At 2-2, Could Be Better, Could Be Worse

Browns enter their final regular season game against the Steelers this year at 2-2. One could make arguments the team could be 4-0 or 0-4, which makes for a lot of good discussion on the direction of this team.

Walking out after Sunday’s win, someone commented the Browns could easily be 4-0 or 0-4., which makes for a lot of comments that swing on both sides.

•Pettine made an honest comment after Sunday’s game that his team looked heavy legged in the first half. Did a very tough training camp and do tough in season practices continue to exert a toll and does practicing a thud and release in practices emphasize the release as much as the thud come game time and help explain sloppy play? Exciting win aside, Sunday’s dispirited first half performance suggests something should be adjusted for a team that had two weeks to prepare, or else the half time pep talks need to be given before the first whistle.

•Kyle Shanahan looks to be the Browns best offensive coordinator since the reboot which simply means it’s an offense that works. Play action works because the running game works so well, and an up tempo offense when the clock is a factor still allows time to continue to call running plays. Most coordinators are quick to say the running game is important but just as quick to abandon the running game when behind by 20+ points. Shanahan didn’t and doesn’t which quietly makes this a wow.

•Another adage to never give up points and to take the field goal almost cost the Browns a victory as Pettine passed up the opportunity for field goals. Twice. The Browns did need touchdowns. Still, if special teams didn’t record a safety, coaching decisions would be taking center stage following a defeat. Hindsight is great this way, isn’t it?

•Hoyer who plays in the shadow of Johnny Manziel became the starter that took the limelight for all the right reasons as the Browns claimed their greatest comeback win, ever, and also the NFL’s largest away game comeback. One pundit went so far as recalling a historic comeback by a then young 49er’s team in 1980 that went on to win the Super Bowl the following year. Something may be forming, and we’ll understand that something a lot better at the end of the season. Still, it’s exciting to see the Browns catch interest on the national stage for reasons other than Hoyer’s backup.

•A perfectly thrown deep ball to Gabriel streaking down the right side of the field stands out. Hoyer rises to the occasion and makes the big play when needed and did so throughout the second half including a stellar grab by Travis Benjamin who ad lib’d when Hoyer got into trouble.

•Hoyer’s 2nd half interception which otherwise proved as a 45 yard punt on third down also stands out. Hoyer didn’t have an open receiver on the play but simply throwing it away didn’t give anyone a chance when things were looking grim, and a calculated move and Hoyer’s first interception of the year otherwise appeared as a laudable effort.

•In a study in contrasts, Manziel laughing it up as the Browns were getting pounded in the first half isn’t what most fans or any coach want to see.

•Gabriel followed an 81 yard effort against the Ravens with 95 yards while playing only a handful of snaps and has quickly become a big play guy who makes a difference when on the field. Some guys play when the lights go on as Coach Palmer once reminded. Gabriel is showing consistency, here, and showing he is one of those guys.

Ben Tate had a career day in running for 123 yards. More than that, Tate’s comprehension of the playbook opens up the offense which showed.

•Bitonio and Thomas both looked equally capable when pushing back defenders on the left side of the line, and PFF rated both in the top four for play at their position this week and also rates Bitonio as one of the top guards so far this season. It’s been years in forming, but the Browns have a good line and also a QB who makes quick decisions. And wouldn't it be nice if sustained play by Bitionio enters his name into discussion as Pro Bowl ballets are handed out, later.

•Hoyer targeted Hawkins a team high 9 times while many balls sailed over Hawkins head. Hoyer is a pretty accurate QB who doesn’t throw interceptions. Balls that sail high are usually to the advantage of the receiver over the defensive back. Not true for small receivers while habits engrained in QB's are hard to retool, and time will tell how this plays out for a 5'7" receiver who otherwise is Hoyer's favorite target.

•On the other side of the ball K’Waun WIlliams played big in taking snaps away from first round pick Justin Gilbert. Keeping 12 defensive backs and undrafted free agents like K’waun Williams over Nate Burleson amidst a receiver corps otherwise lacking size and experience seemed questionable at the beginning of the season. It looks like Pettine and Farmer are clicking on all their moves and have a handle on things as Williams was recognized as one of the top four cornerbacks this week by PFF.

Karlos Dansby also graded out highly by PFF this week which says a lot given how slowly the defense started in allowing TD’s on four successive drives in the first half. Dansby comes ready to play. Why is this difficult for others?!

Joe Haden made PFF’s list of top 5 players whose play this year has slid most from last year. Haden has always spoken about proving himself while that languaging changed as Joe signed his big contract this offseason. Haden has always played hard and never came across as a player playing out his contract year. While most of us can't fathom either the job Haden does nor the money involved, most fans who have been in Joe’s corner from day one hope there is some fathoming at work that will turn things around. If there was a quick answer it would've been found, though. Being injured and sitting out this week may not help, and maybe this is something that just need to be played through to play out.

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