Browns vs. Raiders: Cleveland's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 13
The victory makes two in a row for the Browns, last week's coming against the archrival Steelers. In Cleveland, we call that a win streak.
It wasn't always pretty, but the Browns found a way to learn from their mistakes and come out on top. Perhaps best of all, they showed tremendous discipline in registering only three penalties for 25 yards. Brandon Weeden recovered from an early mistake to have a solid day, finishing the day with 353 yards on 25 of 36 attempts.
The point is, they're improving. Each week the Browns are playing more cohesively and showing a huge potential for long-term viability in the AFC North. One of the most striking things about their competitiveness this season is the fact that every component matters. This isn't a one-man team, nor is it driven purely on one side of the ball. There is plenty of credit, and plenty of criticism, to go around.
Just like the Thai food I'm about to order, the Browns are a recipe that reflects more than the sum of its parts. Here's a small snapshot of the biggest difference-makers this week.
Winner: Sheldon Brown
This one's a no-brainer; Sheldon Brown had a fantastic game and showed a lot of tenacity. He stepped up to some talented Oakland receivers and prevented more than a few big catches that could have changed the outcome of the game,
He showed a bit of timidity at times on plays that had pick potential, but it all balanced out in the end. Nearly every big play in pass protection had involved Brown in some way. At the very least, his intimidating coverage left Carson Palmer with fewer options.
This is exactly what the Browns need moving forward.
Fans have been waiting for a Haden-Brown combination to hit its potential, and it appears that we might be getting there. A great secondary unit can make quarterbacks anxious and offensive coordinators creative, leaving more room for mistakes and miscommunication. Sunday, Brown proved that he has the potential to put this defense on the right track.
When Haden and Brown are playing at their peak, the Browns' pass protection could be pretty scary.
Loser: Buster Skrine
I'm not cashing in my chips just yet, but Buster Skrine had a couple of very ugly plays Sunday.
The first major error came when he misread a pass to Rod Streater, leading to a long, and preventable, touchdown reception.
The second came when he committed a silly foul on a fair catch, slamming into the returner when he had plenty of time to avoid it.
These are mistakes of youth, and I still think Skrine has a lot of potential. The problem, however, isn't all in the stat line. It's also in his eyes.
More often than not, Skrine looks like a scared kid after making an error or giving up a big play. It's that wide-eyed, dismayed look that is recognizable across ages and professions. It's the physical manifestation of the feeling you got in high school when you ran over a cone in driver's ed or left a bottle cap under your parents' couch.
We all know the feeling, and now we know how it looks.
Skrine's got to start maturing enough to make the smart decisions and recover from the bad ones.
Winner: Greg Little
Greg Little slowly but surely is making his way out of the dog house. He had a less-than-impressive stat line with four receptions for 48 yards, but he helped the cause in a lot of ways that weren't as tangible.
He had a fantastic block in the second half and lacked his characteristic-infuriating dropped passes. I'm not sure we'll ever see superstar numbers from Little, but this type of consistency could really benefit the offense.
A reliable Little is more threatening than what we've seen so far, and I already have fewer beer splatters on the wall next to my TV.
If he can keep this up, we might finally get what we bargained for.
Loser: Shawn Lauvao
Shawn Lauvao hasn't particularly impressed this season, and this afternoon was no exception. Brandon Weeden took some major hits, especially from the right side, and Lauvao didn't do as much to stop it as fans would like.
In addition, he lost his footing and backed into Weeden, knocking him off balance and partially contributing to one of the game's turnovers.
Lauvao has to use that size moving forward to keep his footing and protect that right side. Weeden made some questionable decisions Sunday, but many of them could have been prevented had he been protected a little more consistently.
Winner: Josh Gordon
There are those hands we know and love.
Gordon put up great numbers Sunday, both for the Browns and for my fantasy team. Happy times two!
Better yet, he showed that he's making solid improvements in running routes and shaking defenders. If he keeps this up, Gordon could be one of the more consistently threatening receivers in the NFL. He's got the size, speed and hands. He's showing that he knows how to use them.
Gordon and Weeden have some dangerously awesome chemistry, and this is a duo that will continue to impress.
Loser: Defensive Line Front Four
The Raiders were down a couple backs, but that didn't prevent them from exposing some serious deficiencies in the Browns front four.
They were able to keep their offense dynamic with a pretty consistent mix of gains on the ground and through the air. Stewart was able to make gains of several yards by splitting the defense and running straight up the middle. If that's a weakness with a backup, it could be a hemorrhage against the likes of Ray Rice.
The front four has to work on closing that gap and forcing backs to the outside for more work and fewer yards. When that defensive kink is worked out, the Browns will pose a pretty scary threat on both fronts.
Winner: Phil Dawson
It's time to give credit where credit is due.
Yes, he missed a chip shot today. We could talk about whether it was due to a bad snap, or we could concentrate on exactly what just transpired. Phil Dawson was knocking on the door of a perfect season. He set a franchise record and had the longest active streak in the NFL. He's 37 years old and still showing the league how it's done.
Kicker can be a thankless position, but it's time to say thanks. Phil Dawson has been on the roster since the Browns returned in 1999. He's Cleveland's unsung hero, in many ways, and he shows it by simply doing his job week in and week out.
He's the bow on our Christmas present, the nutmeg in our hot chocolate and the homemade ramp on our backyard sledding hill. Here's to you, Phil Dawson, and a pretty incredible season in the making.