A trip across the pond did not result in a win for the Browns.
The Cleveland Browns stumbled in a Sunday morning game against the Minnesota Vikings, 33-16, falling to pieces in the second half.
Any amateur Sherlock Holmes could see the collapse coming after a turnover on the first play of the second half. The Browns looked good in the first half, but the defense eventually collapsed after being on the field forever.
In case you slept in, here’s what you missed:
1. Can we play here more often? The Browns started off the game with a bang, for the first time this season. The Browns claimed the lead for the first time in eight games.
The Browns’ defense came out of the locker room swinging, batting a pass into the waiting arms of Joe Schobert. The Wisconsin product’s pick granted the Browns nice field position, which worked out well for the Browns.
Running an inside zone, Isaiah Crowell dashed through a hole for Crowell’s first rushing score of the season. Crowell did a wonderful job, waiting for his blockers to open up a hole. Spencer Drango found the ‘backer in the gap, and opened up enough room for Crowell to run. Crowell did his job in the open field, too, making the last man miss and dashing into the end zone.
The Browns’ offense started off well in part due to Hue Jackson’s smart playcalling. The head coach used short passes and screens to ease DeShone Kizer into the game and get the ball into the hands of the team’s playmakers.
The Browns played a solid game, though the score does not necessarily indicate the team’s improvement. The Vikings might be the best team the Browns have played all season.
Kenny Britt, hater of all things England, didn’t play, which was nice. The Browns dropped the ball enough without him playing.
Also, it’s nice to get a Browns’ loss out of the way early. Browns fans and this writer didn’t lose an entire afternoon watching a defeat.
2. Werewolves of London: The Browns’ defense roared to a great start in London, limiting Case Keenum and the Vikings’ offense. The front seven shut down the run and the secondary made several great plays to keep the Vikings away from the end zone.
The Vikings did manage a first quarter field goal, but could not find the end zone until late in the second quarter, when the Browns’ zone coverage broke down after a Keenum scramble.
Pat Shurmur’s offense sputtered early, unable to establish a ground game. Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon found no space to run the ball, with the Browns stepping up big-time. Emmanuel Ogbah continued his excellent season, stuffing several runs. Jamie Meder also did well in the ground game, while Christian Kirksey and Jamie Collins also helped out, stuffing holes. Even the secondary got involved, as Briean Boddy-Calhoun avoided blocks to give help in run support.
Joe Schobert excelled in space, too. The second-year ‘backer took down the Vikings’ backs in the open field on a couple of the few occasions Minnesota broke past the first line of defense.
The Browns have received plenty of criticism, most of it deserved. But all things considered, the Browns have done well against the run. Opponents entered the game averaging 83.7 yards per game on the ground, the fifth-best rushing defense in the NFL. The Vikings ended the day with 88 yards on 34 carries, just 2.6 yards per carry.
3. Third down struggles: All things considered, the Browns played a great first half. However, one aspect limited the Browns – an inability to consistently produce on third downs.
In the first half alone, the Browns forced the Vikings into 10 third downs. Minnesota still managed to convert five of them, keeping the Browns’ defense on the field. Meanwhile, the Browns did not convert on their first five third downs.
Here are the key stats – Minnesota overwhelmingly won the time of possession battle in the first half, 20:45-9:15, and finished on top, 37:52-22:08. The Vikings ran 45 plays as opposed to 23 for the Browns in the first 30 minutes.
Even still, the Browns entered the half with a 13-12 lead, forcing the Vikings to kick two field goals. All in all, the Browns played well, limiting the Vikings to 3.3 yards per rush and 6.96 yards per pass in the first half. That’s impressive considering the Browns were playing without three starters – Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers, and Jason McCourty.
In the second half, the Browns stiffened on third down, allowing Minnesota to convert just one of four third down tries. It didn’t matter as much, though, as the Vikings did enough on first and second downs, scoring 21 second half points to get the W. The defense simply ran out of energy, which is understandable considering all of the injuries.
4. Prince of London: DeShone Kizer enjoyed a nice game on Sunday morning, making smart throws and unleashing his big arm. Kizer even snuck it in on a successful quarterback sneak at the end of the first half.
The oft-criticized and benched rookie showed plenty of improvement, even in the face of a fierce Minnesota pass rush. Kizer did not take even one sack in the first half.
Kizer completed 8-of-12 passes for 100 yards in the first half, tossing several smart screen passes and short throws to his playmakers. Kizer avoided bad throws and didn’t toss any passes high. Kizer’s best throws came on the final drive of the second quarter.
Kizer slung a 37-yard pass to the back shoulder of Ricardo Louis along the left sideline. Recognizing single coverage, Kizer read the corner and threw the ball to a perfect spot to beat the corner and find Louis. Kizer’s throw was absolutely brilliant. This type of pass shows Kizer’s potential. Yes, the rookie has a ways to go, but that well-executed throw is evidence of his ceiling.
