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Game Review: Browns Have Some Cleaning Up to Do After 23-21 Loss to Ravens

Maddie Meyer

I'm still not really over the Browns' 23-21 loss to the Ravens. Despite a couple of failed opportunities on offense in the fourth quarter, that side of the ball continues to impress and deserves high praise. The special teams and defensive units need a lot of work. Usually, I hate having a bye week so early in the season, but this year's early bye could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. The Browns clearly have some issues to address on both units, and this gives them more time to do it.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns

1st 2nd 3rd 4th FINAL


  1. Goat of the Game: WR Travis Benjamin - I had a really tough time trying to identify one goat of the game because there were so many players who missed individual opportunities, and all of those collective opportunities contributed to the Browns' loss. Ultimately, I decided to name Benjamin here. Before his injury last season, I legitimately felt like he could score any time he touched the ball. Now, when the other team is punting, I feel like a fair catch or a fumble is coming.

    I completely understand that he might be thinking about his injury, but the puzzling part is that he seemed fine handling punts during the preseason games. When the Ravens punted the ball with 2:35 to go, Benjamin overran the punt and let it land around the 22, and then watched it bounce all the way to the 7 yard line. 15 yards difference in field position.

    Not only does that change the confidence of the offense when they are trying to close out the game, if you do go three-and-out, it makes it much easier for the opposition to get into field goal range. That's why I feel CB Joe Haden got beat deep at the end of the game -- because he was trying to stop the short route, knowing that one or two more of those underneath plays would already have Baltimore in field goal range.

  2. Awarding the Game Ball: WR Andrew Hawkins - Hawkins finished the game with 7 catches for 87 yards. 5 of his 7 catches went for first downs, and several of them involved him using his shiftiness to beat his man one-on-one. Just thing -- we have a very legitimate receiver on our hands through 2017. In 2016 and 2017, Hawkins will only make $1 million and $1.8 million, respectively, because of how we structured his contract.

  3. Connecting Deep With Benjamin: Last week, I said that it wouldn't be long before QB Brian Hoyer connected with WR Travis Benjamin on the deep ball.

    Benjamin lined up at the top of the screen, and we appear to catch the Ravens in zone coverage as they are letting the safeties handle anything deep. WR Andrew Hawkins is at the bottom of the screen.

    Hoyer pretty much has max protection, and since the Ravens are dropping so many guys into coverage, he faces no threat of a rush. Benjamin is one-on-one with a safety, and when you have the whole diagonal of the field to work with, I don't know how many safeties can stay with Benjamin here. This is a wrinkle to how we've been using him.

    We've been running Benjamin straight up the middle of the field, but this one takes a much wider approach to utilize Benjamin's speed from sideline to sideline. It goes for 43 yards and a first down, eventually setting up our first touchdown of the game (1 yard rush by RB Terrenace West) to go up 7-3.

  4. Offensive Pass Interference: Facing a 1st-and-10 near the end of the second quarter, I remember when the Browns were flagged for offensive pass interference because it, along with an offensive holding penalty, eventually led to a 1st-and-30 situation.

    WR Miles Austin is in the slot at the top, and he is the person who the offensive pass interference will be called on. The blue dashed line is there to demonstrate the five-yard area in which contact is typically allowed.

    This is where Austin initiates contact (in the cyan circle). The first few times I watched this play, I just didn't understand why offensive pass interference would be called on him. Then, something else caught my eye. Take a look at the green circles -- the member of the Browns is FB Ray Agnew.

    Hoyer sees Austin gain separation and tries to fire a pass that leads him. While the ball is in the air, though, Agnew engages a defender and pushes him. The official threw the flag and called out Austin, but I think they meant to call it on Agnew here.

