The Cleveland Browns struggled on both sides of the ball en route to a 24-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills, despite C.J. Spiller's shoulder injury that caused him to leave the game in the first quarter.
The Browns' offense simply could not get it done against a Bills' defense that was allowing over 30 points per game and over 400 yards coming in. They opened the game with three consecutive three and outs, gaining a total of only 13 yards in the entire first quarter.
It wasn't until their fifth drive that they made it past the Bills' 40-yard line. That drive was aided by a couple minor penalties on the Bills, but Brandon Weeden was doing a nice job passing downfield. Trent Richardson capped that nine-play, 67-yard drive off with a nice 6-yard rushing touchdown.
After two more drives that gained merely nine yards, the Browns' offense got it going again in the third quarter. This is when Pat Shurmur called his best drive of the game, but it was also their last good one. Starting from their own 20, the Browns marched down the field over the course of 13 plays, all but one of which were passing. Brandon Weeden had it dialed in, going eight of 12 for 75 yards on the drive and topping it off with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin.
The rest of the game went downhill for the Browns' offense. They had back-to-back drives end in punts, only gaining 11 yards. Then in must-score situations, Weeden made two ill-advised throws, finishing the game with a pair of interceptions.
Pat Shurmur and and the offense did show flashes of competence on the touchdown drives, but the fact remains that they failed to get it done on all but two of 12 possessions. They were hurt by a few penalties, but so were the Bills with four more costing them 18 more yards.
The Browns' WR corps is worse off than I thought. The team's leading receiver Mohamed Massaquoi only managed one reception for 14 yards with his hamstring injury. Greg Little, leading receiver from last season, was once again plagued by drops. In fact, it may be a team-wide issue as Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin each had a drop as well.
The Browns' offensive line also had a poor outing. They allowed twice as many sacks as they had in each of the two previous games for a total loss of 30 yards. They had a couple potential "drive-killing" penalties, though those calls may have been ticky-tacky. And for three strait games now Joe Thomas is not playing up to the very high standard we've come to except from him.
In the midst of the o-line issues, Trent Richardson's performance was pedestrian again. He looked more like he did in the game against the Eagles rather than the excellent improvement we saw against the Bengals. The bounce outside to score the touchdown was a fantastic move, but that was the extent of his highlights in this one. He was listed as "probable" coming into the game, so there is reason to believe he isn't playing at 100 percent, but he appeared more than fine last week. If he is playing hurt, this offense is going to need to him to recover as soon as possible. They have a short week as they play the Ravens at Baltimore on primetime Thursday night.
The Browns' defense continued their struggles without Joe Haden. Their porous secondary was shredded on vital downs. Of course, Stevie Johnson was the primary target for Buffalo and he made it look easy with seven receptions, 61 yards and a touchdown on the game. But once again second and third receivers, such as Donald Jones and T.J. Graham were beating the Browns for big plays.
The only big play in favor of the Browns' defense was a fumble recovered by Juqua Parker. The Browns did manage to record the first sack of the season on Ryan Fitzpatrick.
This performance came despite a major injury to C.J. Spiller that knocked him out of the game in the first quarter that undoubtedly had a key impact. The Bills gained 150 yards in that quarter, which was over 43 percent of their total yards on the game. After Spiller's exit, third-string RB Tashard Choice averaged 4.6 yards on 20 carries for a total of 91 yards on the ground.
Eventually Joe Haden's suspension has to stop being an excuse for this defense. Many fans are still pinning it on him. The Browns have known about it far too long not to be held accountable for their own play on the field.
As is the case with the offense, the defense has to have a short memory and pick it up quickly because they're playing an even better Ravens team in just a few days.
Not yet time to panic:
Three weeks into a season is an incredibly small sample size. While I completely understand the passion of the fans and the reasonable demand for a better product on the field, calling for everyone's jobs this early into a season is a mistake. If the team is still winless heading into their bye week and there's nothing to hold on to, then it's a different story. There would be nine games to take into account against a wide variety of opponents. If Haslam were to make a change in such a case, I wouldn't blame him. However, I don't think it's too much to give Shurmur more than three games into this season.
I actually think Weeden was decent prior to the final drives considering the offensive line and running game. Yes, he made bad throws and bad decisions, which are mistakes rookies will make. The worst of those came when the team was in desperation mode. When the offense was moving, he was making plays that the Browns have not seen from the quarterback position in a long time.
Jordan Cameron may have finally arrived. He only had 45 receiving yards but still led the Browns in that category on five receptions. Travis Benjamin, second in receiving yards with 44, also had a bigger role playing in 62 percent of the offensive snaps. Although, he only recorded two receptions and had an early drop.
Despite each week ultimately ending the same way, referring to the losses, it's amazing how much difference seven days can make. With that said, the Browns need to improve drastically in just three. As I've mentioned twice already, the Browns take on a very good Baltimore Ravens team on Thursday. They won't compete in that game with performances like the one yesterday.