First things first, thanks to everyone who has contributed comments on the site over the past month. So far, I think we’ve created an environment where logic and reason have trumped rage and personal attacks. And as always, AGREE or DISAGREE – but civility is always paramount.
And in another nod to the general society around us, Brandon Weeden and the Browns’ offense experienced that most 21st century American phenomenon of looking clueless out of the gate and setting basement expectations, then hurdling the low bar with basic competence. And sadly yes, this is a call for wild celebration in Cleveland.
After getting the chance to again go through the game, here are some more thoughts on Browns-Bengals – first starting with the only topic most Browns’ fans care about.
First, Weeden clearly improved according to this metric.
But seriously, Weeden did have some impressive moments – and avoided the critical mistakes that plagued him against the Eagles. Let’s take a look at a few plays and go from there.
1st Quarter – 12:44 – 19-Yard Completion to Massaquoi
After an opening series Travis Benjamin end around and a couple Trent Richardson runs, the Bengals are clearly expecting another run here. The slot corner drifts inside to bring eight box defenders – which will give Massaquoi a free release in the slot.
Weeden gives a play action fake to Richardson – which was extraordinarily effective, as the Bengals’ linebackers collectively break their ankles trying to recalibrate and drop into coverage.
With the Bengals’ front eight shifted to his right, Weeden has an ideal opposite field window to find Massaquoi cutting across the middle. Weeden gets some help here as two Bengal defensive backs slip – creating an even bigger gap.
Weeden’s throw is actually behind Massaquoi, but well ahead of the Bengals’ still recovering middle linebacker. Naturally, the play was aided by the Bengal defensive backs’ slipping. But in terms of executing a play action, Weeden delivers a solid play for a rookie.
For any OBR readers, I’m about to show a Brandon Weeden incompletion. This does not mean that I’m trying to be negative or somehow hate either YOU or the Browns. It’s just football.
3rd Quarter – 11:08 – Incompletion to Massaquoi
The Browns come out in a three-wide receiver, single back set and the Bengals stay in their base 4-3 defense – looks that were common throughout the game. Weeden has a quick drop (something that he also clearly improved on compared to the first week) and has Massaquoi open between the slot corner and hesitant safety. Weeden simply leads Massaquoi too far.
And somewhat related to Weeden’s progression – here’s a look for everyone who laments receivers running routes short of a first down and 3rd and Long. On the following play – a 3rd and 13 – check out the formation.
I’m trying not to play amateur coach – which is too easy to do – but I don’t understand the Bunch formation on this down. It takes too long for the Browns’ receivers to “unravel” and get open and considering the Bengals’ pass rush, this play was just too slow to be effective. As for the routes, only one Browns’ receiver makes it to the 29 – which was the first down marker.
And once again on the next possession – a 3rd and 18:
And seriously, if you see or know something that I don’t, let me know. Obviously, it’s hard to block long enough for 18-yard routes to develop – but at the least, it’s interesting to see what develops.
0:20 – 3rd Quarter – Touchdown to Richardson
Prior to this play, Richardson had run for 9 and 3 yards and Weeden had used play action to two passes – one an incompletion and the other a big-gainer to Massaquoi. On this play, the Browns come out in a modified “I” look and the Bengals (as usual) are in their 4-3 with a corner creeping into the defensive front.
Weeden again executes some nice play action and bonus points have to be awarded to Richardson for selling the handoff and blasting into the Bengals’ line.
Just like earlier in the game, the Bengals’ linebackers are frozen stiff by play action. The Browns’ receivers take the safeties deep, creating a huge chunk of space. Richardson leaks out unnoticed, Weeden winds around the rest is pure evil-spirited running.
The rest of Weeden’s afternoon was a series of running back checkdowns and a few over the middle passes. In the 4th quarter alone, Weeden totaled 130 passing yards and was the beneficiary of some smarter play calls that emphasized quicker routes.
Overall, Weeden certainly played better and from my account, probably only threw about seven or eight “bad” passes – which is comparable to any NFL QB in a given game. Obviously, there is more hope coming out of this game than after the Eagles’ loss. And clearly, this Browns’ offense operates at a far higher level when the threat of a running game is present. Against the Bengals, the Browns consistently ran play action passes.