  5. Threading the Needle to Austin: This is a 2nd-and-23 play to begin the second quarter.

    WR Miles Austin is in the slot to the left of QB Brian Hoyer; he'll be running straight up the seam to the middle of the field. TE Jordan Cameron is split wide at the top coming across, TE Gary Barnidge is lined up to Hoyer's left on the line, and WR Andrew Hawkins is at the bottom of the screen. Once again, the Ravens are dropping many of their defenders into a zone. There is a small window (green circle) in between two linebackers and the safety.

    Hoyer sees it and threads a perfect pass to Austin, who gains a lot of yardage and doesn't have to take that big of a hit from the safety. That made it a 3rd-and-2, and after a 1-yard scramble by Hoyer, the Browns faced a 4th-and-1 from the 45 yard line. A lot of fans complained that we didn't go for it, and I'm on the fence. I'd like to be aggressive and go for it, but I'd also like to have faith that our punt team can pin Baltimore back and our defense can take care of business.

  6. Gashed for a Big Run: Unfortunately, continuing from the last bullet point, the Browns failed on both units. First, WR Marlon Moore just missed downing P Spencer Lanning's punt at the one (to be fair, it was a tough play for Moore; the blame goes more on Lanning). Then, the Ravens immediately ripped off a 31-yard run to start the drive.

    In the green, OLB Paul Kruger gets met by the fullback on an outside rush. CB Joe Haden in the magenta follows a receiver across the formation in case it's a pass play. ILB Craig Robertson is going to be engaged with the right tackle in the cyan circle. Then, the issue here seems to be DL Phil Taylor (in the yellow), who rushes to the A gap. This allows the right guard to shield him inside and creates a big hole for RB Lorenzo Taliaferro.

    There is the result of everything I just described. SS Donte Whitner has to stay back to minimize the damage and let Taliaferro come to him rather than taking a chance and risking a touchdown. If there is one thing I'd love to see Mike Pettine change, it would be putting Taylor back as the nose tackle and Ahtyba Rubin back as a defensive end. I don't know why the switch was made this year, but perhaps it'll put Taylor in a position he's more comfortable with.

  7. Running it Down the Browns' Throat: The Ravens ran it right down the throat of the Browns -- not including a penalty play, it was nine straight run plays.

    This run play is the one that took place after the Ravens' 31-yard burst by RB Lorenzo Taliaferro. He's going to get the ball again here. DE Desmond Bryant swims to the A gap and is blocked by the left guard. OLB Paul Kruger is on the edge and draws the left tackle. This will leave ILB Craig Robertson (green) with a free lane to Taliaferro.

    When you see this, everything is good so far. Robertson should have a play here, or at the very least, he should contribute to altering Taliaferro's path into Kruger.

    Robertson is going to miss this tackle, and then Kruger is going to get taken out too, resulting in an 8-yard gain. While a lot of these things are fixable, there are so many "small defensive things" that need fixing that we can only hope Mike Pettine finds a way to address all of them on gameday.

  8. Uncovered Fullback - Who Was Responsible? Sometimes, you just have to hand it to the offense for taking advantage of the circumstance. They beat us physically with nine straight run plays, so odds were that a pass play would allow QB Joe Flacco to find someone wide open.

    That open player will turn out to be FB Kyle Juszczyk, a rookie out of Medina. At first, I think a lot of us blamed OLB Barkevious Mingo for rushing the quarterback rather than keeping an eye on the fullback. I'd like our defensive experts to verify whether they think Mingo is still responsible for the fullback here, or if ILB Karlos Dansby was. ILB Craig Robertson chases the running back at the snap, while Dansby seems a bit off guard before realizing the fullback is open.

    Here is a shot of Robertson going to the running back, Dansby getting caught in traffic but seeing the fullback, and Mingo 100% committed to rushing the quarterback as he goes for a spin move. Juszczyk's touchdown gives the Ravens a 10-7 lead.

  9. The Johnny Play That Wasn't: I won't beat this play to death because we've already heard about how it was illegal for QB Johnny Manziel to be standing five yards within his bench area. But, the officials never flagged that part, so we would have gotten away with it had RB Terrance West been set.