Another positive was Kizer’s pocket awareness. Kizer snuck out of sacks and stepped forward in the pocket to avoid pressure. On one impressive play, Kizer flipped the ball to Crowell as an outlet pass. Crowell dashed 33 yards for a huge play to get the Browns into the red zone, setting up Kizer’s sneak.
Kizer certainly did not do enough to win. But the rookie avoided overthrows and interceptions, which have plagued him this season. His wideouts certainly did not help him out, dropping passes on numerous occasions, though the Vikings have a great secondary.
Get Kizer better weapons at wideout, and the Browns offense might appear vastly better. But as it stands, the Browns’ offense will continue to sputter with wideouts who cannot make big plays. That’s the difference between the Vikings and the Browns – an ability to hold onto the ball.
5. Mistakes, mistakes: The Browns played a solid game, but mistakes and missed opportunities took points off the board.
Bryce Treggs muffed a punt early on, leading to Vikings points, an inexcusable mistake that hurt early on.
The Browns entered halftime with a 13-12 advantage, the first time the squad held a lead heading into the break. But instead of coming out on fire in the second half, Crowell promptly fumbled on the first play from scrimmage.
Crowell’s mistake set up a Vikings field goal, not the best way to start off the half. At least the Browns did not surrender a touchdown.
The Browns then wasted a lengthy Matthew Dayes kick return. The offense could not gain any traction, leading to a Zane Gonzalez field goal attempt. The rookie missed the 35-yarder, his second miss from 30-39 yards this season. Gonzalez is 7-of-11 on field goals this season.
Another mistake – by the referee – hindered the Browns. Seth DeValve was popped in the end zone on a crossing route, obviously prevented him from getting to the ball. For some reason, the referees did not call the penalty. DeValve appeared to be past 5 yards, thus taking away the 5-yard press excuse. The ball would have been catchable had DeValve not been blocked.
The Browns still got a field goal, but not scoring a touchdown after first and goal from the 6-yard line hurts.
A pass interference call on Briean Boddy-Calhoun then led to a Vikings touchdown on the ensuing drive. Boddy-Calhoun has been phenomenal this season, but the call in the end zone led the Browns to fall into a deficit. And Boddy-Calhoun left the game, adding injury to insult.
The small mistakes continued to piled up, as David Njoku dropped a beautiful ball from Kizer late in the third quarter. The Browns could not convert a couple plays later, leading to a punt.
As a secondary, the Browns clearly missed McCourty and Peppers as the game continued. The defensive backs were continually flagged in the second half for holding and pass interference. Not all were justified, as one penalty on Jamar Taylor occurred on a pass that appeared to be uncatchable.
Even still, mistakes by a young Browns squad hurt, and prevented the Browns from competing more closely with the Vikes.
6. Offensive line: For the first time since 2006, Joe Thomas did not appear in a Browns uniform. Even missing the team’s best player, the offensive line performed quite well.
Spencer Drango filled in for Thomas at left tackle, trying to fill gigantic, Hall of Famer shoes. The second-year lineman didn’t show any signs of stress, blocking his butt off.
Drango did well in both in run blocking and pass protection. Drango sealed the hole on Crowell’s touchdown run, and kept Kizer safe from harm. Everson Griffen entered the game with 9 sacks through seven games, third-best in the NFL. Griffen got a few quarterback hits, but did not record a sack until the 2:51 mark of the fourth quarter on a big blitz play.
The Browns’ offensive line deserves a heap of credit. The Browns rushed for over 100 yards and kept Kizer clean for the most part. The Vikings have a playmaking, talented defense with special playmakers.
As a unit, the offense did not have the best day. The squad went three-and-out three times, which contributed to the slanted possession time numbers. Kizer had a few bad throws, wideouts dropped passes, and Crowell had a critical fumble. But through it all, the offensive line blocked well, with both man and zone scheme blocking.
7. Bye Week Reset: The Browns enter the bye week at 0-8. It’s not looking great.
The Browns have lost four games by 10 or more points this season, and have lost eight straight games for the second time in two seasons under Hue Jackson. That might be a first.
The Browns are showing improvement, demonstrating strength in the ground game on both sides of the ball. The Browns have some young talent.
However, allow me to state the obvious – the Browns do not have enough skill players to win. The Browns need another cornerback and at least two dependable receivers who can make plays and catch the ball in traffic.
Injuries don’t help. Duke Johnson and Boddy-Calhoun left with injuries, as did Jamie Collins at one point. The Browns are banged up all over the field. This team desperately needs Corey Coleman to return.
The Browns need to use the bye week to forget about the first eight weeks of the season and get healthy.
The Browns are showing improvement, but the team needs to get its playmakers back on the field. And most importantly, the Browns need to put together a full 60 minutes of relatively mistake-free football.