One theme kept reigning supreme for me during the Cleveland Browns' 34-27 win over the Buffalo Bills last Thursday: no matter what wrench you throw at this team, they can come back. That is the hill the Browns have been trying to climb for several years now: they have been competitive, but didn't have enough leaders or playmakers on the team to make that final "push" to get them over the top.
Over the past three weeks, the team has shown just how much they've turned the corner; as a result, they find themselves with an over .500 record and in a tie for first place in the AFC North. Let's get to my complete game review to see how the Browns won their third consecutive game.
|Buffalo Bills vs. Cleveland Browns|
WEEK 5 - BUFFALO BILLS VS. CLEVELAND BROWNS (COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)
- Awarding the Game Ball: WR Travis Benjamin - Benjamin set a franchise record for most punt return yards in a game, and his presence was felt throughout Thursday's contest. It started with a 57-yard punt return at the end of the first quarter when the Browns were down 10-0. Cleveland only got a field goal, but after the shock of losing QB Brian Hoyer, it gave the Browns some much-needed momentum.
Then, with the game tied 10-10 in the second quarter, Benjamin had an awesome 79-yard punt return for a touchdown. The rest of the game, the Bills punted away from Benjamin, but some of those were short by design and thus helped the Browns in the battle for field position.
- Goat of the Game: CB Joe Haden - Call this some "tough love" for the beloved Browns cornerback, who didn't have as good of a game as he usually does. Haden drew a defensive pass interference call on a pass from a wide receiver to help set up the Bills' first touchdown, and he lost his man on a catch-and-run to start the second half, which also helped spark another touchdown for the Bills.
- Gordon's Knee Gets in the Way: On Cleveland's first offensive possession, WR Josh Gordon dropped what appeared to be a possible touchdown. Let's take a look at the play.
Maybe the Bills feel Cleveland is going to run the ball backed up in their own territory, but it seems a little unusual to me for them to start off with a single safety who isn't even on Josh Gordon's side of the field.
At this point, Brian Hoyer has released the ball, and Gordon is going to be wide open in the middle.
The ball is about to enter Gordon's hands. This isn't a guaranteed touchdown, as the safety is coming full speed and will at the very least force Gordon to alter his path toward the end zone. With the right move, though, Gordon could be gone.
The pass is a little low -- around the waist -- but it's certainly good enough. The problem is as Gordon catches the ball, his knee/leg are coming up, and it collides with the ball, knocking it loose. Incomplete. I hate to even bring up the butterfly effect here, but just think: if Gordon catches this pass, the events that led to Hoyer's injury are changed.
- Jumping Out to 10 Points: There have been a couple of times this season where Cleveland has allowed a lot of points. Is the defense to blame? Watching this unit first-hand, there is no doubt that they are a tough defense to play against. They are still susceptible to some lapses, though, and Buffalo's early momentum started with a punt return:
Jim Leonhard is not a threatening punt returner in the least. Right here, Josh Aubrey and Christian Yount appear in position to make a play on him.
Bang! Block in the back not called against Aubrey. Yount, who is not really expected to be a top tackler, is caught flat-footed and can't make the tackle. Leonhard gets a 25-yard return to help set Buffalo up with great field position.
- WR Pass Draws Interference on Haden: Two plays later, the Bills brought out some trickery.
In this formation, Joe Haden is on Stevie Johnson as the bottom of the screen. The Bills will hand the ball off to wide receiver T.J. Graham on an end around, which is going to draw every defender (except Haden) in the secondary up.
Haden's coverage isn't bad -- he's not really beat, but he also doesn't have any safety help. The Browns do leave quarterback E.J. Manuel uncovered on this play, which is something obscure that another team might target at some point this season on a trick play. Hopefully Ray Horton sees this and reminds the defense to watch the quarterback.
Let's take a close look at the interference call on Haden. As the ball is in the air, Haden turns his head toward the ball. When he does this, he grabs on to Johnson.
A stride or so later, Johnson grabs on to Haden. To me, this looks like the typical leverage/jostling you see between two players in a one-on-one situation, especially when the ball is hanging in the air.