    As you can see, West is running onto the field. He is considered to be in motion here, and the NFL rulebook says "after the last shift, all players must come to a complete stop and be in a set position simultaneously for at least one second."

    Hoyer snaps the ball probably a tenth of a second after West gets set, which draws penalty flags from two officials. I understand why he wanted to hurry -- eventually, the defense would've figured this out, or John Harbaugh would've called a timeout. But, it looks like he would have still caught them off guard had he waited the full second. Manziel is open.

    The catch-and-run would've been good for 39 yards. The defender gets away with a slight push at the end of the play despite Manziel clearly being out of bounds, though I guess to be fair, Manziel was also still trying to stiff-arm the oncoming defender. I'm fine with the officials not throwing a flag here.

  10. Screen Window Closes Quickly: After the Manziel play, the Browns faced a 2nd-and-16.

    The Browns haven't run too many screen passes to their running backs, but Kyle Shanahan put the call on here. From the overhead view, the blocks are set up for RB Terrance West to have a pretty good gain here.

    The issue is that the pass catch by West wasn't the smoothest, and I don't know if that is West's fault or QB Brian Hoyer's fault, because it wasn't an awful pass or an awful catch. Nonetheless, West started with his hands on the ball at the 30, yet when he gathers the ball, he's back near the 28 or 29 yard line. This forces him his momentum to the wrong area and into a defender. If the catch was cleaner and he turns upfield, the dashed route would've gotten some food yardage.

  11. Hoyer Improves His Accuracy: Last week, the gripe I had about QB Brian Hoyer was that he overthrew a couple of his third down passes on out routes to the sideline.
    This week, Hoyer was money on these throws. WR Andrew Hawkins is the second receiver to Hoyer's right, running the underneath route just past the first down (blue line). Notice how all of the routes are at or beyond the first down? Thank god we finally have a coordinator / receivers who call / run these routes at the right distance. If we do run a shorter route on third down, it also seems to make sense, taking advantage of the speed of someone like Hawkins.

    Anyway, the defender is close to Hawkins, but Hoyer makes a good throw to the outside for five yards and a first down. This was the team's first third down of the third quarter, so it kept the drive moving.

  12. Gabriel Relentless With the Blocking: One play later, the Browns got a 12-yard burst from RB Isaiah Crowell for another first down.

    We've heard about the superb run blocking of WR Taylor Gabriel, so I wanted to showcase him once. He'll be circled in yellow in the three screenshots here.

    Gabriel shields the cornerback off, and the Browns' other blockers are doing their job as well.

    Here's what I really like -- Crowell is already passed Gabriel's area, but Gabriel is relentless as he now drives the cornerback behind the original line of scrimmage! Before its all said and done, Gabriel takes his man to the ground. He may not be getting a lot of targets, but blocks like this will allow his reps to continue piling up.

  13. Hitting on All the Blocks: Five plays later, RB Isaiah Crowell found the end zone for a 14 yard touchdown, untouched.

    LG Joel Bitonio will block the right defensive end. LT Joe Thomas will get to the second level and shield off the linebacker. FB Ray Agnew will seal off OLB Courtney Upshaw.

    Bang -- there's the lane, and Crowell won't be denied.

    We didn't see TE Jordan Cameron getting too involved in the passing game against Baltimore, but I saw some fine downfield blocking from him. Here's an example, as he holds his block the whole time while Crowell runs in for the score, giving the Browns a 14-10 lead.

  14. Selling Out on Defense: When reviewing the game, I couldn't believe how often the Ravens would get such a big, tone-setting first or second play of the drive. I'm talking 20-30 yard gains.

    This time, it's a 33-yard gain on the first play of the drive by FB Kyle Juszczyk. OLB Paul Kruger is intially engaged with Juszczyk. After the playaction fake, FS Tashaun Gipson is drawn in big time to the other side of the field. That is when two offensive linemen leak out to the left, and Juszczyk kind of throws Kruger to the ground before leaking out himself.

