The 67,000+ fans at FirstEnergy Stadium might as well have traveled to Cedar Point today.
The first half of the game resembled the anxious thrill of climbing to the peak of the Dragster’s track.
The second half mimicked the feeling of hurtling down to earth at high speeds with the contents of a full stomach threatening to violently escape.
On a beautiful Cleveland day, the Browns burst out to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter before the Baltimore Ravens stormed back to score 25 unanswered points and win.
However you slice it, the Browns blew it. Blame it on bad coaching, inexperience, poor officiating. Whatever the cause, the Browns lost in disappointing fashion, though the Ravens certainly deserve credit for playing a heck of a game.
With that in mind, let’s dig deep into the game and see what we can take away from this disappointing loss.
1. Special teams still not special: Issues on special teams weighed down the Browns again.
Foremost today was a blocked extra point in the first quarter. John Greco could not get enough of a push on his block, allowing a Ravens’ lineman to block the extra point. Tavon Young returned it to the house for the Ravens for two points, cutting the Browns’ lead to 20-2.
The play took the air out of the stadium, and the Browns never scored again.
The Browns also allowed a lengthy Devin Hester kick return to the Baltimore 47 yard line in the first half. The Ravens’ early offensive woes masked the play, but the long return should sow some concern.
At the same time, Hester is simply being a freak of nature. Hester shook off a defender on a beautiful move after a Browns’ punt early in the third quarter, though his return only went for 13 yards.
Besides the blocked PAT, the other crucial missed opportunity came early in the fourth quarter.
After a decent drive, the Browns lined up for a 52-yard Patrick Murray field goal. Disaster then struck, as a Ravens lineman stuck his paw up and deflected the ball just enough off its path for the ball to miss the uprights.
The Browns need to figure out how to block field goals and PATs more effectively. Maybe the team’s big uglies need to pop opposing linemen in the chest when they leap, or perhaps the Browns’ linemen should work on getting lower out of their stances.
Whatever the solution, the problem has plagued the Browns since last season (think about the last game between these two teams) and will continue to be an issue unless action is taken.
It might not have appeared that way, but special teams were the difference today. The Browns lost by 5 – a blocked field goal and a PAT returned for a safety.
2. Phenomenal first: Before the Ravens could blink, the Browns had a big, early advantage. The Browns rolled to a 20-2 lead after one quarter of play.
The Browns looked like a completely different team than last week.
The Josh McCown-led Browns marched down the field on the first drive of the game, converting three third downs along the way. McCown found Corey Coleman for a 31-yard touchdown pass down the right side, as Coleman shook off Ravens corner Shareece Wright with a deke move on a fly route.
Immediately following a failed Ravens drive, Isaiah Crowell punched through the Ravens’ defense for an 85-yard touchdown, making the score 14-0. Credit the left side of the line and Gary Barnidge for making great seal blocks to open a huge hole for Crowell to run through. Crowell also showcased nice speed to cut through third level Ravens defenders.
On the Ravens’ next drive, Joe Haden stepped in front of a slant route to pick off a Flacco pass intended for Steve Smith. A few plays later, McCown found Coleman in the flat on a bubble screen for a quick touchdown.
Browns fans can be optimistic about the start of the game — the club showed promise in the first part of the game. Now, the trick is to figure out how to sustain that success over a full 60 minutes.
3. Sorry second: After flying the wrong way for most of the first half, the Ravens corrected their course in the second half and shot down the Browns’ offense.
The Ravens looked dazed and confused for much of the first half. Mistakes plagued the Ravens again and again in the first 27 minutes. The wide receivers were among the top problems, running incomplete routes and dropping passes in open space. The running backs didn’t help, missing open running lanes. Terrance West dropped a pass or two, and he didn’t bounce outside when it would have proved wise on several running plays.
Then the Ravens made big adjustments and started shutting down the Browns.
The Ravens’ best move? Clogging the middle on defense on running plays. The Browns ran the ball 14 times for 127 yards in the first half. In the second half, the Browns managed just 18 yards on 9 attempts. What gives?
The Ravens started occupying blockers better in the middle of the field. Credit nose tackle Brandon Williams and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan for attracting double-teams and allowing inside linebackers Zach Orr and CJ Mosley to flow to the ball.
Once the run was taken away, the Ravens could more effectively defend the pass. Gary Barnidge was a non-factor. Initially effective, the Browns’ playaction and screen passes became lost plays. Terrelle Pryor was targeted on 8 passes in the second half, only catching two for 16 yards.
As an aside, the taunting call on Pryor at the end of the game was horrid, but that’s not the reason the Browns lost. There’s no guarantee the Browns would score a touchdown from inside the 10-yard line with 20 seconds left and no timeouts.
Getting back to the point, the Ravens adjusted and the Browns could not counter. It’s a difficulty the Browns have faced in the past.
The most concerning aspect here is the Browns’ inability to adjust the playcalling on the offensive side of the ball. As Doug Dieken pointed out on the Browns’ radio broadcast, the coaching staff kept calling the same running plays in the second half.