Other offensive thoughts….
1. I love watching Alex Mack on extended running plays. Clearly, he is reaching for a new level of performance – one that started against the Lions during the preseason. Against the Bengals, he sealed Richardson’s first score and helped the rookie gain some second-half yardage.
2. Joe Thomas looks a step slower this season, which is likely due to his lingering knee injury. Although Thomas has underplayed the injury, his performance so far this season has sub-par (based on the elite level he has established over the past years).
3. The Browns’ beleaguered guards, Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao showed much better against the Bengals. In particular, Pinkston displayed much better quickness – likely based on a more run-heavy attack.
4. Obviously, Mohamed Massaquoi had a big stat day, but the fourth-year wideout seems to be finding his NFL niche as a slot receiver. Massaquoi ran some pretty smooth routes against the Bengals and took advantage of the Bengals’ glacially slow linebackers.
5. Bonus points to Shurmur and the coaching staff for exploiting the Bengals’ linebackers. Throughout the afternoon, the Bengals’ linebackers (and safeties) looked tentative and even frozen at times. Naturally, the Browns’ running game and a decent mix of play calls were an advantage. However in the future, running four end around’s and about a dozen draw plays may not be effective on a weekly basis.
5a. And more bonus points to the vastly underrated Alex Smith. The mouthbreather section of Browns’ Nation only know Smith as the guy that fumbled a handoff last season. However, Smith is the most versatile tight end on the roster and his blocking and receiving skills are keeping Jordan Cameron on the sidelines. If Smith misses action due to his injury, the results will be noticeable.
Now about that defense….
This was a 1st and 10 early in the second quarter. Take a look at where the Browns’ cornerbacks are lined up. This alignment has to equal the coaching staff’s faith with Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown missing.
And on the Bengals’ third quarter touchdown to Brandon Tate, the Browns were doomed before the play even began. The Bengals split into a four-wide set – with Tate far wide. (Although it’s hard to tell in this shot), Dmitri Patterson calls for help and lines up on slot receiver, which forces safety Eric Hagg to solo cover Tate. While Hagg can cover some serious ground in “center field”, there’s a reason he is a safety and not a cornerback.
And I really don’t want to re-live Andrew Hawkins’ touchdown – the one where Trevin Wade somehow got out of position twice and then fell underneath a flailing Eric Hagg.
Other thoughts on the defense….
1. John Hughes is an intriguing player – very intriguing. In the first half, there were times when he was easily controlled by the Bengals’ Clint Boling solo or by Boling and a Jeff Faine chip. However, in the third quarter, Hughes came out fired up and made two great plays – one by escaping Boling inside and tripping up Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis for a one-yard gain and the next a great hustle sack on Andy Dalton. On the next possession, he drifted into underneath coverage and tipped a Dalton pass that was intercepted by D’Qwell Jackson. And I know this is a bit of irony for long time Browns fans, but Hughes has a little bit of early Gerard Warren to his game.
2. Knowing how Browns’ fans are, Buster Skrine will never be forgiven for existing. And certainly he was overmatched at times against the Bengals. However, based on his pure speed and ability to recover against receivers, there is an outside chance he could become a really good NFL corner in time. Unfortunately, that time will probably not come soon enough.
3. Speaking of speed, Craig Robertson has plenty of it. However, like Skrine, Robertson’s development will have to be based on learning where he needs to be on the field.
4. Who would have guessed it, but maybe GM Tom Heckert was onto something during this past summer’s free agency. Both Juqua Parker and Frostee Rucker played well against the Bengals. While Rucker probably had some extra motivation in playing his former team, he was energetic throughout. Parker has some amazing burst given his age and basically spelled Jabaal Sheard in the second half.
4a. However, Sheard showed up early by performing a beautiful spin move that landed him in Dalton’s face.
5. Just like the offense improved with play action, the defense can only be helped by Trent Richardson’s emergence. Considering the youth and relative speed of the defense, if the Browns’ offense can actually eat up some clock (which hasn’t happened in 13 years), the defense could surprise. However, in the meantime the secondary will struggle and will have to be anchored by a suprisingly quick defensive line.
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More later in the week.