    Gipson is off balanced and thrown to the ground, and the rest of the Browns' defense can only chase him before CB Joe Haden makes the stop well downfield. The Ravens eventually got a 1-yard rushing touchdown from RB Lorenzo Taliaferro, putting them ahead 17-14 with about 5:00 to play in the third quarter.

  15. Austin's Patented Move: The Browns have done such a good job at responding offensively through three games. After being down 17-14, the Browns began their drive with gains of 29 (pass) and 22 (run) yards, which already put them in field goal range.

    Facing a 3rd-and-goal from the 4 after an ugly failed shovel pass to TE Jordan Cameron, QB Brian Hoyer found WR Miles Austin for what seems to be his patented touchdown move, considering he's done it two weeks in a row. Austin starts as the receiver closest to Hoyer in the trips bunch. The player at the front of the back is WR Taylor Gabriel, who cuts to the outside. WR Andrew Hawkins runs underneath. Hawkins and Gabriel each have a man right on them, while Austin has more of a free release.

    The throw needs more height on it than the one last week, and Hoyer delivers a great pass for the touchdown, giving the Browns a 21-17 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

  16. Browns Lucky on Gilbert's Gaffe: The Browns finally caught a break defensively to stop the "big play," but it wasn't because of anything they did.

    On the second play of the Ravens' next series, CB Justin Gilbert was in for 1 of his 14 plays of the afternoon. He is lined up over WR Jacoby Jones. Jones does one little stop move, and Gilbert bites hard on it.

    There is the stop, and you can see Gilbert driving forward, even though QB Joe Flacco hasn't even settled in to his dropback yet.

    This should at least be a 30-40+ yard gain, but Jones gets alligator arms and drops the pass. To contrast, I think CB Joe Haden has been beaten with some good throws, but he's not getting caught up like this. Because of Jones' miss, one play later, FS Tashaun Gipson picked off Flacco after he got hit by OLB Paul Kruger. The Browns failed to capitalize when K Billy Cundiff's 50-yard attempt banged off the left upright.

  17. Gabriel Breaks Free on Ravens' Gaffe: After the Browns' defense came up with a big 4th-and-1 stop, the Browns faced a 2nd-and-10 with 10:07 to play in the game.

    WR Taylor Gabriel is at the bottom of the screen and WR Andrew Hawkins is at the top of the screen. This is going to be a playaction fake by the Browns, and four defenders are basically going to shadow Hawkins, leaving S Matt Elam one-on-one to take Gabriel.

    Gabriel's route gets Elam turned around multiple times, and Hoyer has no one near him. Hoyer delivered a great pass in stride, but Gabriel had to end up diving for it, supposedly because of the tricky winds. By the end of the play, it's a 70-yard gain. I don't want to blame Gabriel too much here. We got the ball inside the 10 yard line, and at the very least, should have had a full touchdown lead.

  18. Blocked Field Goal: Instead, our 36-yard field goal was blocked.

    CB Asa Jackson gets a great jump on the snap, just like New Orleans did a week ago.

    DE Billy Winn took blame for this, as he couldn't get a hand on Jackson. Truth be told, I need to watch some more film on field goals to see just how much a person in the position of Winn is supposed to block the edge guy. I'm not absolving him of blame, but the Ravens played this the exact same way we did on their 32-yard game winner, and we didn't block it.

  19. That Close: The Ravens chipped away and kicked a field goal to make it a 21-20 game. The Browns went three-and-out, but then they forced the Ravens to punt. That's when the "goat of the game" situation applied with Benjamin. After two rushing plays, the Browns faced a 3rd-and-7 with just over two minutes to play.

    If Hoyer can connect for one more first down, the game is over -- we can kneel the ball and go into the bye at 2-1. WR Andrew Hawkins is in the slot to Hoyer's right.

