 3 tackles and a sack, but also forced 4 QB hurries. His pressure in the pass rush was instrumental to the Browns D on Sunday.
- Play Calling - I personally have been critical of the Browns play calling early on this season. Whether it was the lack of touches for Trent Richardson (obsolete now), or the lack of creativity, I just didn't see a lot from the play calling that I liked. Sunday was a different story. The Browns moved the ball creatively; some screens, draws, stretched the field, end-arounds, etc. That was the type of play calling I wanted to see. Not to mention the trickery the Browns pulled off. Overall I was very pleased with the offensive play calling on Sunday.
- QB "Controversy" - I put controversy in quotes because I personally don't feel there is any. I know Browns fans are divided on the issue of who should start Sunday, as evident by this poll. But I personally think if Weeden is healthy, he's the guy. I've said all along I wanted to see what Weeden looked like with Josh Gordon back. I say give him a shot. If he tanks and is awful, then put Hoyer back out there. I will say, I would like Weeden to go back and review Brian Hoyer's tape from Sunday and watch how quickly he got rid of the ball. Pro Football Focus put out a great stat on Twitter yesterday:
Big part of Browns pass protecting success yesterday? Brian Hoyer average time to throw 2.4 seconds. Brandon Weeden? 3.1 in first 2 games— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 23, 2013
- Weeden deserves the chance to play on Sunday with Gordon back. If he can learn to get rid of the ball quicker I think we'll see a much improved Brandon Weeden. Obviously it's difficult to change bad habits in 1 week, but the evidence that he needs to get the ball out fast was clearly on display Sunday.
I saw a lot of reactions after that game that thought winning hurt the team in the long run. Sure, the win against Minnesota on Sunday may ending biting us in the ass and costing us a few draft spots. But, nothing is written in stone yet, the win was game THREE of the season. Cleveland played a (better than advertised) Miami team tough in Week 1, played the defending Super Bowl champs tough in Week 2, and beat Minnesota on the road while containing the best running back in the league. The team is far from perfect, but if we learned anything from Sunday is that they are not too far away. The defense continues to be solid, Josh Gordon was electric, and Jordan Cameron has blossomed into an exciting TE. I still don't think the Browns muster up more than a handful of wins, but I'd prefer them to give a damn and not roll over like dogs. On Sunday they did just that. The team played with tenacity and enthusiasm. If the game would have been in Cleveland, the stadium would've been rocking. So yes, the Browns traded Richardson, and everyone said they were tanking, but if they play like they did on Sunday going forward, they're going to give some teams trouble. And I for one, am excited to see them do it.
ESPN stats were used in the compilation of the charts in this article.