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Ed Reed's Pair of Picks Sends Browns to 20-10 Loss; Sets Up Meaningful Pittsburgh Game

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20 10

By virtue of the Cleveland Browns losing to the Baltimore Ravens, there will be a ton at stake for the Pittsburgh Steelers when they come to Cleveland Browns Stadium this Sunday. Pittsburgh currently holds the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. If Pittsburgh loses to Cleveland and Baltimore beats Cincinnati, the Steelers would all of a sudden drop to the sixth seed*, meaning they would not have a single home playoff game. That would be a crushing blow to the Steelers. A win over the Steelers doesn't make our loss to the Ravens forgiven or anything, but it's something to get you hyped for this week's game.

Let's get to the review of the Ravens game, starting with the goats and then the game balls.

*The scenario also requires that the Jets beat the Bills.


Goats of the Game:

  • Colt McCoy: When McCoy started 8-of-10 with 2 interceptions in the first half, I thought all of his completions were thrown right on the money and the decisions were made nice and quick. On the first interception, the pass needs to be thrown more to the outside. While I like the fact that we took a shot deep there, Cleveland had been moving the ball well down the field, and unless we saw something on tape where it wouldn't be a jump ball type of situation, the decision seems a bit questionable.
    On McCoy's second and third interceptions, Ed Reed showed why he's one of the elite safeties in the league and a master at baiting opposing quarterbacks into thinking their receiver is open. The throws themselves weren't the greatest, but I have to wonder how many other safeties would have been in position to make those plays. Assuming McCoy is under center next season, hopefully he understands that it's important to pay extra attention to what Reed is doing.
    The most disappointing thing for me regarding McCoy's day was his inaccuracy in the second half though. For the first time this season, several of his short-range passes were off the mark, which stalled Cleveland's offense in the second half.
  • Sheldon Brown: It wasn't quite the "Anquan Boldin burns Eric Wright" type of day for Brown, but despite the veterans coverage in the vicinity of Derrick Mason, he had trouble preventing the Baltimore receiver from making a couple of key catches, including a 22-yard touchdown in which Brown was holding the hell out of Mason in the end zone. The throw by Joe Flacco to T.J. Houshmandzadeh early in the game was just a nice pass.
  • Mohamed Massaquoi: There is no way a team can survive when they turn the ball over four times against the Baltimore Ravens, and Massaquoi was involved in all four of the Browns' turnovers. He was targeted on all three interceptions. I don't question that he "gave up" on his routes or anything on those plays, but the fact that he couldn't catch any of those passes or at least have a hand in breaking up the passes shows how behind he is as a receiver when you look at other players around the league. I also believe that Massaquoi's fumble after the Browns were leading 7-3 was the definitive turning point of the game, as it allowed the Ravens to claim a lead they would never surrender.

Awarding the Game Balls:

  • Joe Haden: What can you say? He was assigned to Anquan Boldin most of the game, and Boldin's final line was 2 catches for 15 yards. Haden intercepted Joe Flacco, came up to sack Flacco near the sideline (the ball came loose in the process for a forced fumble, but went out of bounds), and continued showing that he has the subtleties of a cornerback mastered when he barely grabbed hold of a Baltimore receiver on his route to the end zone.

General Thoughts:

  1. Unnecessary Shot by Vickers: I'm glad to see that Lawrence Vickers was pumped up to face the Baltimore Ravens. As I reviewed Massaquoi's fumble though, you can see Vickers diving to the ground to take a shot at a Baltimore defender on the ground as the football is being stripped from Massaquoi. What is the upside of doing that? If the play had been blown dead due to forward progress being stopped, I think Vickers gets flagged 15 yards for a late hit. If Vickers doesn't take the shot, he could have easily forced the ball out of bounds.
  2. Hillis Hurt Early: I didn't anticipate a big game from Peyton Hillis, and he finished with just 12 carries for 35 yards. His longest rush of the game went for just 7 yards, although I thought there were several nice cutback runs the Browns were running early on that needed just one extra blocker to spring Hillis free. Hillis was hurt early on when Ed Reed had a free shot square in Hillis' back as he was going to the ground. It looked painful even before they showed Hillis start wincing on the sideline.
  3. Mike Bell Steps it Up: Props to backup Mike Bell for providing a little bit of a spark with Hillis hurt. He ran 7 times for 27 yards, and added 2 catches for 48 yards. This was something I mentioned earlier this season -- fooling defenses by throwing the ball to a guy like Bell (or Vickers) when a defense doesn't expect them to catch the ball. That's the reason Hillis was effective as a receiver earlier this season before teams started keying in on him. Bell might see more action against Pittsburgh due to Hillis' injury.
  4. Playcalling Approved: Despite the fact that the Browns only put ten points on the board, I didn't have a lot of beef with the offensive playcalling this week. Given what I expected to be Baltimore's strategy on defense, I think a fair distribution of runs and passes were used, and Cleveland clearly tried to work some counters in. We also brought Seneca Wallace and/or Joshua Cribbs into the game three times, and each time he plays resulted in a touchdown, first down, and first down.
  5. A Little More Comfortable?: It's tough to say whether Joshua Cribbs sucked it up and absorbed more pain on his kick and punt returns, or if he was feeling a little bit better with his cuts. Although he didn't break a big one, I saw him attempt a few small cuts and moves that I hadn't seen him try since his injury over a month ago. He finished the game averaging 25.2 yards per return on five tries, including a 37-yard return.
  6. First Half Clock Situation: One of the big discussions after this week's game was the supposed mismanagement of the clock by Eric Mangini and company at the end of the first half. Here's what I think: after the big 28-yard gain to start the 2-minute warning, the Browns had the right idea: we're in field goal range, so we can take a little bit of time off to prevent Baltimore from getting the ball back and putting a quick drive together.
    Where the Browns went wrong was that they took way too much time off considering they had three timeouts under their belt. Being 23 yards away from the end zone still against a tough defense, there is no way you allow the clock to run down from 1:16 to 31 seconds. A timeout should have been called between 50 seconds and a minute. By taking it down to 31 seconds, Cleveland basically gave themselves 3 plays instead of maybe 6 plays and a chance to feel like moving the chains one more time still made sense.
  7. Calling the Onside Kick: Before the onside kick happened, I called it (check the game thread). I'm a firm believer in having faith in your special teams if you see something on tape. Phil Dawson has to make sure the ball goes at least ten yards in that situation though. In terms of strategy, it ended up being a blow because Baltimore quickly scored a touchdown off of it. I think the coaching staff saw that our defense had been good at holding opposing teams to field goals and saw the downside as only going down 16-10 at that point, something that might have happened anyway on a kickoff. Maybe the onside kick seemed desperate to others, but Baltimore did bail -- Cleveland just didn't execute.
  8. Williams Blows Opportunity: After the Browns went down 20-10 at the start of the third quarter, they needed a quick strike from their offense to get back in the game. Cleveland started good with a decent kick return and a first down to get near mid-field. On 2nd-and-6, McCoy targeted receiver Demetrius Williams for the first time this season. The ball was right on Williams who had it, but then dropped it. The play looked like it would've gone for a first down.
    Who knows how the game changes if Williams holds on to that catch, which would have put the Browns into Ravens territory. Even if you come away with just a field goal, it would've been huge to be within one possession again.
  9. Robiskie Breaking Out: It took long enough for Brian Robiskie to start catching touchdowns at the NFL level, didn't it? Earlier this year, I said that I thought Robiskie seemed to be our best receiver at getting open on deep routes, and the past two weeks it seems that might be the case. Robiskie made a terrific adjustment to Massaquoi's trick touchdown pass, and later on Robiskie caught a pass for 42 yards. The pass was called back due to offensive pass interference, a call that I think was complete bull. I was even more furious to see several other NFL games after our game on Sunday in which the receivers did much worse and either no flag was thrown or the defender was flagged.
  10. Beyond the Marker: The Browns' receivers, including Chansi Stuckey, ran their routes beyond the third-down marker against Baltimore. At least that is something the Browns corrected offensively. The Browns finished the day 7-of-11 on third down, a percentage I'll take any day of the week.
  11. Nice Read on the Screen: Props to linebacker David Bowens for sniffing out a wide receiver screen pass immediately and stopping the play for a loss. The Browns were destroyed on a wide receiver screen last week at Cincinnati.
  12. Lack of Depth: Our lack of depth at linebacker and on the defensive line has hurt the Browns from getting a pass rush without bringing extra players (see the Saints game earlier this season) and stopping the run. Travis Ivey saw more snaps than I expected, which leads me to believe that Shaun Rogers barely saw the field. I could be wrong, but it's difficult to gauge just how much Rogers is being played.
  13. Ward Stays Home on Fleaflicker: I don't recall the Browns being burned by a fleaflicker in several years now. I'm surprised Joe Flacco still threw the deep pass to Donte Stallworth too, since two defenders were right there. Stallworth did a nice job playing the defender and preventing T.J. Ward from coming away with an interception.
  14. Committing the Extra Safety: I thought Rob Ryan put some defensive backs up to the line when a run was anticipated, preventing Ray Rice from gashing the Browns like Cedric Benson did a week ago. I was glad to see that adjustment.
  15. Special Teams Tackles: The Browns only had two special teams tackles on Sunday -- one from Sabby Piscitelli, and the other from Titus Brown.
  16. The Trick Play: Let's go back to the offensive highlight of the game for Cleveland, a trick play pass thrown by Mohamed Massaquoi. The snap went to Seneca Wallace, who handed it to Peyton Hillis, who pitched it to Massaquoi. Brian Robiskie streaked down the right sideline, while Ben Watson went down the left sideline. Tight end Alex Smith ended up shifting over to be Massaquoi's "fullback" for the pass. Massaquoi threw it to the end zone for Robiskie, but if you look at the replay, Wallace was completely uncovered in the flat. If Massaquoi had lofted the ball to him instead, I imagine Wallace would've been able to at least run to the 10 or 5-yard line before a defender even had a crack at hitting him.
  17. Brownies: I loved the commentating by Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts during the game, and we're going to get them this week against the Steelers again...I wish we could've seen the Vikings/Eagles snowfest on Sunday, but it'll also be kind of cool to see an extra day of football and Michael Vick today...NBC made the right decision to flex the Seahawks vs. Rams game for Week 17.

Next up, the Browns finish their season against the Steelers. It's hard to believe we might finish with the same number of wins as we did last season. Hopefully the team executes on all cylinders to stun the Steelers and drop them to the sixth seed in the AFC, reducing their chances at reaching another Super Bowl.