Last week’s game against the Ravens felt like a step backward for the Browns after almost beating the Steelers in the home opener. It was a very young team’s first game of the season, on the road, against an exceptional defense, in a division rival’s hostile stadium. While veteran players aren’t typically affected by such negative changes in scenery, many of Cleveland’s rookie and second-year players didn’t seem settled in.
We did not see the type of explosive plays and tight coverage from Gregg Williams’ defensive unit that we saw against the Steelers, although they did an exceptional job of making halftime adjustments and holding the Ravens to only a field goal in the second half. They also managed to come away with a couple of sacks, a forced fumble recovery, and a beautiful interception by Jason McCourty. The low point for the defense was giving up a touchdown with 5 seconds left in the first half, with the Browns only down by seven. Then again, the fault for this touchdown must be shared with backup QB Kevin Hogan, who threw a devastatingly ill-timed interception as the Browns were again driving toward the end zone, turning the ball over to the Ravens right before halftime.
While rookie QB DeShone Kizer didn’t play the entire game, sitting much of the first half and the beginning of the second half with migraine symptoms and admittedly failing to get into a rhythm, he did show improvement from Week 1 in certain areas. After taking 7 sacks against the Steelers, many of which were his fault, the rookie did a better job throwing the ball away or scrambling for first downs and only took 2 sacks against a very good Ravens defensive line. Unfortunately, on one of those sacks Kizer wasn’t able to hold onto the ball. This turnover also resulted in a touchdown for the Ravens. Yes, turnovers much more than the Ravens were the Browns biggest nemesis last week, with Kizer adding three interceptions to his fumble and Hogan’s interception.
Several offensive players managed to have good games against an excellent Ravens defense, however, and I hope to see them shine again today against the Colts. WR Rashard Higgins, who was cut after training camp but re-signed and activated off the practice squad, had his best game as a pro, recording 7 receptions for 95 yards. His yardage was only surpassed by TE Seth DeValve who had 103 yards on 6 receptions. Overall the Browns’ tight ends had a nice day, with rookie TE David Njoku picking up his first touchdown of the season on a beautiful pass from Hogan in the second quarter. RB Duke Johnson showed off his versatility and elusiveness with the ball in his hands, averaging over 5 yards a carry and racking up 59 receiving yards on 3 catches, including a circus catch from Hogan early in the second half. I hope to see these players featured prominently in the offense again today.
I also hope to see significant improvement in communication among the offensive line. In both games against the Steelers and Ravens, the Browns committed too many false starts, took too many delay of game penalties, and had to call unnecessary timeouts to avoid more. This put their rookie quarterback behind the sticks and forced the team to rely too heavily on the passing game. And while the run game looked slightly better in Week 2, it was still not where it needed to be. Finally, the Browns must eliminate turnovers on offense while continuing to force them on defense if they hope to beat the Colts today.
The Browns are favored in today’s road game for the first time since Week 14 of the 2015 season. I want a win, and I want it now. Go Brownies.