Credit the experienced Ravens’ coaching staff for smart adjustments, but the Browns’ staff can grow from this game.
4. The Return of Joe Haden: The veteran cornerback responded to criticism with a 2-interception game.
Haden didn’t have a perfect game, but he made a few critical plays for the Browns.
The 27 year old stepped in front of a slant route in the first quarter and pulled in an interception in the end zone in the third quarter. Both were impressive plays that gave the Browns a big boost of momentum.
On some plays, Haden looked like he’d lost a step, particularly on one deep completion from Flacco to Smith. Haden also allowed a touchdown pass to Mike Wallace in the second quarter, though he was left alone in man coverage across the middle.
Still, Haden’s great plays overshadowed a few not-so-great ones.
And heck, Haden even returned a punt in the third quarter.
Haden looked like his old self for much of the day, and his playmaking ability is desperately needed in a relatively young secondary.
Kudos to Joe on a big day.
5. Poor pass protection: Josh McCown absorbed hit after hit on a painful day, as the offensive line could not slow down a killer Ravens pass rush.
The Ravens nearly took McCown out of the game in the first half, dropping him with a killer blow that left the Browns’ signalcaller wincing. But to his credit, McCown returned to the field to absorb more punishment.
According to CBS, the Ravens scored 2 sacks, 5 hurries, and 5 knockdowns on McCown’s first 23 dropbacks.
If I didn’t say it before, I’ll say it now — Josh McCown has impressive courage. Sure, he’s not the best quarterback in the world. But he absorbed every hit and got back up, never missing a snap.
McCown finished at a solid 20-of-33 for 260 yards and 2 touchdowns. The two interceptions were ill-advised, thrown directly into the teeth of the Ravens’ defense. But considering the circumstances, McCown performed decently.
The offensive line, at least on passing plays, did not. Cameron Erving’s injury definitely played a factor, as the second-year center was hobbling for much of the fourth quarter.
However you feel about Erving, send some good vibes his way — ESPN reports that Erving was taken to the hospital for “cramps and discomfort in his chest [and] ribs” following the loss. Hopefully he’s alright.
Getting back into it, the guards didn’t look all that great, either. Greco and Joel Bitonio looked much better in the running game than in pass protection.
Despite taking a beating, McCown told reporters after the game that he’ll be back against Miami. Whoever the quarterback, the protection needs to improve.
6. Trying everything: The Browns’ defense was far from perfect, but defensive coordinator Ray Horton threw plenty of different looks at the Ravens.
Using the ol’ “throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks” philosophy, Horton applied plenty of different schemes against Flacco and the Ravens’ offense, especially in terms of coverages. The Browns used both man and zone coverage, with plenty of looks for each.
The secondary utilized both press and off-man, with Haden faring better than Tramon Williams in single coverage. With zone coverage, the Browns played both Cover 2 and Cover 3. The Ravens’ 17-yard touchdown pass to Wallace was against Cover 3, but the Browns limited big plays otherwise when playing that coverage.
Whatever the coverage, the Browns couldn’t stop the tight end. Dennis Pitta feasted all day, especially on crossing routes across the middle. The Browns’ linebackers failed to efficiently jam him at the line of scrimmage. Neither Demario Davis nor Derrick Kindred could keep up with Pitta in single coverage, and Pitta found holes in the zone coverage.
The Browns need to figure out an effective way to cover the tight end, or they will struggle against other teams with strong tight ends, such as the Redskins’ Jordan Reed in week 4 or the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski in week 5.
Besides the inability to cover Pitta, I liked the Browns’ playcalling on the defensive side of the ball. The Browns conned Flacco into throwing two picks, and largely limited the Ravens’ rushing attack.
The only major concern moving forward is the health of Carl Nassib. The rookie left the game with a hand injury and did not return. He’s turning into a key cog of the pass rush, and his presence is key. Let’s hope for a speedy recovery.
7. The emergence of Corey Coleman: Say all you will about Carson Wentz, but Coleman played a gem of a game today.
One of the big positive takeaways from today’s game is the sheer talent Corey Coleman possesses. The rookie hauled in 5 catches for 105 yards and a pair of impressive touchdowns.
The first catch was a masterful 31-yard grab in the first quarter. The second score was an easy catch in the flat that turned into a touchdown, thanks to Coleman’s juke, stiff arm, and dive into the end zone.
But arguably his best, and most crucial, catch of the day came in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line. Coleman ran a perfect slant route on 4th and 3 with 34 seconds left, hauling in the pass from McCown to get the first down. But more importantly, Coleman juked out the defender and dashed out of bounds to stop the clock.
That’s a veteran move. Even Andrew Hawkins and Pryor did not have the smarts to get out of bounds after making catches during that final drive.
Fans should be excited to see Coleman play. This guy is special. He’ll make this long season more bearable for Browns fans.