In the aftermath following the disaster that was Johnny Manziel’s first start...
Cleveland Browns Week Five: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
The Cleveland Browns made the most of their only nationally televised game of the 2013 season this past Thursday at home against the Buffalo Bills, winning by a score of 37-24. While the victory may have been bittersweet with the loss of third stringer turned star QB Brian Hoyer due to injury the Browns still managed to win, claiming a share of first place in the AFC North. Here is a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from week five for the Browns along with some advanced stats from Pro Football Focus.
The Browns offense continued to have success, even with Brandon Weeden under center. After losing Hoyer early in the game (out for the year with a torn ACL) there was a collective groan as Weeden emerged from the sidelines. While things started off shaky for Weeden, who undoubtedly had to knock off some rust after missing two weeks, he managed to actually have a good game. While his completion percentage was a little low (54.2% on 13 of 24 passing) Weeden did take care of the ball, not throwing any interceptions. Weeden was also the victim of dropped passes. Josh Gordon, Greg Little, Davone Bess and Chris Ogbonnaya all dropped catchable balls from Weeden. This was certainly the best Weeden has looked since preseason and, while Hoyer still made quicker decisions, Weeden was able to come out and manage the game without costing the team. Weeden was also very successful when throwing downfield, completing two of three passes on attempts of 20+ yards for 84 yards and a touchdown.
The Browns offensive attack continued to commit to the run for the second week in a row and actually managed some success on the ground Thursday night. Willis McGahee ran the ball 26 times for 72 yards and a touchdown and while he certainly didn’t kill the Bills in terms of yards per carry (2.8) he was able to break off some decent runs, including rushes of 16, 11 and 9 yards. After only seeing 45 rushes in weeks 1-3 from Browns running backs, offensive coordinator Norv Tuner has called upon Willis McGahee, Ogbonnaya and Bobby Rainey 54 times in the last two weeks.
Travis Benjamin reminded everyone he can change the game in the course of a few seconds. Benjamin, who set a team record for return yards in a game on Thursday, returned seven punts for 179 yards with a long of 79 yards on a return for a touchdown. Without Benjamin’s electric returns the Browns might not have won on Thursday.
The Browns run defense had their worst day as a unit, but outside of one play, still managed to keep the Bills ground game in check. Buffalo’s stable of running backs consisting of C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and Tashard Choice combined for 141 yards on 30 carries (E.J. Manuel added one carry for 14 yards and a sprained knee) for a 4.7 yard per carry average. However, if you take away Spiller’s 54 yard touchdown dash (which of course isn’t really fair to do) the running back trio only managed 87 yards on 29 rushing attempts (average of three yards per carry). While the Spiller touchdown could have been a game changer, Barkevious Mingo will surely use it as a learning tool on how to properly disengage from a blocker and contain the edge.
Buster Skrine has managed back to back solid performances in pass defense. Skrine saw 13 passes come into his coverage Thursday night and only allowed six catches for 52 yards. He also broke up two passes and had a quarterback sack. At this point, it’s still uncertain if Skrine’s recent playing trend is an anomaly or the real deal. In a review of the tape, Skrine still at times relies heavily on his closing speed (not necessarily a bad thing) while his technique still needs some work. What cannot be disputed, however, is that he has not allowed a touchdown since week one.
Not receiving enough credit in this writers opinion is defensive end Armonty Bryant, who appeared on the field due to injuries (specifically after Desmond Bryant was forced out of the game). Armonty Bryant made the most of his limited time of the field (16 snaps total) notching three quarterback pressures, including a sack. Bryant’s play is a representation of what makes the Browns defensive front seven so great, quality depth.
Browns receivers dropped 5 passes, the most in a single game by the Browns this year. Securing catchable balls continues to be a problem for Browns receivers (this includes all pass catchers, not just wide receivers) as they have dropped 17 passes in 2013. Needless to say dropping five passes in a week doesn’t help your quarterback and is a big reason the week five completion percentage was so low (collectively 53.6%).
The Browns were penalized six times for 66 yards, three of these coming from the offensive line committed by Joe Thomas (false start), John Greco (facemask) and Alex Mack (holding). Joe Haden also had two flags thrown against him, one for defensive pass interference and one on an extra point block. Haden blocked the extra point attempt but was flagged for lining up off sides.
The Browns pass protection once again struggled to hold up. The Browns offensive line had a pass blocking efficiency of 72.1 in week five (Denver had the week five best at 89.3, for comparison) and Weeden was under pressure on 44.8% of his 29 drop backs. Part of this is due to the fact that he took an average of 3.25 seconds to throw the ball and only had six drop backs of 2.5 seconds or less, but not all of the blame can be or should be placed on Weeden.
Craig Robertson continues to struggle in pass coverage. Robertson saw four passes come into his coverage and allowed four receptions. What’s more troublesome than the receptions (it should be noted that three of the receptions went to RB Fred Jackson so he couldn’t have made a play on the ball) is that he gave up an average of 11.8 yards per reception against Buffalo. While he hasn’t given up a touchdown, Robertson has given up an average of 8.6 yards per reception this year. That’s not how to lock up the middle of the field.
Losing Brian Hoyer for the year is a big time blow to the offense. While Weeden wasn’t particularly terrible against Buffalo, the differences between the two were obvious after seeing two weeks of Hoyer followed immediately by Weeden. If Weeden doesn’t drastically improve on his pre snap reads and do a better job of anticipating receivers out of their breaks he will have a hard time finding a job starting on any NFL team next season.
The Browns once again won this game in true team fashion. It’s encouraging to see players like Skrine and Bryant step up in key situations, guys who aren’t considered lynchpins on the defense. While the Browns currently sit tied atop the AFC North with a 3-2 record, a tough stretch of games will show what kind of team this really is heading into a week 10 bye.
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