The players release their hold of each other as the ball is coming. Haden goes for the tip, but just misses. Johnson tries for the one-arm snag, but can't haul it in. At this happens, two flags come in immediately from both officials in the area. Something that Haden did caused both officials to reach into their pockets at the same time. The Browns-bias inside of me would have said, "play on."
The Bills also had a fortunate play on their next drive when a tipped pass fell in the lap of tight end Scott Chandler for a gain of 20 yards or so. The defense held strong, though -- Ahtyba Rubin had a swim move that lead to a sack on E.J. Manuel for a loss of nine yards, and Barkevious Mingo laid a shoulder into T.J. Graham to make a statement. The Bills still connected on 52 yard field goal, giving them the early 10-0 lead despite not moving the ball methodically down the field.
- Weeden's Early Effort Draws Boos: Here is Brandon Weeden's first pass attempt of the game in relief of Brian Hoyer:
Weeden has time to throw, and you can see Travis Benjamin open and going toward the sideline. Weeden sees him, but airmails the pass way over his head and out of bounds, drawing a negative reaction from the home crowd.
- Combination Effort: Weeden + O-Line: On Brandon Weeden's first two series, the offensive line didn't do him any favors. Don't get me wrong -- Weeden looked no where near NFL speed at first, so half the blame is certainly on him.
Here is Weeden's second pass attempt of the game, coming on a 3rd-and-7 from midfield in the first quarter. Pay attention to the left side of the screen where Mitchell Schwartz is.
No. 91 comes from the side. Mitchell Schwartz doesn't even pay attention to him, and neither does Willis McGahee. This isn't going to end well, is it?
Weeden just gets to the end of his dropback and spots the free rusher. He avoids the sack and throws the ball away, but at this point, the play is a wash. This is where you'd like Weeden to either adjust his protection pre-snap, or anticipate that a guy might be coming and doing a better job knowing he has to get the ball out quicker.
This is a different play on the next drive, but it goes to show why Weeden needs to have trust in his receivers. At this point here, Weeden has two receivers possibly coming open near the 45 yard line if he pulls the trigger here.
Here is the protection Weeden has around the same time as the photograph diagrammed above this one. Pay attention to No. 94 Mario Williams. He is somewhat being double teamed here, but Joe Thomas is about to release Williams and pick up No. 95. The problem? John Greco has the same idea -- he thinks No. 95 is coming free and Thomas has Williams, so he releases Williams and goes after No. 95.
Uh-oh. What looked like good protection is now a surprise duck-and-cover sack for Weeden.
- Benjamin Sparks the Offense, Part 1: I named Travis Benjamin the player of the game, so let's take a look at one of his big returns.
On this return, Benjamin is just going to use his speed to out-run the coverage. With all of that space and no one near him, he is going to try to out-run people to the sideline every time. Credit to Tank Carder on this play, who stayed with his block the entire time (he is the guy near the 50-yard line in this photo at the top of the screen), which helped turn this from a "pretty good return" to a "great return."
- Bills' Defense Helps Weeden Out: The Bills seemed to have Brandon Weeden on the ropes. Cleveland was 0/5 on third downs, as you can see in the graphic below.
The Bills line up there defenders close to the line of scrimmage.
This is where I thought the Bills did Weeden a big favor pre-snap, though. Just before the snap, the defensive backs drop way back, as does one of the safeties. The Browns have a trips formation, so Weeden knows that if the two defensive backs go deep, he's guaranteed to have Cameron wide open.
Sure enough, he does -- Cameron's catch-and-run goes for 19 yards and a first down. After starting 0-of-5 on third downs, the Browns went an impressive 7-of-12 in that department the rest of the way.
- Needing Quicker Decisions: Weeden stayed interception-free the whole game, but nearly made a game-crippling move here, all because he was slow on his decisions.
The circled player is Greg Little. If the cornerback on the outside receiver drops back, Little will be open right away.
There he is -- Little is open. If Weeden sees this right away and fires the ball, Little can put a move on the oncoming defender and perhaps turn this into a big play. Instead, he waits about a full second and then delivers the ball. By then, the oncoming defender nearly jumps the route for a pick six; fortunately, it just falls incomplete.
- Getting Big at the Goal Line: Fullback Chris Ogbonnaya suffered a concussion earlier on this drive when he was slammed into the ground on his head when trying to catch a short pass.
