I want to apologize for posting so late. I decided to take a bye week, too. Moving forward, we will be back to our regularly scheduled programming…
In the meantime, there has been a lot of speculation about why the Browns lost to the Ravens last Sunday. Various fans, commentators, and analysts have blamed a lot of different people, from Christian Yount (bad snap on field goal) to Billy Cundiff (missed field goal) to Billy Winn (missed block on field goal) to Travis Benjamin (muffed punt) to Taylor Gabriel (sun in his eyes?) to Brian Hoyer (I got nothing on this one. These folks are nuts.). Coach Mike Pettine even blamed himself. But they are all wrong (although some more than others). Why? Because it’s me. I’m to blame.
Let me explain. I traveled to Pittsburgh for the first game of the season, and we lost when the Steelers kicked a field goal to win at the end. I did not attend the game against the Saints; we won. Then, last weekend, I made the pilgrimage to First Energy Stadium… Aaaaaaaand the Ravens kicked a field goal to win at the end. Are you noticing a trend? It’s all my fault! Apparently, when I attend Browns games, the other team will inevitably kick a field goal to win at the end. But do not despair! I will not be attending any more Browns games this season. I couldn’t do that to the team, the fans, or myself. From now on I will be more accountable for my actions. I am deeply sorry for any hardship I have caused! Please forgive me!
PS–If you are not superstitious in this way, then we probably grew up on different planets, and I do not understand you at all. You see, when I watched the Browns with my dad when I was little, there were rules: If the Browns scored when I left the living room for a pop refill, I was forbidden from returning. Under no circumstances was my dad going to take any chances that my presence in the living room would cost the Browns a win. This rule made perfect sense to me then and still seems completely normal. Right?
Probably not. But all joking aside, there are a few real reasons why the Browns lost to the Ravens. Let’s discuss:
Actually, the offense had pretty much nothing to do with the Browns losing to the Ravens. But that didn’t stop people from blaming Terrance West, Taylor Gabriel, and Brian Hoyer for the loss. So let me deal with those folks…
Yeah, there were a few run plays where Terrance West danced a little too long and got caught in the backfield. But listen. After the Ravens game, West was ranked 10th in the league in total rushing yards. He isn’t just outperforming all other rookie running backs at this point in the season, he’s outperforming most veteran running backs as well.
And yeah, it would’ve been nice if Taylor Gabriel had scored a touchdown on his 70-yd pass reception. But let’s focus on the fact that the undrafted free agent rookie had a beautiful 70-yd pass reception that set the Browns up at the Ravens’ 9-yd line, and then let’s remember that the entire offense and special teams unit then both failed to score any points. Not entirely Gabriel’s fault, wouldn’t you agree?
As for the Brian-Hoyer-hating, Johnny-Football-obsessed folks blaming Hoyer for not staging a third miraculous comeback in three weeks… You all need to pipe down. Last Sunday, Brian Hoyer completed 76% of his passes for 290 yards and a touchdown, earning a QB rating of 127.1. If those stats don’t mean a whole lot to you or you’re just generally confused, that’s pretty freaking awesome. So, no… Under no circumstances was Hoyer to blame for the Browns’ loss to the Ravens. He may not have won it for them. But he certainly didn’t lose it.
So who did?
2. Special teams.
The penalty the Browns received on the kickoff only signaled what was to come. The Browns would be a fairly huge disaster on special teams for the entire game. That being said, I want to clear some things up.
First, Billy Cundiff is not the reason the Browns lost. Listen, we’ve been over this; I get that you miss Phil Dawson. I do, too. But we aren’t going to get mad at Cundiff for missing a 50-yard field goal. They are hard to make, and everyone misses them sometimes. And, more importantly, we aren’t going to get mad at Cundiff for getting his field goal blocked. Because it’s his job to kick the ball. And that’s it. It was Billy Winn’s job to prevent the Raven’s Asa Jackson from blocking the kick. And Winn didn’t, and the field goal was blocked. And it sucked. But it wasn’t Cundiff’s fault.
Second, Travis Benjamin is not the reason the Browns lost. Yes, Benjamin needs to do a better job in his role as a returner. He muffed a punt early in the game, and it was a miracle that he recovered it. But the people screaming about his failure to field a punt in the fourth quarter, giving the Browns offense horrible field position, need to take a deep breath. Maybe Benjamin should have anticipated a deeper punt. But he didn’t. And the ball bounced behind him. That sucked. But under no circumstances should a punt returner ever turn around and run in the wrong direction to field a punt. The opportunities for that situation to go bad are innumerable. So I’m letting Benjamin off the hook for that one.
But now that we’ve cleared those two things up, I’m going to reiterate that the special teams play generally stunk. And Special Teams Coach Chris Tabor better clean things up, otherwise what once seemed like the most secure job on the Browns coaching staff (and maybe in the entire organization) might not be so safe anymore.
3. Aaaaaaand Defense.
Now we get to the most significant reason the Browns lost to the Ravens. And it’s because the defense was incredibly inconsistent throughout the game.
The Browns run defense is just abysmal. We are currently ranked 29th in the NFL after giving up 461 rushing yards in just 3 weeks. To put that into perspective, here’s a fun fact: There are 24 teams who have given up less yards in 4 games than the Browns have given up in 3. YUCK! That’s atrocious. And we are giving them up everywhere. Ravens running backs Lorenzo Taliaferro and Justin Forsett ran up the middle and down the edge–it did not matter–we could not stop them. And at 27th in the NFL, the pass defense isn’t much better.
This isn’t to say some guys on defense aren’t playing well. Kruger has really been getting after quarterbacks this season, and Craig Robertson joined him in the backfield to take a few swipes at Flacco. Skrine is doing a nice job in coverage and an even better job as a one-on-one tackler. And Tashaun Gipson has two interception in just three games. But it’s time for some other folks to step up.
Twice last Sunday outside linebackers–once Barkevious Mingo and once Jabaal Sheard–just completely dropped their assignments to rush the quarterback, leaving a Ravens runner plenty of room along the sideline. While I appreciate their ferocity, I would like it more if they just did their jobs and defended the run.
And once again, rookie Justin Gilbert did damage just by being on the field. Early in the second half he got completely smoked by his receiver and lucked out when Flacco threw the ball way off target. But his luck ran out (and apparently his ability to use his brain) when he was called for a facemask penalty late in the game, putting the Ravens on the Browns 5-yd line and setting them up to score.
And then there’s Joe Haden. Oh, Joey. Last season you proved your worth, completely shutting down the best receivers in the league (A.J. Green, Megatron, and the list goes on) week after week. So please forgive the Browns fans who have decided that you are not an elite corner. You clearly are; they’re clearly wrong. You were glued to Steve Smith for 59 minutes last Sunday; Flacco didn’t even try to throw him the ball more than twice because your coverage was so sublime… Except for that one time. That one minute where you gave up that huge pass to Smith, which led to the Ravens kicking the winning field goal. That one teeny-tiny instant where you weren’t clutch. Which, unfortunately, reminded Browns fans of that one time in Week 1 when you weren’t so clutch against Antonio Brown, and that other time in Week 2 when you weren’t so clutch against Jimmy Graham. And now, these crazy Browns fans are starting to think you aren’t so clutch at all. So listen. I’m going to need you work on that.
And I’m going to need the rest of the team to work on just generally playing better and winning football games. Because I expect to the beat the Titans this Sunday. Go Browns!