Today’s regular season contest looked more like a preseason contest.
The Cleveland Browns turned over the ball five times in an ugly, ugly loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The Browns trudge out of M&T Bank Stadium with a 24-10 defeat heading into next week’s contest versus the Indianapolis Colts.
An oppressive amount of penalties, clock issues, and frequent stoppages of play were enough to give DeShone Kizer (and Browns fans) a migraine.
Here are the takeaways from a second straight loss to an AFC North rival:
1. Turnovers, Penalties, Mistakes, Oh My: In the first quarter, the Browns set themselves up for failure. A poor start set the Browns back big-time.
In the first quarter, the Browns turned the ball over twice. Both proved to be costly.
The first came on a DeShone Kizer fumble. The Browns called a deep passing play, which the Ravens matched with effective deep zone coverage. Without any dumpoff option, Kizer pump faked while waiting for a receiver to come open deep. When no receiver found space, Kizer looked to scramble, but was tackled and lost the ball. The turnover led to a Ravens’ touchdown.
The second happened deep in Ravens territory after a lengthy, promising drive that included a wonderful catch by Rashard Higgins on 3rd and 20. Kizer looked for Duke Johnson in the flat on a dumpoff, but Johnson could not handle it. You can blame either Johnson for not catching it or Kizer for throwing it too hard, but either way, the pick halted a potential Browns’ scoring drive.
Penalties hindered the Browns in the first quarter, too. The Browns were called for five penalties in the first 12 minutes of the game. A false start by Sammie Coates and a pass interference call on Kenny Britt were among the calls on the Browns
Even into the second quarter, penalties plagued the Browns. A failure to stop blocking after the whistle set the Browns back, courtesy of David Njoku. An illegal hands to the face penalty pinned the Browns back further. And with 1:52 left, a holding penalty pushed Britton Colquitt to the very back edge of the end zone.
The Browns must avoid unnecessary penalties, especially early and late in the game.
Mental mistakes that do not show up on the stat sheet also plagued the Browns. Hesitation in the pocket, covering the wrong gap on defense, and lack of spatial awareness in coverage hurt the Browns.
The mistakes did not end after the first quarter or first half. Penalties continued to harm the Browns, as did turnovers. Kizer’s fourth-quarter interception, a toss well behind Higgins, halted the Browns’ momentum and crushed the hopes of a comeback.
2. Hogan the Hero: A migraine forced DeShone Kizer from the game, bringing in backup quarterback Kevin Hogan. All things considered, Hogan performed admirably.
On his first drive, Hogan looked comfortable in the pocket. The Stanford product found a wide-open Seth DeValve for a lengthy completion. DeValve’s 49-yard reception proved to be one of the longest of the day for the Browns.
A few plays later, Hogan rifled a beautiful toss to David Njoku for a 23-yard touchdown strike. The bullet beat two Ravens’ defenders in the back right corner of the end zone and got the Browns on the board.
Entering the game following an injury and immediately leading your team down the field on a touchdown is impressive. Hogan’s start is a reason for optimism.
However, Hogan’s next two drives did not go well. His next drive resulted in a three-and-out, and the following drive resulted in an interception. Drilled immediately after his throw, Hogan made an ill-advised decision that led to a Ravens touchdown at the end of the half.
Hogan orchestrated a drive in the third quarter, leading to a field goal. Ten points on four drives aren't bad for the Browns’ standards.
Kizer re-entered the game, stopping all thoughts of a quarterback controversy, but Hogan proved his value as a backup signalcaller.
3. Iron Joe: Joe Thomas reached an incredible milestone in the rough-and-tumble NFL – 10,000 consecutive snaps.
The Browns justly celebrated Thomas’ feat on social media, as did the CBS Sports broadcast. Thomas’ resilience and toughness cannot be overstated.
Left tackle is one of the most important positions in football and one of the most difficult. The position is demanding and physical, as opponents will often send their best defenders to the left side to attack the quarterback’s blindside. Thomas has served as the blindside protector for the last 10 years, always reliable and a team leader.