The Browns are facing a 3rd-and-goal from the one yard line after not being able to punch the ball in several times. The fullback is now tight end MarQueis Gray, and Rashad Butler is in the game to add some extra bulk.
Gray is going to go to the right and seal off the guy on the far outside. John Greco (who is to the left of Shawn Lauvao in this picture still) is sprinting over to help create the funnel gap that I drew for Willis McGahee. McGahee has one defender to beat, and he wins the battle by getting the ball into the end zone to tie the game.
- Desmond Bryant's Impact: Without Jabaal Sheard, the Browns have been missing one of their potentially dominant outside rushers.
With the game tied at 10-10 and the Bills facing a third down, Desmond Bryant helps pick up the slack of not having a guy like Sheard. He is going to make one swim move to beat his blocker.
The scouting report was that E.J. Manuel doesn't respond well when he's pressured. He wants to go to his tight end here, but panics a bit and can't deliver a good throw as Bryant bears down on him. It's too bad the Browns couldn't get Bryant for this whole game, but he'll be back this Sunday.
- Where the Magic Happens: Here is the punt return for a touchdown by Travis Benjamin.
This time, the Bills try to pin Benjamin toward the sideline to corner him. All they really do is allow Benjamin to sprint accross to where all of his blockers are, so these Bills basically eliminate themselves from the play on the far left. Josh Aubrey (No. 37) helps provide a wall. Joe Haden is going to drive No. 91 way out of the play, which helps create a gap in the middle of the field for Benjamin.
Here is that gap I was referring to. Benjamin takes it, and then redirects using his speed to get back to the outside again.
You can see more blocks being hit and Benjamin sprinting toward the sideline.
Once he outruns the defenders again, he turns it back upfield.
Is the punter going to beat again? Nope -- he does a little stop-and-start as the punter pathetically slips off of him.
Because Benjamin made a move, a backside defender makes a diving tackle attempt. He spins Benjamin around, but he doesn't go down. The final block here allows Benjamin to finish off the touchdown.
- Mingo Loses Containment: With the Browns leading 17-10 at halftime, it was a shocker of sorts to see C.J. Spiller break loose for a big touchdown run to start the second half.
Much of the blame, according to the announcers calling the game, went toward Barkevious Mingo for not having outside containment. The other player I circled is T.J. Ward, since he is supposed to shoot through the inside gap.
Here is the play developing, before Spiller makes his cutback.
There's the cutback. Ward dives through but can't make the tackle, and Mingo can't get off the block of Scott Chandler in time. There is no line of defense remaining -- touchdown.
Just as a reference point, here is another angle of the play. Are we entirely convinced that Mingo blew it here, or was someone else at fault too?
- Mario Williams Saves a TD: I didn't notice this upon my first viewing of the game.
With the game now tied at 17-17, the Browns were facing a 3rd-and-10 on their first offensive drive of the second half.
The receiver at the top of the screen and furthest up the field is Josh Gordon. He is doing a comeback motion just as Brandon Weeden completed a pump fake here. The safety is going toward Jordan Cameron in the middle of the field. The defender on Gordon bites badly on Gordon.
See what I meant about the defender biting badly on Gordon? He is stumbling badly here, knowing he's just been burned by a double move.
...and Gordon is gone. Touchdown...oh wait, Weeden just got sacked by Mario Williams again. What happened?
Let's look at the pre-snap alignment. This is what Bills fans meant when they said Williams will line up anywhere. He starts off this play in front of right guard Shawn Lauvao.
Lauvao gets the initial hit on Williams, but Williams is wrapping around toward the other side. Lauvao releases him. John Greco does not seeing anyone coming in front of him.
Greco, still not having seen anyone, makes the decision to help Joe Thomas with a double team. This is right about the point where Gordon is making his fake, as is Weeden.
Dammit! If Greco had been able to even chip Williams here, there's a high chance that Weeden would have aired it out deep to Gordon for an 80-yard touchdown.
- Weeden Gets Protection, Fires Deep (Part 1): Oh well -- if Weeden couldn't get the deep ball on the earlier drive, he was going to keep on trying. This is the first of two consecutive big passing plays that Cleveland had.
Greg Little starts off as the inside receiver and will run straight up the field.
