A win is a win and the Browns 34-24 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals was well deserved.
The Browns did not look the part falling behind 14-7 in the second quarter, and on the verge of going down further, until the Bengals brain lapse, letting the clock run out.
In the second half, the Browns offense executed better, the defense was opportunistic and KR/WR Josh Cribbs provided the team excellent field position on two occasions, leading to Phil Dawson field goals.
Rookie QB Brandon Weeden was solid, WR's Josh Gordon and Josh Cooper made important catches, while the TE's closed the show for the Browns offense. Jordan Cameron with an important reception deep in Bengals' territory after falling down and veteran Ben Watson hauling in a three-yard touchdown pass.
Even the forgotten Montario Hardesty came off the pine to relieve an injured Trent Richardson and ran like the running back last viewed while in the college game as a member of the Tennessee Volunteers.
Hardesty's contribution shouldn't be slighted, he ran the ball to daylight while being quick and decisive.
As well as the Browns offense executed in the second half, it was the defense which held matters in check.
The Bengals didn't run the ball well as rookie defensive tackles Billy Winn and John Hughes stuffed the interior of the line throughout the game. Jabaal Sheard along with veterans Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker contained the edges well. The Bengals passing game moved the football, but the Browns opportunistic defense rose to the occasion.
Cornerback Joe Haden's return to the starting line-up paid immediate dividends. Haden helped solidify the defensive backfield, as well as limiting the impact Bengals' star wide receiver A.J. Green would have.
Haden's return enabled the Browns to lock-up veteran CB Sheldon Brown on the second and third Cincinnati receivers. Brown held the Bengals secondary receivers in check along with intercepting a Dalton pass and returning it for a touchdown.
Quick, Random Thoughts
Head coach Pat Shurmur's play-calling was good In spurts on Sunday. Despite a poor second quarter, the head coach along with offensive coordinator Brad Childress had the team come out of the locker room in the second half ready to play. The flow of the play-and the team execution was vastly improved. Excellent field position helped the cause as the Browns capitalized on the momentum created by special teams, the defense and their own improved play.
The return of CB Joe Haden was huge. Haden simply raises the level of play in the defensive backfield and he played with a purpose. I believe if Haden did not play on Sunday, the Browns would have lost this game – which is an aspect I believe has hampered this team during his suspension.
Tackle, tackle tackle. How does safety T.J. Ward take such a terrible angle on the Bengals 55 yard touchdown pass to TE Jermaine Gresham? If anything, Ward should have walked into an interception, rather than whiffing on the receiver. Just as bad was the lack of physicality when Gresham brushed off the feeble tackle attempt of safety Usama Young.
When a QB throws for over 380 yards, something isn't working quite right defensively. Sure, there is a bend but don't break philosphy, or keep everything in front of you. But, this type of yardage is playing with fire and there are reasons why the passing yardage, as well as touchdown receptions keep piling up against the Browns.
Since the Joe Haden suspension, the Browns defense has blitzed less and played more cover-two and cover-three defense. But, the root of the problem resides on the inability to generate a pass rush without bringing LB's or DB's. Heading toward the off-season, the Browns need to secure the services of a pass rusher to relieve pressure off the defensive backfield, a safety to team with T.J. Ward and a legitimate number-two type CB, as I don't envision Buster Skrine as a number-two CB and Dimitri Patterson is a better slot or nickle CB, rather than on an island.
There has been so much talk of the youth within this roster. Well, again on Sunday, it was this youth and inexperience which played an important role in the win. Rookies Billy Winn, John Hughes, James-Michael Johnson, Josh Gordon, Josh Cooper, Mitchell Schwartz, Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden played large.
Second year players Jordan Cameron, Greg Little, Jabaal Sheard, Buster Skrine and Craig Robertson played significant roles in the victory. Say what you will, the youth secured and being developed by the Browns coaching staff could make this a team of significance in the very near future.
Rookie James-Michael Johnson and Craig Robertson filled in well for veteran OLB Scott Fujita. There is little reason to delay getting these young players consistent playing time, moving Fujita to a backup role may be his best service to the team at this point in his career.
Starting OLB Kaluka Maiava has been a relatively unknown presence on game-day. Maiava has performed consistently and is young. The question becomes whether Maiava is viewed as the future, and I don't believe he is. It's not to say Maiava isn't capable or a player which has a role with the Browns, but rather determining whether the Browns have inexperience holding back upgrading the position.
QB Brandon Weeden improvement since week-one of the season has been steady. The most obvious improvement is in his comfort level in the pocket and timing with receivers. Let's remember gang, Weeden is a rookie and he will have his fair share of ups and down's. Weeden made numerous excellent reads, the only problem I have with his performance was the number of passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. The rookie QB needs to work on gaining viable throwing lanes if he and this Browns offense gain proficiency.
RB Trent Richardson's rib injury comes as a great disappointment. Richardson was to be a major focal point in the offensive game-plan and the game started as such. Early in the game Richardson was getting the ball often and was effective. Following the rib injury, Richardson was unable to run with the same authority and the Bengals defense focused on him.
Did I mention RB Montario Hardesty ran the ball well and was a vital player in this Browns win?
WR Greg Little caught the ball and was very good blocking down-field – that is all I have to say on Little for this week. Check back next Sunday to see if the receiver continues the upward climb.
When WR Travis Benjamin return from injury, the Browns need to get him implemented early on game-day. The game is so much simpler when the defense has to think about vertical threats, such has Josh Gordon has demonstrated in recent weeks.
Rookie WR Josh Cooper shouldn't be the forgotten man when others return. Cooper has the skills and trust from his QB to be effective – in the slot.
I am not so certain WR Mohamed Massaquoi will be part of the future for the Browns. His injury issues make him difficult to depend upon and the Browns offense seeks players on the playing field, not in the medical room.
FB Owen Marecic made a few key blocks during the Browns – Bengals battle. When I watch Marecic, I wonder if he is ever going to get to the target and he has been a liability in the passing game. If the Browns continue to utilize two TE's and a FB, they must get production out of the FB position. Right now, Marecic isn't showing to be that player.
The offensive line fired off the ball consistently throughout the game against the Bengals, which is what the goal was on Sunday. The coaching staff has wanted to become increasingly physical at the point of attack.
When veteran offensive lineman John Greco stepped in for an ailing Jason Pinkston at LG, the play along the line was consistent – if not improved. The at times struggles of Pinkston and RG Shawn Lauvao should be looked at closely, as Greco is a capable lineman and possibly an improvement.
Again, rookie RT Mitchell Schwartz had a solid performance. Those worried about Schwartz in the preseason, into the season need not to worry. Schwartz is workmanlike and gets the job done on a consistently improving level.