Eagles vs Browns: 10 Things We Learned from Cleveland's 17-16 Loss
When a team forces five turnovers and scores a defensive touchdown in a National League Football game, said team should probably win said game.
Not the Cleveland Browns.
Despite the Philadelphia Eagles' best efforts to hand the game over on a silver platter, the Browns found a way to squander a golden opportunity.
It would have been just the second opening day win for the team since rejoining the league in 1999.
What did we learn from Cleveland's 17-16 home defeat?
Brandon Weeden Looked Like a Rookie
Saying that Weeden looked like a rookie is about as kind as one can be when assessing the carnage that occurred in his NFL debut.
In one of the worst beginnings in NFL history for a first-round pick, Weeden's numbers were as follows: 12-of-35 for 118 yards, zero touchdowns and four interceptions. The final INT dashed any hopes of a Browns' comeback.
The biggest difference in this contest that featured such sloppy execution and many turnovers by both offenses came down to a few throws.
Michael Vick completed a deep ball near the end of the second half to Jeremy Maclin, then hit him on the next play for a touchdown. He then put it on the money to Clay Harbor with under two minutes left for the deciding score.
The reckless Vick made poor decisions all day, but he made three key throws to win the game.
Weeden made zero such throws. He blew a wide open touchdown to Mohammed Massaquoi on the first series of the game. He also missed Alex Smith in the end zone, when he had plenty of separation.
The 5.1 QB rating Weeden logged adequately describes how poorly he played.
Defensive Young Guns Stepped Up
The Browns' defensive line only got Michael Vick to the ground twice for sacks, but there was pressure in his face all day thanks to an exceptional pass rush.
Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron threw everything but the kitchen sink at Vick, resulting in 11 big hits on the QB while he was in the pocket.
The front four played much better than in the preseason and rookies John Hughes and Billy Winn stepped up at defensive tackle in the absence of Phil Taylor.
Perhaps most impressive were the undrafted free agent linebackers, L.J. Fort and Craig Robertson. Fort started at outside linebacker in place of fellow first-year player James Michael-Johnson, a fourth-round draft pick. He registered a sack and an INT and nearly intercepted another pass in the end zone toward the end of the game.
Robertson didn't start, but he did make a team-high nine total tackles, deflected two passes, got a nice hit on Vick and had an interception.
Some rookies didn't play like rookies. Those on the defensive side of the ball stepped up in a big way.
Greg Little Will Not Be a Breakout Fantasy Stud
Multiple outlets have hailed the second-year player as a potential steal in fantasy drafts. Seriously, take to Google and type, "Greg Little fantasy."
If Sunday was any indication, that prognostication is going to be laughed upon in the weeks to come.
In four targets, Little failed to haul in one pass. One ball deflected off of his hands and was intercepted by the Eagles' Kurt Coleman inside Philadelphia's 10 yard line.
As the leading receiver on the 2011 squad, Little was expected to take the next step this season. The one glaring weakness, of course, is that he struggled with drops last season.
On one of the few decent throws Brandon Weeden made all day—decent by Weeden's Sunday standard, that is—Little's perceived problem resurfaced. In a one-point game, that can't happen.
Until Josh Gordon has a few more reps in the offense, the Browns may still be searching in vain for a No. 1 receiver.
Eric Hagg Got Torched Two Costly Times
It wasn't a bad game for the most part. A lot is expected of Hagg, who was drafted out of Nebraska in the 2011 draft.
The seventh-round pick is expected to fill in seamlessly for the valuable and versatile Mike Adams, now on the Denver Broncos. Against a slew of elite quarterbacks, it's up to Hagg to keep everything in check and eliminate big-play opportunities.
In the last two minutes of the half, Hagg was late helping Buster Skrine cover Jeremy Maclin over the top. The one-on-one coverage, predictably, ended in a huge 46-yard reception by Maclin.
On the next play, a miscommunication and blown coverage resulted in a wide-open Maclin in the back of the endzone.
It's hard to criticize the defense at all, because they played phenomenal football for most of the day. However, there were serious, costly leaks at the end of the first half, and Hagg has to be the main culprit for them.
Offensive Line Has Serious Chemistry Issues
In slight defense of Brandon Weeden and the ineptitude of the offense in general, there wasn't much help from the O-line.
Weeden was chased all day and even top pick Trent Richardson couldn't move the meter in the running game, which is a trend that has carried over from the preseason. It may even justify the trials and tribulations of Montario Hardesty.
Jason Pinkston and Shaun Lavao just don't scream "All-Pro," and it was clear that Cleveland wasn't equipped to handle the Eagles' wide-nine attack on defense.
