Cleveland Browns: Peyton Hillis and Other Browns Offensive Observations In Win
It wasn't pretty. It wasn't masterful. It wasn't the decisive victory we all hoped for. But it was our first win of the season, and for most of us, that's enough on its own.
Despite yet another nearly total meltdown in the fourth quarter and almost squandering the lead late in the game again, this time the Browns hung on for the victory over the Bengals on Sunday, 23-20.
The offense had great moments despite also having some big, big problems. The defense looked better, if not exactly great, and the Browns, for once, caught a little bit of luck.
I know, I know...you're a Cleveland fan, and you don't know what "luck" is.
We'll define luck situationally here as "a questionable holding call on your last possession of the game that essentially allowed you to win after you almost screwed up something as simple as running out the clock". Or as "Chad Ocho Cinco getting called for an offensive pass interference penalty that put the Bengals out of field goal range on their last possession".
Overall for the offense, Hillis was the hero again, the receiving corps was largely a mess, and Seneca Wallace hung in there.
There's more on Hillis, the luck factor, Wallace, and other observations on the offense in this week's contest in the following slide show, as we dissect the performance of the Browns offense in their first win of the season.
1. Seneca Wallace Takes The Reins Again
With Jake Delhomme still not fit to return to the field, the offense was once again left in the hands of Seneca Wallace.
Wallace was 18 for 30 with just 184 passing yards. He had one touchdown and one interception. Thus it wasn't surprising that his passer rating was 74.9.
But the numbers don't come close to telling the whole story. Wallace ran the offense efficiently for the most part, and did a great job of spreading the ball around and keeping the defense spread out by moving his feet.
While the numbers won't back up this assessment, it was probably Wallace's best game thus far in the season. He looked more comfortable in the starting role this time around, kept the defense on its toes by moving around behind the line, and all-in-all appeared to be more in command of his offense the way a quarterback has to be in order to lead his team to success.
2. Peyton Hillis Continues To Carry The Offense on His Back
It turns out all of us who were worried that opposing defenses would figure out how to shut down Hillis and thus shut down the Browns' entire offense needn't have fretted.
I'm sure the Bengals tried to contain Hillis, but it just didn't work. Hillis had his second straight 100+ yard rushing game and found his way into the end zone for the fourth game in a row.
He had one 24-yard carry, and was absolutely instrumental in battering the Cincinnati defense throughout the game. Perhaps most importantly, he almost single-handedly ran out the clock on the last drive of the game to put the Browns in position to take a few knees and win.
Further, if Hillis is getting banged up and worn out, he certainly didn't show it. He was on the field for literally the entire game until the Browns went into victory formation at the end to kill the clock for good.
Give Vickers some credit too for once again throwing key blocks for Hillis throughout the game, but Hillis himself was undoubtedly the hero in this one. The Brady Quinn-for-Peyton Hillis trade looks more and more laughably lopsided in the Browns' favor every week.
3. Wide Receivers Were Missing In Action Once Again
The Browns wide receivers were once again conspicuously absent from the game. In fact watching this contest made it difficult to tell that the Browns even have any wide receivers.
Ben Watson led all pass catchers with 60 yards, and he's a tight end. The top yardage getter for Browns wide receivers was Chansi Stuckey with just 56 yards.
It isn't that Stuckey turned in a poor effort; generally speaking, he did just fine. The problem was that his 56 yards made him the leading wide receiver for the Browns in the game.
Josh Cribbs was almost a non-factor on offense, and the Browns supposed "Number One Receiver" Mohammed Massaquoi ranked dead last on the team in receiving with one reception for five yards. Yikes.
Double yikes when you juxtapose that with Terrell Owens' 222 yards and the fact that Ocho Cinco was limited to 59 yards only because the Browns defense double-teamed him the entire game.
The wideouts were lucky this week in that the tight ends, Hillis, and their defense bailed them out, but something is going to have to change going forward.
4. Tight Ends Come Up Big
Where the wide receivers failed, the Browns tight ends came up very, very big.
Ben Watson and Evan Moore were both instrumental in the success of the offense in Sunday's victory.
Watson led all receivers with 60 yards on six receptions, and Evan Moore caught a 24-yard touchdown pass. Together they accounted for more than half of the Browns' receiving yards.
While again, that speaks poorly of the Browns wide receivers as a group, it speaks very well of the team's tight ends.
It was time for Watson to get involved and become an impact player for the Browns, and that's what he did this week.
Moore, who many of us had very high hopes for and saw as a sort of "lesser Dallas Clark" type of tight end, still only had one big play in the game. However, that big play was a touchdown that proved vital to the win.
I would still like to see Moore have greater involvement in the offense as a ball carrier, but if his one reception of the game results in a score, I'm happy to take that for now.
5. More Messy Clock Management
As discussed in the introduction slide for this article, with just under five minutes left on the clock before their last drive, the Browns had a chance to efficiently run the time out and close out the win sans stress and drama.
But Wallace started the drive off with an incomplete pass. That was followed up by a run for little gain, and the Browns were only saved because they got lucky on a holding call against the Bengals on second down.
Otherwise Cincinnati may have gotten another possession. Who knows what would have happened then, but based on the Browns tendency to blow up at the end of the game thus far this season, if I were a betting gal I would have put my money on the Bengals capitalizing on the opportunity.
Luckily, after the penalty Brian Daboll wised up and had the offense keep the ball on the ground for the remainder of the time necessary to get the Browns in to a situation where they could move to victory formation. Hillis running down the clock on short-gain running plays got the Browns to the point where they could take a knee and end it.
While all of this ultimately resulted in a win and thus we can't complain too much, it's a little concerning that this is the first time all season that the Browns have appeared to understand clock management with a lead late in the fourth quarter, and even this time they didn't even figure it out until midway through the possession.
