Ahh yes, another loss.
The Cleveland Browns fell to the Baltimore Ravens, 28-7, on Thursday Night Football, as the Ravens wore down the Browns with superior line play.
The Browns now own an 0-10 record, the worst start in club history.
Negatives abound in a disappointing effort from the Browns, especially on offense, thanks to a mid-game change of heart at quarterback. A few silver linings exist, but a loss is a loss.
With that, we dive into the seven takeaways:
1. Quarterback chaos: The offense grinded to a halt in the second half, as head coach Hue Jackson brought in the veteran journeyman to relieve the rookie. Jackson’s gamble did not pay off.
Somehow, the Browns managed to use three quarterbacks tonight, even though none suffered any injury. Bold strategy, Cotton.
QB #1, Cody Kessler, started the game, as in past weeks. The young gun enjoyed a solid first half, completing 11-of-18 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown.
QB #2, fellow rookie Kevin Hogan, entered the game on a package series, which resulted in failure after the Ravens sniffed out a screen and forced Hogan out of the pocket. Hogan never re-entered the game.
QB #3, veteran Josh McCown, came into the game in the second half. Here’s where fans and pundits will debate for hours.
Kessler had turned in a solid performance up to that point, though it was nothing spectacular. He threw a touchdown to tight end Seth DeValve and completed some nice, short passes.
However, Kessler did not stretch the field, a pet peeve of Jackson’s. Twitter experts called that the reason for Jackson’s decision.
Jackson told the media he replaced Kessler because the youngster ‘wasn’t playing well,’ and Jackson hoped McCown would give the offense a ‘spark.’
McCown was not exactly the ‘spark,’ the Browns were hoping he would be.
McCown looked atrocious. The veteran completed just 6-of-13 passes for 59 yards and two interceptions. McCown had several passes batted away at the line, and looked uncomfortable in the pocket. That’s understandable, since he was sacked three times.
Whatever the cause for McCown’s poor play, the signalcaller finished the game with an awful 19.9 passer rating.
We’ll dissect this decision for a while, but it was clearly the wrong decision in hindsight. Both due to the results on-field, and the idea that you never want to bench a potential quarterback of the future for a signalcaller of the past.
2. Trench warfare: Though young and talented, the defensive line suffered a mighty setback tonight against the Ravens.
Facing a strong Baltimore offensive line, the Browns’ defensive line struggled at times, especially in the running game. While Carl Nassib and Emmanuel Ogbah’s wide angles to the quarterback worked well against the pass, the approach did not work at all against the rush.
The Ravens opened up big holes off-tackle, pulling the center and guard from the weak side to blow off the Browns’ linebackers at the point of attack.
Credit the Browns’ linebackers for making the most of the situation (more on them below), but the defensive line could not contain Baltimore’s rushing game.
On the day, the Ravens rushed for 119 yards on 34 carries. That’s a yards per carry mark of 3.5, but former Browns running back Terrance West managed 65 yards.
On the flip side of the coin, the Browns hurried Joe Flacco on a number of throws. The defense recorded two sacks and six quarterback hits, large improvements from last week. Ogbah did well when rushing the passer tonight, using his hands to fight off blocks.
The defensive line has talent, but cannot be pushed off the ball like they were tonight.
3. Holding down the fort: The Browns’ linebackers showed a wealth of improvement tonight, especially with Jamie Collins looking more comfortable in the Browns’ system.
For the first time in quite a while, the Browns’ top two tacklers were both linebackers, a good sign for the Browns’ defense. You always prefer to have linebackers make more tackles than your safeties, as this means you’re taking down the ballcarrier before he reaches the open field.
Christian Kirksey led all Browns’ defenders with 13 tackles, while Collins notched 9 on the evening, along with a sack and two tackles for loss.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton seemed to use different formations and new schemes to stop the Ravens. Not all of them worked, but the ways he aligned the linebackers actually saw positive results. Kirksey seemed to flow to the ball more easily and Collins found openings and space to work with.
Horton’s usage of Collins was especially encouraging. Collins lined up on the edge more frequently as a pass rusher, a role that would suit him perfectly. If the Browns could slot Collins into a Von Miller type of role with solid production, the Browns would have a better pass rush and thus a much better overall defense.
The Browns are beginning to gather talented players on defense. The club still has a ways to go, but Collins could be a piece to build around.
4. That’s more like it: Joe Haden made some great plays tonight, amidst a disappointing night for the secondary.
To avoid mincing words, the secondary sucks.
