Browns vs Bengals: 5 Big Takeaways from Cleveland's Performance
The Cleveland Browns' 34-27 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday carried a lot of lessons for this young team, some positive and others maddeningly predictable.
The Browns' two key rookies, QB Brandon Weeden and RB Trent Richardson, showed marked improvement in their second outing, giving a much-needed boost to an offense that floundered last week against Philadelphia.
But the absence of CB Joe Haden on the defense allowed the Bengals to pick on the Browns' young secondary.
Combined with mental lapses, poor tackling and heavy penalties, the Browns just couldn't keep up.
Here are five lessons from the Week 2 Battle of Ohio:
1. We Learned That Caution Continues to Frustrate Fans
Browns fans have seen it all too often over the last lost decade: The team opts for the safe option, and it doesn't pay off.
Down 7-3, with fourth-and-inches near midfield, head coach Pat Shurmur decides to make the safe call and punt, which the Bengals turn into a 74-yard TD scoring drive.
The Browns never had any good chance to catch up after that.
The percentages aren't with the risk-takers. But Browns fans have all-too-often seen the safe call reap no benefit, only to turn into losing another one beleaguered by the ever-nagging "what if?"
Last week's was whether the Browns should've gone for two against Philadelphia early in the fourth quarter to take a full TD lead.
We've learned that caution continues to only wind up manifesting haunting questions.
2. We Learned Brandon Weeden Can Actually Play QB in the NFL
After turning in one of the worst rookie debuts at QB in NFL history, Brandon Weeden may have chalked up one of the starkest turnarounds in a second effort.
Weeden went 26-for-37 with two TDs, zero INTs and a 114.9 passer rating on Sunday in Cincinnati.
The performance was punctuated by a 73-yard scoring drive late in the game where he went 5-for-5 and connected with WR Greg Little over the middle on a TD with the same play that got tipped for an INT last week.
Weeden flashed the potential that made the Browns select him with the 22nd pick in the 2012 draft, and it should hush any murmurings of QB controversy, for now.
3. We Learned Why the Browns Moved Up for Trent Richardson
After having a pretty modest 39 yards on 19 carries in his first NFL game, RB Trent Richardson clocked 109 yards on 19 carries this time around for a 5.7 yards-per-carry average and two TDs, one rushing and one receiving.
He also had 36 receiving yards on four catches.
This is why the Browns traded multiple late-round picks in April to ensure they could select Richardson with the third overall pick in the 2012 draft.
He showed quickness, toughness and an adept ability to shed tacklers, rolling and bumping off four of them on his reception TD.
But perhaps what Cleveland fans really learned Sunday was how a strong rushing attack can open up the passing game.
4. We Learned How Much the Browns Will Miss Joe Haden
With CB Joe Haden suspended for four games, the Browns got their first taste of the frustration that comes with not having a top-flight corner to lock down the secondary.
DC Dick Jauron was forced to play a lot of football with last year's fifth-round selection CB Buster Skrine and 2012 sixth-round selection CB Trevin Wade.
The Bengals have a strong receiving corps, and they used the mismatch to their advantage all afternoon.
Of course, this lesson was already anticipated by many, including Jauron, who will have to scheme adeptly against the high-performing passing attacks of the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens without Haden, as well as the Buffalo Bills in Cleveland next week.
The Bengals had three receiving TDs compared to zero rushing TDs, with the Browns' rush defense keeping Benjarvis Green-Ellis to 75 yards on 21 carries.
5. We Learned How Costly the Details Can Be
These are basic things: catching the football, sound tackling technique, lining up correctly, protecting the football.
These are the things that can cost games, as they did for the Browns on Sunday.
This is a young team, and they have a lot of talent, but also a lot to learn and a lot to clean up.
The Browns gave up 103 yards on 10 penalties. CB Dimitri Patterson repeatedly lined up in the neutral zone.
RB Chris Ogbonnaya had a costly fumble in an otherwise solid effort.
Special teams tackling totally broke down during the first punt of the game, where the Bengals' Adam Jones had an 81-yard punt return for six.
Tackling later broke down again on a Ben Tate reception TD.
These Browns need to mind the details, lest they find themselves continuing to be gashed by these costly, largely self-inflicted mistakes.
At least—silver lining—a loss will always teach those lessons with much more authority than a win. Selah.