Cleveland Browns: Winners and Losers vs. Buffalo Bills
The Cleveland Browns left it up to Buffalo Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and his arm to beat them on the road. Anyone might like those odds, but the Harvard grad got it done.
Another loss for Cleveland, this one by a score of 24-14, was destined due to a disastrous start. The bleeding was stopped in the first quarter only by an unfortunate shoulder injury to Bills stud running back C.J. Spiller
Both the offense and defense had good moments, but the Browns can't seem to find the consistency required to win a game.
WKYC Channel 3 sports anchor Dave Chudowsky summed up the disappointing day well on Twitter:
Browns 0-3 to start the season: 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2006, 1999 since return...
— Dave Chudowsky (@DaveChudowsky) September 23, 2012
Here are the home team's biggest winners and losers from Sunday's action in Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Winner: Jordan Cameron
Plenty of questions have loomed about Cameron's ability as a blocker, but his athleticism has never been doubted. It was on full display against Buffalo, as the second-year tight end hauled in five passes for 45 yards.
A concussion held typical backup Alex Smith out of the game, which gave Cameron the opportunity to show what he could do. He took full advantage, and created matchup problems for the Bills' secondary.
Cameron showed that he could be split out wide and will hopefully give rookie QB Brandon Weeden a big, viable target in the red zone. Weeden tried to hit him on a back shoulder fade in the end zone, but Buffalo safety George Wilson wasn't having any of it.
With all the athletic, super-sized tight ends breaking out in today's NFL, Cameron showed that he does indeed have that same kind of potential. How much the Browns utilize his unique skill set remains to be seen, but Cameron led the team in catches and yards in his first significant action.
Not a bad beginning.
Loser: Greg Little
So apparently the drop issues have carried over in Little's second season. The Browns' leading receiver in 2011 is clearly frustrated, and took to social media to express how he felt after last week's loss against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Honestly I really don't care what fans say I really could careless! I ride with the 53 men in the locker room and the coaches thats it.— Greg Little (@Str8UpGlittle) September 16, 2012
Pretty strong words coming from the projected receiver of the future, who registered just two catches for 17 yards and got just four targets of Weeden's 43 passes.
The biggest moment came on a third down play when the Browns were attempting to run a two-minute drill as the first half wound down. Little was wide open, with about 10 to 15 yards of open field in front of him. As he's done all too often in his short career, he did not look the ball in and had yet another disheartening drop.
Browns fans can't be happy with how Little feels about their opinions, nor can they be pleased with the talented receiver's spotty production.
Little must play better in the coming weeks if the Browns are going to be competitive this season.
Winner: Craig Robertson
A wonderful start in Week 1 earned Robertson more snaps against Buffalo, and he jumped at the opportunity. Robertson led the Browns with eight total tackles.
The undrafted free agent out of North Texas continues to impress, and may become a full-time starter if he continues playing this way. Robertson certainly brings more speed and athleticism to the table than Scott Fujita, who didn't record a tackle on Sunday and barely played.
Bills skill players frequently got to the second level against the Browns, but Robertson was there more often than any of his teammates to make the stop. It's clear that he is a smart linebacker who plays wise beyond his years, and nothing indicates that he can't be trusted.
At first he was a long shot just to make the final 53-man roster, but Robertson is now an impact player for the Cleveland defense and could be rewarded with a steady starting gig after another fine week of work.
Losers: Browns' Cornerbacks
Instead of bringing a lot of pressure, the Browns were content to let their defensive line provide the only source of pressure and play man-to-man coverage in the secondary.
That didn't work so well with No. 1 corner Joe Haden still out.
Sheldon Brown, Buster Skrine and Dimitri Patterson got beat consistently all afternoon. Part of that can be attributed to very little pass rush, and part of it can be attributed to the defensive game plan.
However, the corners gave far too much of a cushion on the Bills receivers for the majority of the game, allowing Ryan Fitzpatrick to get into a rhythm.
Of the trio, Brown was the only one who was able to wrap up and tackle consistently in the open field. The problem was, his man was typically pretty far downfield when the stop was made.
Haden is clearly missed, and without him, Stevie Johnson was able to get loose for a game-high seven catches and 61 yards, including the deciding touchdown. Once again, Cleveland was in man coverage and Johnson ran a beautiful route to the inside and toasted Patterson in the process.
