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Game Review: Defense Thrives in Browns' 17-16 Loss to Eagles

That's how close we were to victory. Ouch.
That's how close we were to victory. Ouch.

"Defense wins Championships." In that case, the Browns are in good shape. Unfortunately, what that phrase assumes is that you do not have an offense that is as putrid as Cleveland's offense appeared to be in the team's opening game of the season, a 17-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. On a day in which fans were anxious to see the debuts of quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson, it was the defense that stole the show, including veterans like safety T.J. Ward and D'Qwell Jackson, and youngsters like Billy Winn and L.J. Fort. My complete game review is after the jump.

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Cleveland Browns
1st 2nd 3rd 4th FINAL
0 10 0 7 17
3 0 3 10 16


  1. Goats of the Game: I was very frustrated with what this team did offensively, and I could name a lot of goats because of that. Usually, I choose only one or two players. For this game, I'm taking three: QB Brandon Weeden, FB Owen Marecic, and WR Greg Little. Let's start with Weeden, and then I'll get to the other guys in the next few bullet points.

  2. Terrible First Game for Weeden: Weeden had a terrible first game, and we can only hope that it ends up being nice learning experience for him. Whether that means he needs to adjust his preparation, do something to prevent him from being so "amped up," or recognize coverages better, he needs to improve all around. The only throw he looked somewhat comfortable doing was the quick slant. With how close Philadelphia's cornerbacks were playing our defenders, he wasn't able to complete those every time either.

    QB Brandon Weeden threw four interceptions in his rookie debut.
    Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-US PRESSWIRE

    I don't need to harp on how bad Weeden was too much -- we all saw it with our own eyes. I will continue to put trust in him moving forward, though. While I'm inclined to think that Colt McCoy would have done better in that game, the long-term ceiling is (hopefully) still much higher for Weeden. That means we need to stay patient through these growing pains that will hopefully be patched up as soon as possible.

  3. Helping a Guy Out: When a rookie quarterback making his debut is struggling, what can lift him out of a funk? A good supporting cast! Unfortunately, his running back was seeing his first live contact during a game in a long time and was not very smooth. The offensive line struggled in run blocking. The two things that really got to me though were the dropped passes by FB Owen Marecic and WR Greg Little.

    I'm sorry, but this Marecic guy cannot catch a pass during a game to save his life. With the game tied at 3-3 near the end of the first half, Cleveland faced a 3rd-and-short. With a first down, they would've gone into the half tied. On third down, Brandon Weeden threw a pass to Marecic in the flat. It wasn't the best pass, but it was certainly one that an NFL player, even a fullback, should be able to catch. Instead, he dropped it. The Browns punted, and Philadelphia drove down for a touchdown to go up 10-3 at the half.

  4. The Double Reverse to Benjamin: The highlight of the game on offense, besides Trent Richardson's jarring hit on a defender, was the double reverse to wide receiver Travis Benjamin. I'll try to talk about the specifics of that play at a later time, but how big was Nnamdi Asomugha's hustle from all the way across the field to stop that play? Is he doesn't get to Benjamin, that play turns into a touchdown instead of just a 35-yard gain. Cleveland should have tried to capitalize more on the Eagles in this manner.

  5. Momentum Killer: After the reverse, Cleveland had two momentum killers. The first play after the run was a screen pass to Trent Richardson, which he dropped. If Richardson catches it, I think he has the speed to beat the first defender. After that, he may have had enough real estate to get a first down or even go in for a score. The play after the Richardson one is when Weeden saw Greg Little open over the middle and fired the ball to him. Credit goes to the defender for a well-timed hit, but Little still has to catch that pass. Instead, it led to an interception. In a way, Weeden really did not look to bad, even on that throw. It was a big momentum killer, and Little did not have a catch the entire game.

  6. Snap Counts on Offense & Defense: My game review is going to be a little less longer than usual because I have already touched on a few things I would normally talk about in a new feature at Dawgs By Nature: snap counts for offensive (link) and defensive (link) players. To summarize, the surprises on offense were that TE Jordan Cameron only saw six snaps, and that RB Montario Hardesty did not play a single down. On defense, everything was pretty standard, although CB Sheldon Brown going down with an injury messed the distribution up, and DE Juqua Parker saw more snaps than expected.

  7. Richardson's Day: Here's the issue with Trent Richardson and trying to evaluate him in his first game. For being a top draft pick, we expect him to overcome some of the weaknesses that our offensive line may have. With this being his first game action, though, he was not in superman road yet. For that reason, I did not evaluate him as having a terrible day. Instead, I place a lot of the blame on the offensive line.

