Dolphins vs. Browns: 5 Things We Learned About Cleveland in 17-16 Win
It wasn't pretty. It was far from perfectly executed. And it was chock full of mistakes. But it was a hugely exciting and meaningful win for the Browns, as they beat the Dolphins in a 17-16 nail-biter.
Trailing 16-10 with under two minutes to play, Colt McCoy made up for a very rough outing by engineering a nearly perfect 80-yard drive, capped off by a 14-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Massaquoi that would wind up being the game-winner.
And in spite of what was perhaps the most absurd and ludicrous excessive celebration penalty I have ever seen called, the defense completely stuffed Miami on its final possession and secured the victory.
There was good, bad, and ugly for the Browns in this one. Let's take a look at five things we learned in the win, and please, feel free to celebrate (at least for the next few hours) that the Browns (albeit temporarily) are all alone in first place in the AFC North at 2-1.
1. The Browns Can Survive Without Peyton Hillis (Barely)
Well, the Browns finally did it. They not only won a game where Peyton Hillis didn't carry the whole victory on his shoulders, they won a game where Hillis didn't even play.
Hillis, plagued with a bad case of strep throat, was held out of the game, leaving rushing duties up to Montario Hardesty. Even against a struggling Dolphins team, many feared that losing Hillis would be a death sentence for the Browns.
The Browns proved they could win without him after all, though his absence clearly hurt them.
Hillis' absence forced them to go to the pass far more often, and the Dolphins defense knew it. What resulted from that was tremendous pressure on McCoy, which was part of the reason he had a shaky day overall.
Hardesty, for his part, actually did a pretty decent job, logging 14 carries for 67 yards. His numbers weren't mind-blowing by any means, but they were decent and even more importantly for the future, proved Hardesty could handle a significant workload without getting hurt. Overall, he did a nice job filling in for Hillis and giving the Browns at least a decent option for rushing plays.
And it's a good thing, too, because this game was a great example of how much trouble the Browns could be in if anything were to happen to Hillis (god forbid) that would keep him out longer than one game.
It was clear from this one that the Browns absolutely need Hillis, but also a comforting demonstration that their offense isn't just a one-dimensional, one-man show that can't win without their go-to running back.
2. Colt McCoy Is a Winner Through and Through
Statistically speaking, this was not a great outing for QB Colt McCoy. He was 19-of-39 with two touchdowns and an interception. But boy did he ever make up for it with his brilliantly executed 80-yard touchdown drive under the two-minute mark to win the game.
Today, we don't have to care about McCoy's rough outing for the first 58 minutes of the game. We can just revel in our win. Tomorrow, though, we'll have to at least acknowledge the horrendous completion percentage McCoy posted.
But in the end, stats alone only matter in fantasy football. On the field, all that matters is whether you finish with a win. And McCoy made sure the Browns did just that.
McCoy detractors will surely point to the bad stats, but to me the important thing we saw today is iron-clad proof that McCoy is a winner. Period.
The comparisons to Kosar will surely get stronger after this one. Like our beloved Bernie, McCoy is a guy who doesn't always give you a beautiful game, but he sure does know how to win.
On the final drive, McCoy was 9-of-13 and marched his team 80 yards down the field without using the running game at all to rally for the win.
While his performance on the whole wasn't fantastic, give me the guy who just knows how to win any day over the guy who posts the pretty stats.
3. The Offensive Line Looked Better, but Still Needs Work
After the first two games of the season, the right side of the line had struggled so much that it almost appeared that the Browns would have to go left on every play. It also appeared that they might get McCoy killed before the midseason mark.
While there was still evidence of problems, the line looked better than they have prior to today. McCoy was hit four times and chased around a lot by the Dolphins punishing pass rush, but his line did prevent him from being sacked.
And the blocking on running plays still needs a lot of work on the right side, but the problem wasn't quite as pronounced as it was in prior games.
Still, it was McCoy who bailed them out a number of times, such as on the 33-yard touchdown pass he threw to Josh Cribbs after being flushed from the pocket.
The line, like everyone else who made mistakes in this game, gets a slight free pass today because the Browns emerged victorious. But they clearly still need to make a lot of improvements, or their play WILL cost Cleveland in the future.
4. The Penalty Bug Strikes Again
The Browns were penalized eight times for 85 yards. I'm comfortable throwing out 15 of those for the absurd and erroneous celebration penalty they drew after Massaquoi's touchdown, but that still leaves seven penalties for 70 yards.
The horse collar penalty that cost the Browns 15 yards on Miami's final drive was particularly upsetting. Luckily, the Browns defense managed to stuff Miami's attempt to get into field goal range, but between that and the celebration penalty, the Browns gave the Dolphins 30 free yards on a drive where all they had to do was get into field goal range to be in a position to win the game.
I'll admit that the roughing the passer call against Phil Taylor for running into Chad Henne after he slid was mostly just bad luck (it looked like Taylor had already launched himself at Henne to tackle him before he started his slide), but aside from that and the wrongfully enforced celebration penalty, the rest were legitimate.
That means the Browns, win or no, are STILL being penalized far too often. We have the luxury of not having to care about that in this game since the Browns came out on top, but going forward, it's just another example of the Browns making sloppy, costly mistakes. Improvements will have to be made in this area and they'll have to be made quickly, or the Browns will wind up paying the price in future games.
5. And the Game Ball Goes To...the Defense
The offense struggled in this one, but the defense, for the most part, looked excellent.
The one bad note for the Cleveland D was that they showed once again that they have serious trouble stopping the run. They gave up 138 rushing yards (95 of which belonged to Daniel Thomas) and looked baffled at times by the run, concerning given that Miami's ground game is far from among the league's best.
But aside from that, the defense, on the whole, did a heck of a job. Granted, they ceded a significant number of passing yards as well, but they stopped the Dolphins when it counted and allowed just one touchdown.
The front seven did an excellent job of pressuring the quarterback and showing much needed improvement on their pass rush. They hit Chad Henne a painful eight times. Jabaal Sheard, D'Qwell Jackson, and Ahtyba Rubin were particular standouts.
The secondary played well, also. I saw great breakups by Dmitri Patterson, Joe Haden, and TJ Ward, and Sheldon Brown and Usama Young made some good plays as well.
And Mike Adams, a player who desperately had something to prove, did just that when he picked off Chad Henne's last pass to seal the victory. Give Adams some extra credit for this one, too; while it looked like Henne just made a bad throw that happened to go right to him, Adams deserves more credit than that for beating his man and positioning himself perfectly to make the pick. What he did there was a lot harder than it looks.
Obviously the defense is still learning and has room for improvement. There were still too many penalties and the HAVE to get better against the run. But overall, I was impressed. I saw a defense that has progressed far more quickly than expected and looks to be in the process of developing into an elite-caliber squad.