For the first two weeks, Cleveland's defensive line provided consistent push, but Fitzpatrick found his receivers quickly as coverage sagged back.
It came down to the Browns needing to force a turnover, and it never happened. Patterson had an interception right in his gut near the end of the first half, but couldn't hold on.
Last year's pass defense was stout, but Haden's value to the secondary is becoming more apparent by the game.
Winner: Travis Benjamin
The fourth-round rookie out of the University of Miami showed that he could be the vertical threat the Browns have been searching for.
Benjamin ran a fantastic post-corner route for a 22-yard touchdown grab in the third quarter, which cut the Bills' lead to 17-14. Cleveland wouldn't get any closer, but that shouldn't have been Benjamin's first score of the day.
Earlier in the game, quarterback Brandon Weeden had Benjamin one on one down the right sideline, but put too much air under the ball, allowing Buffalo cornerback Aaron Williams to break up the pass.
The struggles of Greg Little and a hamstring injury to Mohamed Massaquoi might result in a steady increase in targets for Benjamin. Head coach Pat Shurmur should continue to use Benjamin on end-around plays, but he should have a heavier workload in the passing game as well.
With his speed and quickness, Benjamin has the potential to develop into a wonderful slot receiver. Getting someone with his athleticism in the open field is an intriguing possibility, and one that Weeden is increasingly likely to explore more often.
Losers: Cleveland Offensive Line
Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz didn't hold up too badly against superstar defensive end Mario Williams, but the rest of the Bills' front four won the battle in the trenches.
Pass protection was acceptable until late in the game, when the unit seemed to wear down. What made the Cleveland offense ineffective was the run blocking. Trent Richardson was unable to build on the momentum generated from his great outing in Cincinnati in Week 2, and gained just 27 yards on 12 carries.
Some may look at the box score and question the Browns' strategy, especially since Richardson only got four carries in the second half. The flow of the game dictated that the Browns pass, however, because there was simply nowhere for Richardson to go.
This was the most vital matchup of the game because Cleveland needed a balanced attack to slow down the pass rush and open up play action opportunities. The Browns were just 3-of-11 on third down conversions, mostly because the distance to go was too great.
Two key holding penalties—one on what would have been Richardson's longest run of the day, and the other on a 3rd-and-11 conversion in the fourth quarter—doomed any chance the Browns had of mounting a comeback.
Winners: Usama Young & Tashaun Gipson
Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on Friday that Young was expected to start in place of Eric Hagg, who started the first two games.
Letting versatile starter Mike Adams walk in free agency and plugging in a 2011 seventh-round pick turned out to be as bad as it sounded for Cleveland. Thankfully, the combination of Young and undrafted rookie Tashaun Gipson provided more stability on the back end than Hagg did.
Young was flying around the field and made a few particularly big hits and Gipson proved to be solid, registering six tackles. Most importantly, the tandem didn't allow Buffalo to complete anything deep, which was a problem with Hagg in the defensive backfield.
In the report, Cabot also noted that holding out Hagg was intended to boost his confidence, but Hagg can't feel good about what he saw Sunday. He was inactive, and his teammates played better than he had all year.
It looks like the Browns solved their problems in getting beat over the top, but the laid back coverage also yielded big plays for the Bills after the catch.
Loser: Pat Shurmur
It's hard to pin a ton of blame on the Cleveland head coach, but the fact of the matter is the Browns have been involved in three close games to start the 2012 season. They have failed to win any of them.
In the results-driven world of the NFL, another 0-3 start isn't going to cut it.
While it wouldn't be the most logical move to blow up the coaching staff once again, prospective new owner Jimmy Haslam can't like what he's seen so far from Shurmur and Co.
The bad news is that the road doesn't get any easier for Cleveland. Its record could quickly sink to 0-4 on a short week's trip to Baltimore to face the Ravens on Thursday Night Football.
After the year's second AFC North tilt, the Browns square off with the defending Super Bowl champions the New York Giants.
It's imperative that Shurmur notches a quality win against one of the next two opponents to keep a glimmer of hope alive that the Browns can compete for the playoffs.
Otherwise, Shurmur may be shown the door soon.
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