    RB Trent Richardson drills S Kurt Coleman, knocking his helmet off.
    Mandatory Credit: David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

    On Richardson's first carry, Mitchell Scwartz couldn't handle his defender, who hit Richardson two yards in the backfield. Richardson still managed to gain a yard. On his second carry, I think he had a lane but missed it. On his third carry, which was a pitch play (I wanted to see those more often), he made a nice jump cut, but it didn't seem like Alex Mack or Mitchell Schwartz did the greatest job on the outside, and Richardson was swarmed. I could go on and on, but for as many problems as the Browns' offense had on Sunday, I wouldn't point the finger at Richardson and say, "he did a poor job." He pretty much made the most out of what he was given. Good for him, but bad for our offense.

  8. Quickness With Cribbs: With both teams struggling on offense, Joshua Cribbs got plenty of opportunities to return punts and kickoffs. Although he didn't break one for a score, he looked much quicker than he did a year ago and was back to his old self when it comes to fighting off would-be tacklers. He averaged 13 yards per punt return on 6 attempts, and 30.3 yards per kickoff return on 3 attempts.

  9. Replacement Officials: Overall, I thought the replacement officials did a fine job. They were not much of a distraction during the game, which was a good thing. There were two calls that stood out to me that I didn't care for. One of those is when DT Ahtyba Rubin was called for roughing the passer on Michael Vick. That is a play that also prolonged Philadelphia's final touchdown drive of the game.

    The other one came at the start of the fourth quarter. On third down, Brandon Weeden and the Browns were five yards away from the end zone. Weeden threw a quick hitter to Jordan Cameron, but the defender decked Cameron and the pass appeared to be way off on first glance. The timing was somewhat close of the defender (DeMeco Ryans) jamming Cameron versus it being pass interference. It should've been pass interference, though. I think these are two plays that regular officials might call/miss too, so that's why I don't want to pin them on "replacement officials," but rather "officials in general."

  10. Digging the Defense: The pass rush that the Browns had all game long was very good. It was an impressive combination of speed, power, and quickness, and it looked like Dick Jauron really new how to use a rotation with the front four depending on the situation. One thing to remember is that I predicted the Eagles would struggle up front, though, in the absence of LT Jason Peters. Fortunately, Cleveland faces Cincinnati this week, a team that also had some protection issues against the Ravens in Week 1. Cleveland's front four should be salivating already.

    LB D'Qwell Jackson was part of the awesome defense, returning a pick six against Vick.
    Mandatory Credit: David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

  11. Childress? Can't Wait to Hear This: I will patiently wait for Brad Childress' press conference this Thursday, and I hope reporters ask him some good questions about what happened during the Eagles game. I know Pat Shurmur still does the actual playcalling, but Childress' job is to craft a good gameplan. The Philadelphia game made it seem like the slant play was the only thing he thought up against the Eagles. Maybe it was just Weeden's decision-making that made me think that way, but where were all of the other variety of routes? I know things are tough against the Eagles' man coverage, but a lot of things appeared sour offensively, from playcalling, to personnel, to execution.

  12. Special Teams Tackles: There were three tackles made on special teams -- one each for LB L.J. Fort, CB Johnson Bademosi, and S Tashaun Gipson. There were also two assists -- one each for LB Craig Robertson and CB Buster Skrine. Players who saw a lot of snaps on special teams included LB Tank Carder, S Ray Ventrone, S Tashaun Gipson, CB Johnson Bademosi, CB Buster Skrine, LB Kaluka Maiava, LB L.J. Fort, and WR Joshua Cribbs.

  13. Brownies: The only active players who did not play were QB Colt McCoy and OL John Greco. ... The inactives included QB Thaddeus Lewis, RB Chris Ogbonnaya, WR Jordan Norwood, OL Oniel Cousins, LB James-Michael Johnson, S Usama Young, and CB Trevin Wade. ... K Phil Dawson was automatic, connecting on all three of his attempts. ... It was not the best game by P Reggie Hodges, but it also seemed like a few of Christian Yount's snaps were a little low. ... S T.J. Ward was a huge help to the defense, and the run defense struggled in the brief time he was out. ... LB D'Qwell Jackson did a brilliant job in zone coverage twice, each of which led to an interception, and one of which he took back for a go-ahead pick six in the fourth quarter. ... DT Billy Winn seemed to be getting a nice push throughout the game. ... LT Joe Thomas needs to get things together and be elite again to help out his rookie quarterback.

Up next, the Browns take on the Cincinnati Bengals. We'll do at least one more reflection back on the Eagles game before we start gearing up for our Cincinnati coverage. Don't forget to check out Jon's Week 1 reflections, or the snap count posts that were linked to in bullet point number six.