First Impressions: Game 3 (Baltimore)

1. Department of prescience. In the preview, I wrote:

It’s extremely difficult to project a growth rate. Some teams get better every week– some go forward and then take a step back. If the Browns can build on the New Orleans win– if they make as much progress from week 2 to 3 as they did from weeks 1 to 2– they win. If not, it’s a struggle.

If the Browns are going to make a step forward, the low-hanging fruit is the run defense. The Browns keep talking about how mush talent they have in the front 7, but they don’t execute. It’s always the same story– they get out of position, leave gaps open and ballcarriers blast through the hols.

If that changes, the Ravens won’t get many yards on the ground, and they’ll need to pass. At which point the Browns can send all sorts of rushes at what is only an adequate line.

Baltimore didn’t win last week, so much as Pittsburgh beat themselves. In the game. the Steelers turned the ball over 3 times and committed 9 penalties for 75 yards,

The Browns have no turnovers (they’ve forced three) and they’ve committed only 12 penalties for 85 yards. If they keep that up against Baltimore (2 turnovers, 120 yards in penalties), they’ll win.

That;s the story of the game, The run defense stunk and they committed 12 penalties for 94 yards.

But they made progress again. They just played a game that everyone on earth knows they should have won. They’ve been in every game at the final gun.

At some point, they’ll start winning these games.

2. The Fine Print on Billy Cundiff: If you have ever wondered why Billy Cundiff, a kicker with clear eyes, a steely jaw and a big leg, is on his sixth team… you just found out.

He’s terrific as long as you don’t need him to win a game. When you do… clank, thump, {OOPS}.

You probably don’t remember his most famous choke– but Baltimore fans absolutely do. Scroll all the way down to the bottom of the play-by-play and you’ll see that he missed a 32-yarder that would have sent the 2011 AFC Championship into overtime.

The good news is that it isn’t difficult to find kickers, The great news is that the Browns need a kicker.

3. The Schottenheimer Rule. The day after he coached his first game– a 16-14 loss to New Orleans, the Browns’ new coach told a press conference that he had a rule.

If you lost the game by seven points or less, the game literally turned on one play– that every player on the team could find at least one example where he failed to make a play that turned out to be critical. It was a team win and a team loss.

That’s certainly true. When you lose games like this, everyone can look in the mirror and say “it’s my fault.”

4. End of indulgence. Of course some of are more to blame than others.

As Damon Runyon characters were wont to say, Leave us not mince words:The Browns run defense sucks. It’s the third week in a row it’s been gashed.

33 carries for 160 yards– 4.8 a carry. Lorenzo Taliferro– a rookie in his first game– gets 18 carries for 91 yards and a score. That’s 5.1 per carry. Justin Forsett gets 11 carries for 63 yards– that’s 5.7. The only thing that saved the Browns from not allowing 5+ yards a rush for the second straight week was Joe Flacco’s 4 carries for 6 yards– a couple of which were kneels.

They’re out of excuses. This is not an adjustment period. The #1 priority for next off-season at this point needs to be overhauling the front seven. In addition to “Losing containment” on almost every play, they didn’t sack Joe Flacco even once.

5. Change in Controversies. So much for the quarterback controversy. Before the game, it became obvious that Brian Hoyer had pretty much turned Johnny Football into Johnny Backup when CBS decided to assign Spero Dedes and Solomon Wilcots.

In week one, when CBS thought they might see Johnny Football, we got Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts and sideline reporter Jenny Dell. In week two, Fox thought we might see him and gave us Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa.

Now Hoyer is entrenched. Completing 78% for 290 yards (over 11 yards a pass) and a TD– and no interceptions again— will earn him the right to have 2-3 bad games. We’ll see Cementhead and Moron until the Browns get their record up enough to get a good crew.

Now the controversy will be “Should Isaiah Crowell (11-55-1) start over Terrance West (12-36)?” Here’s a wild concept: Maybe they should both play. Aside from keeping a set of fresh legs in there, Crowell has better speed, but West is harder to bring down. The guy gets more carries ought to depend on whether the opposing defense lacks size or speed.

6. The $20 million man. Watching Joe Flacco miss connections with open receivers time and again, I marvel at how anyone can think this guy is a great player. His biggest asset is that he’s so large that he’s hard to bring down. But if he had hit a few of the players who were open, this wouldn’t have been close.

7. Depressing thought. The list of unrestricted free agents for 2015 includes a lot of players who now look critical:

  • WR Miles Austin
  • CB Buster Skrine
  • QB Brian Hoyer

I don’t think I’d talk contract with Austin, because there’s a good chance he’ll get injured again. But the other two guys are going to cost a lot– and they’re needed. CB Justin Gilbert (who got burned a few times) is still clueless.

Also S Tashaun Gipson is a restricted free agent, but the odds that someone will try to do an Andrew Hawkins on him looks like it will be pretty high.

TE Jordan “Poke” Cameron is unrestricted, but… well, maybe his shoulder was just hurt. Or maybe he was clearing space for everyone else. That’s teh sort of thing you need to watch replay to see.

If you want to keep Cundiff, LB Jaball Sheard or DT Ahtyba Rubin, you have a future in the front office of a team run by Joe Banner. Sheard made one big tackle, but he blew 3-4 other plays. He’s a 4-3 end, who should find a team who’ll let him do that. Rubin makes way too much money for a guy who doesn’t make that many plays.

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