The good news for the Cleveland Browns is that every team in the AFC North lost its opener. The bad news is that they face the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens coming off their curb stomping on national TV.
AFC North Standings
The Pittsburgh Steelers looked even worse than the Browns did in Week 1. They mustered only 195 total yards of offense at home against the Tennessee Titans and allowed Ben Roethlisberger to be sacked five times. In the past, the Steelers’ rushing game was always their crutch. After rushing for just 32 total yards, this season may be a continuation of the last where they finished 26th in the NFL.
In their loss to Chicago, the Cincinnati Bengals looked like the best team in the AFC North. The offense moved efficiently, and the defense was stellar through three quarters. The Bengals' downfall was their three turnovers. Andy Dalton threw two interceptions and Mohamed Sanu lost a fumble, spelling the difference between victory and defeat.
The Ravens were absolutely humiliated on Thursday night against the Denver Broncos. Allowing seven touchdown passes is not something any team, let alone the Ravens, is used to. They will be out for blood in their home opener against the Browns. It is also the night they will be awarded their Super Bowl rings from last season.
|T.J. Ward||Safety||Shoulder||Returned to game. Needed further tests. Will get status update Wednesday.|
|Billy Winn||Def End||Cramps||Returned to game.|
|Ahtyba Rubin||Def End||Calf||Missed Sunday's game. Will get status update Wednesday.|
|Barkevious Mingo||Outside Linebacker||Lung||Missed Sunday's game. Will get status update Wednesday.|
|Shawn Lauvao||Guard||Ankle||Missed Sunday's game. Will get status update Wednesday.|
The Browns entered their opener without three starters and can ill afford to lose any more. Ahtyba Rubin, Shawn Lauvao and Barkevious Mingo all missed the game against the Miami Dolphins, but only Lauvoa’s absence was obvious.
Mingo will be a situational pass-rusher to start his career, so Quentin Groves, Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard picked up the slack nicely. If Mingo returns this week, I expect he will only see limited action on defense and special teams.
Rubin is one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the league but also plays the Browns’ deepest position. Billy Winn, who left the game with cramps but returned, and John Hughes were more than adequate filling in for Rubin.
Lauvao is the scariest injury for the Browns' chances of victory. With him off the field, Oniel Cousins started and posted the third-lowest grade out of all guards in Week 1, according to ProFootballFocus.com (premium stats are behind pay wall).
Last year, the Browns boasted one of the best pass-blocking fronts in the league. Now, without Jason Pinkston (IR) and Lauvao, they graded as the worst pass-blocking line in the league, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
What Must Improve
Offensive Line Play
No matter what you think of Brandon Weeden, he doesn’t stand a chance of competing against any defense if he is hit 16 times and sacked six. Rob Chudzinski needs to figure out if Oniel Cousins should start next week and a way to help Mitchell Schwartz with outside speed rushers. If Cameron Wake had two-and-a-half sacks and six quarterback hits against him, it is scary to think what Elvis Dumervil might do.
The tight ends, who often act as an extra lineman with chip blocks, missed their assignments multiple times on Sunday, and Chris Ogbonnaya left something to be desired on third-down blitz protection.
In the run game, someone has to get a push. Run blocking has never been Joe Thomas’ strength, and the rest of the line is following suit. If the Browns can’t give Trent Richardson any holes to run through, then they stand zero chance of easing the pressure on Weeden during passing downs.
Weeden has been criticized for panicking and making irrational decisions under pressure, and Sunday was no different. He threw three interceptions and stalled the offense most of the first half.
The first interception was a deep ball to Travis Benjamin that was thrown into double coverage. Weeden was hit as he threw, and the ball fell several yards short of Benjamin. Weeden cannot make that throw. He has to recognize that without Josh Gordon, no receiver on the field except Jordan Cameron can beat a double-team even if the ball is placed perfectly.
Weeden also struggled stepping up into the pocket when pressure was coming from the edge. Wake did 90 percent of his damage on the outside shoulder of Schwartz. Weeden needs to feel that pressure and step up into the pocket, even if he doesn’t always have one.
Defensive Secondary Play
As great of a game as Joe Haden had, he still dropped an easy interception. T.J. Ward also played very well but let a takeaway slip through his hands.
Ray Horton’s defense is predicated on applying pressure that creates turnovers. So when there is an opportunity for a turnover you had better deliver. This is especially important when your offense can’t move the ball to save their lives.
Opposite Joe Haden it was an absolute mess. Chris Owens not only couldn’t stay with receivers but he couldn’t tackle them once they caught the ball. Buster Skrine was feisty but still got beat on a deep touchdown to Brian Hartline and multiple times in the center of the field. They made Miami look like it doesn’t even need Mike Wallace.
It will be tough to come up with a scheme that can help Skrine and Owens, but they better do something quick. Otherwise, there will be plenty of secondary and slot receivers licking their chops to play the Browns defense.