    Hoyer has a good line of sight, and he knows where he's going: he wants to drill Hawkins right out of his break.

    Dammit! After being near-perfect all game, this throw ends up behind Hawkins. Hawkins got his hands on it, but with him contorting around and taking a hit at the same time, I'm not faulting him for being unable to pull this one in.

  20. Steve Smith vs. Joe Haden, The Set-Up: The Browns' defense got a raw deal: after the punt by Spencer Lanning, Baltimore took over at midfield. K Justin Tucket has a strong leg, so even though the Ravens have just one timeout left, they really only need 15 yards to win it and have plenty of time.

    On 1st-and-10, CB Joe Haden is matched up with WR Steve Smith. Smith makes a quick move inside to pick up five yards.

    Haden played to avoid getting burned, but that didn't work here.

  21. Steve Smith vs. Joe Haden, The Closer: Now we're at the 45 yard line, and the margin for error is getting slimmer. Haden is probably thinking that he needs to cut off the inside stuff and force QB Joe Flacco to beat him over-the-top with a good throw and safety help.

    Smith's will very faintly fake an inside move twice before taking off deep.

    Haden is prepared for the inside move here...

    ...and then Smith takes off. This isn't like when Gilbert got burned earlier. Smith does have separation, but it's just the Browns' luck that Flacco delivers a perfect pass and Whitner is a little later in getting over.

  22. Ravens Kick the Game Winner: Now in field goal range, the Browns need to block a kick of their own.

    Can CB Joe Haden get the same type of jump that CB Asa Jackson did?

    As you can see, the Ravens' edge guy pretty much let's Haden go, just as DE Billy Winn did earlier for the Browns.

    Haden is just a bit too late. I tried timing a few things. From snap to kick, the Browns took about 1.25 seconds for their 36-yard attempt, while the Ravens took about 1.12 seconds. That, coupled with Jackson getting a slightly better angle before his leap, is the difference between winning and losing.

  23. Final Assessment: I'm disappointed that CB Joe Haden can't come up with the defensive game-changing plays, but I don't view him as a liability. He's playing pretty well in my opinion, but quarterbacks and wide receivers have made some great plays against him. Kudos to them.

    QB Brian Hoyer looked like the Patriots' Tom Brady in this game. Before we lost, I was having visions of calling this the single best performance I'd seen from a Browns quarterback since 1999 with how crisp the passes were and how good the reads were.

    It's time for the defense to get their act together. They were supposed to be elite. They were hollering after they kept winning the training camp competitions against their offense. Three weeks into the season, the defense ranks 31st in the NFL -- 28th against the rush and 27th against the pass. Nothing is working. If, and that's a big if, the defense can live up to what they were projected to do, the Browns could have something special in the making -- the type of team that can beat each of their first five opponents after the bye by multiple possessions.

  24. Special Teams Tackles: There wasn't a single special teams tackle by the Browns, and I think that's the first time that's ever happened since I made this a regular section in my game reviews. All four of K Billy Cundiff's kickoffs were touchbacks, and none of P Spencer Lanning's four punts had an attempted return.

  25. 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, TE Jordan Cameron actually played the majority of the game. On defense, DL John Hughes didn't see a lot of action, and OLB Barkevious Mingo's reps were back up in his return game.

  26. Brownies: The Browns were 5-of-11 (45%) on third downs. ... The Ravens were 4-of-12 (33%) on third downs. ... Total yards and time of possession were nearly identical for both teams. ... I thought QB Joe Flacco should have been "in" on his QB sneak at the goal line. ... When QB Brian Hoyer threw beyond the line of scrimmage, it's a loss of down penalty; I though the touchdown might allow a re-do of third down, but no. ... RB Terrance West went the wrong way on the play before that, which was also a contributing factor in the loss.

Up next, the Browns take on the Tennessee Titans on the road following their bye. Keep it tuned to Dawgs By Nature for our coverage leading up to the game!