I'll take the win obviously, but they have GOT to get better at this sort of thing. They were very lucky Cincinnati ran out of time outs. They were very lucky they got that holding call. They were very lucky that Chad Ocho Cinco was flagged for offensive pass interference on the Bengals' previous possession.
C'mon Browns. You're from Cleveland, and that means the one thing you should never count on is luck. It will burn you 99 times out of 100. The team got lucky here. It won't happen again.
6. A Few Words On The Opponent
I spent years trashing Carson Palmer's legitimacy as an NFL quarterback, and he spent years making me stupid for it.
Lately he's looked much shakier, tricking me into believing that perhaps I had been right all along. And then he came to Cleveland on Sunday and despite taking the loss, threw for 371 yards, two touchdowns, and posted a passer rating of 121.4. Impressive.
Even more impressive? 36-year-old Terrell Owens posting 222 receiving yards and a touchdown. Chad Ocho Cinco would likely have been just as impressive as well if he hadn't been double-teamed the entire game.
Suffice it to say that the Bengals certainly didn't lose this one based on their passing game.
The ground game was far less stellar, with Cedric Benson being held to just 60 yards on 15 carries and the team posting just 67 rushing yards total.
Like last week, the Browns defense did a good job stopping the run but got positively mowed down by the opponents' passing game. Lucky for the Browns, this time they came out on top anyway.
At the end, all this means that a) we should all tip our hats to Cincinnati's offense for their impressive efforts, and b) the Browns defense still has some serious issues with stopping the opponent's passing game.
7. Key Point Going Forward #1: Is Wallace The Answer at Quarterback?
This week Seneca Wallace got another shot at starting for the Browns because Jake Delhomme wasn't quite ready to go yet. As previously discussed, Wallace did a fairly nice job, even if it doesn't show in the numbers.
The question going forward is, has he done a good enough job to take over as the team's starter for the season?
Thus far, we don't appear to have enough evidence to say for certain one way or the other. In theory, there are pluses and minuses for both Wallace and Delhomme.
Wallace is probably the easier sell at this point. He's turned in the best performance at quarterback for the Browns so far this season. He appears to be settling in and connecting to his offense, and his teammates appear to be settling in and connecting to him. He is far superior in terms of mobility and durability.
Still, there's a case to be made for Delhomme as well. He has a higher upside, at least based on what he's done in the past.
He's far more accurate on and capable of throwing a deep ball, a play that has been notably absent from the Browns' playbook this season and one they desperately need to consider employing in order to keep opposing defenses guessing. He's also a seasoned veteran with strong pocket presence and a field general-type of approach to the quarterback role.
At this point, there may not be a right answer to who really should take on the starting role. That in and of itself is a problem, going back to that trusty adage that "if you have one quarterback, you have one quarterback, but if you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterback."
Still, at this point I'd give the job to Wallace. History and a theoretical approach might favor Delhomme, but to date, Wallace is the guy who has really shown up on the field. In my opinion, the job is his to lose.
8. Key Point Going Forward #2: Huge Improvement Needed From The Receiving Corps
Four weeks into the season, there's just no denying it: The Browns receiving corps is an absolute mess.
Supposed "number one receiver" Massaquoi plays like he belongs on someone's practice squad.
Josh Cribbs has largely been a non-factor as a receiver and while his play has been decent, it is far from where it should be to justify all the contract issues last offseason.
Chansi Stuckey has actually been better than I expected, but that really isn't saying much.
The tight ends stepped up their receiving game this week with Watson logging a decent amount of yardage and Moore coming up big with the touchdown, but this is really the first game where they have both turned in an impact performance.
I won't complain about what either tight end did against the Bengals, but they have to start playing that way week in and week out. And the wide receivers? They just have to start playing. Period.
9. Key Point Going Forward #3: Somebody Give Hillis Some Help!
All of us in the Browns' camp keep shaking our heads each week and fearfully mumbling, "Hillis can't keep doing it all by himself!".
Then our fears are temporarily allayed each Sunday when he does exactly that. Still, the Browns should absolutely not be resting on this. Just because Hillis keeps carrying the team on his back each week doesn't mean we can or should count on that to continue going forward.
If we want Hillis to continue to be the offense's biggest impact player throughout the season, we need to do a much better job of trying not to kill him. As mentioned, Hillis was on the field for the entire game save for the victory formation at the end on Sunday. If this continues, injury and/or exhaustion will leave him virtually dead by about week nine.
The guy is awesome. He's a beast. But he cannot and should not have to do it alone all season. The Browns need to help him out by seriously improving the passing game. The team's other rushers need to step up and give the offense someone other than Hillis to go to on the ground on occasion.
Right now, the only person on the offense who has been any real help to Hillis is Vickers, who should absolutely be commended for his work as a blocker.
Beyond that though, the Browns have to stop leaving Hillis out there all alone, or they'll wind up shooting themselves in the foot by wearing down their hero to the point where he is no longer capable of filling the role.
10. At The End of The Day, a Win Is a Win
I know what you're thinking: That was an awful lot of complaining about a game that we actually won, right?
That's probably true.
There is no denying that the Browns still have a lot of problems on offense in general. There's no denying that there weren't plenty of problems with the offense this week even though we won. And there's no denying that the Browns got some lucky help from the football gods in order to get that win this week.
Still, a win is a win. Especially when it's the first win of the season. The Browns will absolutely have to address and repair their issues on offense if they want to log more W's this season, but there is certainly some merit in taking a few moments just to enjoy this week's successful effort with no strings attached.
So cheers to the first win of the season, Cleveland! Let's hope there are many more to come.