HELLO CLEVELAND!: In case you don’t know me, between 1996 and 2011, I was a nerdy guy who ran the most popular independent Browns fans sites on the Internet, which were called various things like “Browns:TNG”, and the “Orange and Brown Report”.
I have watched a lot of really bad football, and consider myself a bit of an expert on what constitutes a 4–12 or 5–11 NFL team.
After 15 years of self-abuse, the media world apparently got weird enough to enable me to turn pro, and my contributions here on the OBR have been sparse since that time, as Lane, Don, and Fred have kept the lights on and the beer cold.
God, I miss this place.
LONG ROAD AHEAD: Part-way through he punt-fest that was that second and third quarters, I remarked in the chat room that the game was truly an example of one team out-stinking the other. Much of the game mostly featured the two squads trading punts and taking turns being uninspiring on offense.
Some call this “grinding it out”. Others would call it boring football.
But that’s not really fair. The Browns, to their credit, played stout defense throughout, and did not turn the ball over. Furthermore, they took advantage of turnovers, scoring 17 of their 23 points following Tashaun Gipson’s interception return, Joe Haden’s fumble return, and Barkevious Mingo’s recovery of a Derek Carr fumble deep in Raiders territory.
In a clash of football teams with considerable weaknesses, the Browns ability to force turnovers and take advantage of them was the difference.
But, oh my, the Raiders are awful. While Derek Carr looks like he may eventually carve out an NFL career as a quarterback, the team’s running attack (and dedication to it) is a problem, particularly with Jones-Drew. Carr’s receiving corps is unthreatening. I’m not sure how they win a football game this year.
On the plus side, they’ll get to pick whoever they want from the college ranks to give Carr some help next year. Their 2014 draft was successful, and stringing a few of those together is what turns bad clubs into good ones. The Raiders are horrible, but their fortunes can easily change in the coming years.
MUTED IMPROVEMENT: The Browns had reason to be hopeful about an improved running game thanks to the addition of C Nick McDonald. McDonald’s return allowed John Greco to slide back to his more comfortable RG spot, and removed Paul McQuistan from the starting offensive line.
The improvement in blocking was modest, however, as the Raiders sold out to stop the run, often playing the safety up, and were largely successful in doing so. The Browns managed just 19 yards on 16 carries through the first three quarters, as fan-favorite Isaiah Crowell remained on the sidelines and Terrence West and Ben Tate managed a measly 1.7 and 0.6 yards per carry respectively.
What the offensive line did do, however, was largely keep Hoyer upright, however, despite giving up a sack in the fourth quarter. And the team will certainly take that.
THE TURNAROUND: The key play of the game was Donte Whitner laying into Darren McFadden, causing a fumble that popped conveniently up in the air, enabling Joe Haden’s subsequent 34-yard fumble return. Before that, the Raiders were driving and looked to be heading towards taking the lead.
The Browns effectively traded T.J. Ward for Donte Whitner in the off-season, and the change paid dividends on Sunday.
With Gipson and Whitner, the Browns arguably have one of the better safety tandems in the league. With Justin Gilbert’s continuing improvement, a dominant defensive secondary could be in the offing. It will have to appear to off-set the team’s continuing injury struggles on the line. John Hughes suffered a knee injury, per Mike Pettine, and his status was unknown following the game.
OUT-THINKING THEMSELVES: After taking the opening kick-off, the Raiders immediately moved the ball on the Cleveland defense, bolting to mid-field from the 20 in just two plays. After the second hand-off to Darren McFadden, Raiders found themselves in Browns territory at the 42, and looked prepared to deliver a hard punch to the Browns hopes right off the bat.
At this point, the Raiders showed why they’re the Raiders, out-thinking themselves by half, and lining up Derek Carr at wide receiver. The play was a disaster as McFadden wobbled a pass to Carr that sucked the life out of the opening drive.
The Raiders out-thought themselves again on the ensuing field goal kick, backing Matt Schaub into the shotgun after sending the field goal team on. It was total failure. Gipson picked off Schaub’s errant pass and returned it 35 yards to the Raiders 48.
The Raiders were rolling, but coached themselves out of a drive.
Thank goodness the Raiders didn’t just continue feeding the ball to McFadden, who averaged over 6 yards per carry in the first half.
GAMEBALL TO THE FANS: One would have to award a gameball to the fans this game, as they did a terrific job in the third quarter confusing the Raiders offense and forcing a timeout and a delay of game.
Mike Pettine later acknowledged the fans impact, pointing out that they had a few additional hours to get “extra lubrication” for the late start.