Weeden is winding up here and must be confident that Little has a step on the defense.
The protection is much better this time around for Weeden. The Browns use a double team chip to help contain Mario Williams on this play.
- Weeden Gets Protection, Fires Deep (Part 2): Now, let's take a look at the touchdown pass to Josh Gordon.
Part of the beauty about having both Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron on the field at the same time is that defenses can't double team both of them. On this play, Cameron streaks up the middle and draws the attention of both safeties, which will free up Gordon for one-on-one coverage on the outside.
Gordon wins -- you can't tell it here, but when he sees the ball in the air, he kicks it into another gear.
Now let's look at the protection again. Mario Williams lines up over Joe Thomas on the edge. He is going to crisscross with his teammate.
If you recall bullet point seven, the Bills did something similar, and Greco and Thomas both ended up releasing Williams.
Fortunately, the same mistake isn't made here. Greco stays with Williams, and even though Weeden can't step fully into this pass, he shows off his arm on a play like this.
- Barnidge Picks Up a Blitz: This play stood out to me when I saw it in the fourth quarter.
Tight end Gary Barnidge is lined up in the backfield as a blocker. No. 50 Kiko Alonso, who looked impressive as a rookie, is going to come untouched on a blitz here right away.
Weeden has only taken one step back and Alonso is ready to decapitate him. Here comes Barnidge though.
Barnidge drives Alonso away from Weeden, who calmly stays in the pocket and delivers a 15-yard strike toward the sideline to Jordan Cameron.
- Ward With the Game-Sealing Pick Six: With the Browns having a six point lead late in the fourth quarter, Jeff Tuel was looking pretty amateurish our defense, but the fear of a long screen pass or another pass interference call was still looming large.
Safety T.J. Ward is following the quarterbacks eyes here. Pre-snap, he angles toward the center of the field just a tad.
As soon Tuel gets ready to throw, Ward jumps the route and takes it to the house, sealing the game. It was reminiscent of when a pick six sealed a victory over the Giants in prime time back in 2008.
- Final Assessments: This was a team effort, as all three phases contributed in big ways. Weeden caught a lot of flak for how he looked, and there is certainly still a lot of concern for what he's doing in the pocket. However, for him to not have any practice reps, not know the game plan, not having had reps with guys like Josh Gordon or Willis McGahee, and being booed by his home crowd, I commend him for staying with it.
I always envisioned Weeden being a quarterback who dropped back, got good protection, and fired the ball downfield to his receivers. That was when he was at his best against Buffalo. He can't do that every play, so there will need to be a lot of fine-tuning in his game. But the foundation for success is there, now that he has an extra toy in Gordon back.
What else is there to say? Nothing -- just sick back and enjoy the ride:
- Special Teams Tackles: There were three special teams tackles by the Browns, with one tackle each by OLB Barkevious Mingo, CB Chris Owens, and CB Leon McFadden. There were two assists, with one each by OLB Paul Hazel and ILB Brandon Magee.
- Snap Counts on Offense & Defense: If you missed them, here are the links to our snap count trackers for offense (link) and defense (link). On offense, RB Willis McGahee saw his heaviest load of the season, and OG Shawn Lauvao didn't play the whole game. On defense, outside linebackers Paul Hazel and Eric Martin each saw some reps, and defensive end Armonty Bryant made the most of his snaps after Desmond Bryant had to leave the game.
- Brownies: DT Phil Taylor told RB Fred Jackson, "get your ass up," as he was tackled near the Browns bench toward the end of the first half. ... Jackson tossed the ball at Taylor, which drew a 15-yard penalty. ... The reactions of the Browns' front office were priceless. ... The all-brown uniforms seemed to be a hit among the majority of Cleveland fans.
WR Greg Little caught flak for taking some kickoffs out of the end zone early on, but responded later with his best receiving game of the year. ... Another Bills touchdown was set up by a pass interference call on S T.J. Ward. ... K Billy Cundiff has been doing an admirable job, this time connecting on three field goals and booting the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs. ... S Tashaun Gipson laid the hit on E.J. Manuel's knee (legally) to take him out of action.
Up next, the Browns take on the Detroit Lions. Cleveland already saw them once in the preseason, so can they defeat them for the second time this year?