There were only two sacks of Weeden on the afternoon, but having a featured back average just over two yards per carry isn't going to cut it.
There was no run support for the rookie QB to lean on, and that just compounded the multiple issues Weeden had on the afternoon.
Trading Up for T-Rich Looks Justifiable
We all know what is about to happen in this picture. Instead of, "Welcome to the NFL, Trent Richardson," it was more, "Kurt Coleman, meet Trent Richardson."
In the most exciting play of the afternoon, Richardson's nine-yard run culminated in smashing into a treading Coleman in the second quarter, causing the Eagle safety's helmet to fly off.
Unfortunately, there wasn't much else to celebrate for the No. 3 overall pick on the afternoon, as he carried the rock 19 times for just 39 yards.
Last week I made the case that the Browns shouldn't have had Richardson start the opener after just one week of practice and no preseason action.
No matter how good he might be, Richardson can't go anywhere if he doesn't have adequate blocking. However, health may have been part of the equation as well.
Richardson did prove on one run why the Browns felt so strongly about him in this year's draft, but he needs some help from the bigs up front to generate consistent production on the ground.
D'Qwell Jackson Is Officially a Stud
Maybe Jackson doesn't get the credit he deserves because of playing for a recently-awful franchise.
It's likely Jackson is going to be a household name after his Week 1 showing. An interception return for a touchdown was the first of Jackson's career and it briefly put the Browns on top16-10. His flip into the end zone was especially impressive.
Earlier, Jackson deflected a Michael Vick pass that resulted in another interception, as the seventh-year middle linebacker flashed his outstanding instincts and ability to anticipate where Vick was going with the ball.
Leading the AFC in tackles last season should have been enough to gain notoriety—and at the very least a Pro Bowl appearance.
This should be the first year that Jackson is playing in Hawaii. He anchors what is obviously a fantastic 2012 Browns defensive unit.
Offense Was Not Opportunistic
T.J. Ward stripped LeSean McCoy and the defense picked off four passes from Eagles QB Michael Vick.
It didn't really matter because the offense itself only managed to scrounge six points out of those turnovers—D'Qwell Jackson's pick-six notwithstanding.
As mentioned earlier, Brandon Weeden whiffed on a touchdown pass to Mohammed Massaquoi, sailing the ball about five yards out of bounds and three yards out of reach.
Not being able to run the ball in the red zone also hurt. Weeden frequently locked on to his first read, resulting in many tipped passes and multiple passes right into the chests of Eagles' defenders.
The Browns' biggest, most athletic targets such as Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron were not utilized once in the scoring area, which is a little bit befuddling.
A lights-out defense provided many golden chances for the Cleveland offense to punch it in, but they failed to capitalize time and time again.
Special Teams Returned to Elite Form
One area the Browns dominated in was special teams, a unit that has come under fire due to a decline in performance in 2011.
Second-year coordinator Chris Tabor couldn't have hoped for a better start to the new season from his players.
Punter Reggie Hodges plopped three of seven punts inside the 20-yard-line, showing why the Browns brought him back after tearing his Achilles in camp last year.
Once again, Phil Dawson justified the franchise tag placed on him as a kicker, nailing all three of his field goals. His Eagles counterpart, Alex Henry, missed a crucial kick in the fourth quarter.
As poorly as the offense played, the Browns may look to return specialist Josh Cribbs for instant offense, as he delivered the goods once again returning punts and kicks. Cribbs averaged just over 30 yards per kick return, and gained 78 yards on six punt returns.
The kick coverage teams kept everything in front of them all day, not allowing the breakdowns that were more frequent in Tabor's first year than in recent memory.
Pat Shurmur's Play Calling Is Still Head-Scratching
There wasn't much more variety in the offense. In fact, the Browns' attack on Sunday looked like it had taken several steps back from the horrific 2011 output.
Absent was any rhythm, consistency or even general completion of the most basic plays.
Of course, hiccups are expected with so many skill players having so little experience, especially with a first-year player under center.
It's difficult to break in yet another first-timer to the West Coast system, but Cleveland's game plan looked so vanilla.
The two deep tosses to Travis Benjamin that resulted in picks weren't so much bad decisions by Weeden as just trying to make something happen. The rookie had to be frustrated dumping it off underneath and throwing slants all day.
Eventually, the Eagles caught on to the fact that the Browns weren't showing anything unique.
The biggest play of the day? A 35-yard run by Benjamin on a double reverse.
A little more variety wouldn't hurt, because after the terrifying showing in Cleveland Browns Stadium, the 2012 offense clearly doesn't have much to lose.