Thomas represents the lone constant factor since 2007. Thomas not missing a game or snap over the last 162 contests is one of the most remarkable long-term achievements we have witnessed since 1999.
Congratulations to Joe Thomas. Thank you for everything, Joe.
4. Death by a thousand completions: Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco orchestrated several successful drives, matriculating the hosts down the field via repeated, short passing plays.
The “elite” quarterback found holes in the Browns’ defense on play after play, carving up the Browns for gains on short passes. Flacco almost universally threw the ball short, only throwing a pair of incomplete long passes in the first half.
Flacco found former Brown Ben Watson several times to burn the Browns. Watson caught passes of 20 and 23 yards on one drive, setting up a Ravens’ score. Completions to the tight end hurt the Browns last week, too, as Jesse James beat the Browns severely.
Flacco found plenty of space in the short to intermediate passing game, finding open receivers time after time, using different routes to beat the Browns. Crossing routes, curls, outs, and tosses to running backs all stung the Browns.
Flacco finished the day 25-for-34 passing with 217 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception.
5. Bad blitzes: The Browns were burned by repeated blitzes. The Ravens, building on what the Steelers did last week, using the Browns’ blitzes to pick up big yardage.
Blitzing can be a boom or bust proposition. Today, the Browns busted, as Gregg Williams’ schemes hurt the Browns.
Studying film from last week, the Ravens opted for a short passing game that negated the Browns’ blitz schemes. The Browns recorded two sacks in the first half, but couldn’t apply pressure often on Flacco, as the veteran quarterback slung balls before the blitzes could land.
Most notably, the Ravens employed screen plays to slow the Browns’ roll. Flacco often looked off the Browns with a fake to the flat before finding an open running back or fullback for a 10-yard gain on a screen pass.
The secondary’s inability to succeed in short coverage hurt the Browns. Briean Boddy-Calhoun allowed a critical Jeremy Maclin touchdown reception at the end of the half. Javorious “Buck” Allen also caused the Browns harm.
6. Running aground: The Browns sputtered in generating yardage on the ground on offense, and struggled to stop the Ravens’ ground game.
With two young quarterbacks with zero combined NFL wins under center, the Browns certainly could have used a consistent running game.
But as my granddad used to say, “If if’s and but’s were candied nuts, we’d all have a helluva Christmas.”
The Browns did have a few nice runs, but did not experience consistent success. Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, and Kizer each enjoyed a lengthy run. However, besides these three runs, the Browns could not establish a running game.
On those three plays, the Browns gained 46 yards. On the team’s other 16 runs, the Browns picked up 33 yards.
The Browns experienced little success in stopping the Ravens on defense, too. Baltimore pounded the ball and opened up space in the passing game with nice runs by different running backs, even the nearly forgotten Terrance West.
The Browns’ struggles seemed to stem from a failure by the linebackers to break off blocks. The Browns’ linemen also got caught in the wash plenty by the Ravens’ pulling guards and linemen. As a unit and a front seven, the Browns did not shed blocks very well.
The Ravens finished the contest with 31 rushes for 137 yards.
7. Hollywood Higgins: One of the brightest spots today came from an unexpected place – the wide receiver corps. Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins enjoyed a breakout day after coming off the practice squad just the other day.
Higgins topped the team with 7 receptions for 95 yards. Hollywood hauled in pass after pass, showing off his reliable hands.
Higgins proved to be a top target for Kizer. The young receiver even drew passes when not open, as two of Kizer’s interceptions came on throws to Higgins. Neither play was Higgins’ fault, needless to say. Higgins was open on the interception in the end zone, but the throw came in behind him.
With Corey Coleman, Kenny Britt, Ricardo Louis, and David Njoku dropping passes today, it’s nice to see the Browns have a reliable option with sure hands. I’m not sure how many drops the Browns receivers had, but it’s way too many.
Hopefully we’ll see more of Higgins in the coming weeks.