Ibraheim Campbell looked awful in coverage, Tracy Howard struggled, Tramon Williams drew a bad holding call in the fourth quarter, and Derrick Kindred didn’t do much.
Flacco tore the Browns up for 296 yards and 3 touchdowns, guiding the Ravens to an easy 21-point win and a series sweep.
Give Flacco credit, but the Browns’ performance tonight only cements the fact that the Browns need a complete rebuild in the secondary.
On the plus side, however, Haden did turn up.
The veteran picked off Flacco, reading the quarterback’s eyes perfectly and jumping in front of the receiver to head off a touchdown pass. Without Haden’s smart play, the Ravens finish off the Browns earlier.
Haden also deflected two other passes, limiting big-play threats such as Steve Smith and Mike Wallace. Granted, Flacco still managed 9.8 yards per completion. But Flacco’s longest completion was just 27 yards, a testament to Haden’s improved play.
Also credit Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who beautifully intercepted a pass intended for Smith. Boddy-Calhoun did struggle at other times, but the pick headed off another promising Ravens’ drive.
At least the Browns have a couple decent pieces in place when the front office decides to rework the secondary.
5. Road to nowhere: Following a stellar start to the season on the ground, the Browns again failed to run the ball with any success tonight.
The Browns have a problem. A big one.
The offense is not gaining any traction on running plays. Tonight, the Browns rushed for a measly 33 yards on 13 carries. That’s 2.5 yards per carry. Isaiah Crowell gained 23 yards on 9 carries.
To succeed in the NFL on offense, you need two things: 1. A trustworthy quarterback with a reliable arm; and 2. Balance. The Browns have neither.
To correctly diagnose the exact problem with the run game, we have to dig deeper into the film. But from watching the game on television, it appears the Browns have a problem sealing the edge. The Browns have no problem pulling blockers from the backside. But the linemen on the strongside aren’t handling their blocks.
Another problem, at least from Crowell, is a lack of quickness to the hole. Crowell might have gained 10-20 more yards on the ground if he would have burst into the opening instead of showing hesitation.
Again, we need to dig deeper to find the exact cause of the struggles on the ground. But from what we know, the Browns need better blocking on the playside and more burst from their backs.
6. That doesn’t happen often: Browns fans saw a rarity on Thursday evening – a bad game by Joe Thomas.
Facing one of the best in the business in Terrell Suggs, Thomas struggled some in pass protection. The perennial Pro Bowler had trouble with Suggs, as the wily linebacker rushed around Thomas, using speed to attack the quarterback.
Thomas typically has quick feet and fast hands to push back opposing defenders, but not today.
Thomas’s poor play cost the Browns a pair of turnovers – a McCown interception on a play in which Suggs hit McCown’s arm on the follow-through, and a McCown fumble later on.
Some days, the other guy just gets the better of you, and that’s what happened today. Some in the comments section will lash out at Joe, but that’s not justified. Sure, Thomas had a bad game, but these are few and far between.
Expect the veteran to return to form against the Steelers.
7. Who cares? The 2016 Browns now hold the club record for the worst record to start the season. That stinks, but it doesn’t matter.
Many fans and media members have called for Jackson’s job, or have openly pondered why Jackson has not faced more heat.
Here’s the reality: Jackson has the worst roster in the NFL due to the previous regime’s failures. Vince Lombardi could not lead these players to the playoffs.
The front office needs time to rebuild. We all knew 2016 would be a rebuilding year, a lost year dedicated to the transition process.
An 0-10 or even an 0-16 record will not, or at least should not, affect the plan. The Browns should continue to move forward and improve week-by-week, regardless of wins or losses.
The rest of the season is about fighting for a win, and not giving up. The Browns cannot throw their hands up and easily succumb to fate. The club needs to fight and move forward.
Don’t let anyone fool you – the next six games are nearly meaningless. The Browns can finish 6-10 or 0-16. The only things that matter are improving and hanging onto the No. 1 draft pick. A win would be nice for the psyche, but that’s about it.
Don’t let a bad call or a near loss convince you otherwise. The Browns suck, but they’re sucking with a purpose. The Browns are not aimlessly wandering through the desert.
If the last six games are too painful to watch, skip them. Enjoy your Sundays. I wouldn’t blame you.
But don’t call for Hue’s head, or a restart. That resets the clock, and no one wants that.
The good news? We get a 10-day break before the next game.