Ravens vs Browns: 5 Things We Learned from Cleveland's 24-10 Loss
A sputtering offense and an ineffective run defense once again defined Sunday for the Cleveland Browns, as they suffered another disappointing loss in Cleveland, this time against the Baltimore Ravens.
The game closed with the Browns on the wrong end of a 24-10 score, which could easily have been 30-10 if not for two botched field goals by Billy Cundiff.
There wasn't much chance of the Browns pulling off an upset today, but most of the Cleveland faithful were hoping they could at least keep the score close and show signs of improvement.
After two weeks of solid football in a win against the Jacksonville Jaguars and a heartbreaking but encouraging loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Browns laid another egg against Baltimore, with their forward progress once again coming to a grinding halt.
There were a few standout players for Cleveland in this one, but mostly, they looked hapless against their division rivals.
Following are five things we learned about the Browns in their loss to the Ravens.
1. Run Defense? What Run Defense?
Despite the fact that, thanks to their stellar pass defense, the Browns defense has looked pretty good overall, their run defense has been—and remains—one of the weakest parts of the team.
This afternoon proved to be yet another example of how far the Browns still have to go in their ability to defend the run, as they were victimized by RB Ray Rice for 204 rushing yards and a touchdown.
It was bad right off the bat, with Rice pounding out 75 yards in the first quarter alone. Things didn't improve much after that, particularly notable when Rice broke free for a crushing 67-yard run that led to a touchdown.
Just to pour more salt in the wound, Ricky Williams tacked on another 76 yards and a touchdown for the Ravens.
The Browns running game, by contrast, was stymied by the Ravens stellar run defense, with Peyton HIllis logging just 45 yards and Chris Ogbonnaya getting just two yards on one attempt. Though he was active for this game, there was no sign of Montario Hardesty.
2. Browns Receivers Literally and Figuratively Drop the Ball
The dropped pass plague running rampant in Cleveland among wide receivers and tight ends seems to have reached a new apex.
Receivers hung onto just 18 of 36 passes. Granted, some of those were bad throws, and some were the product of the offensive line not giving receivers time to get open and McCoy time to get set to make an accurate throw, but a concerning number of them were also just clearly the fault of the receivers.
Greg Little struggled with drops again, hauling in just three of seven targets, but he's a rookie who is still learning, and thus, isn't the biggest problem. More bothersome were the number of drops by TE Ben Watson and WR Mohamed Massaquoi, who have been around plenty long enough to have no excuses for the errors.
Today Watson had, surprisingly, the worst stone hands of the group, catching just three of eight targets. Massaquoi was a close second, with one catch in five targets for just seven yards.
Obviously, some of the blame for this lies with McCoy, who had a pretty lousy game, and a good piece of it is, as always, the fault of the ever-problematic offensive line, but the receivers have to own most of this one.
Despite the fact that some of the throws were off-target and their line doesn't give them much time to get any separation, there comes a point where a good receiver finds a way to make the grab anyway. The Browns receivers aren't doing that.
The only people who even slightly redeemed the passing game today were Evan Moore, who had 28 yards and a touchdown in limited action, and Peyton Hillis, who had a nice 52-yard catch.
3. A New Special Teams Issue Crops Up
Just when the Browns appear to have solved one issue on special teams, another one cropped up in its place.
There were no field-goal related issues for the Browns this week, but the return coverage echoed the problematic bout of that which the Browns had against Oakland, when Raiders returners ran all over them.
This time it was Ladarius Webb, who returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown.
The return TD was partly a product of a lousy punt by Brad Maynard, whose kick logged pathetically short hang time, but I can't really blame a guy too much who had to punt eight times for running out of steam. Maynard is partly at fault, but the bigger problem is the Browns special teams unit's coverage of returners, which has been an issue off and on all season.
More than the points it put on the board, which didn't make a difference in the end, the big issue with this was the motivation crushing element of it. Before Webb returned the punt for a touchdown, the Browns weren't exactly what you would call "in the game," but they weren't totally out of it either.
Were they going to come back from the 17-3 deficit already on the board had the punt return TD not happened? Very unlikely, but would they have fought harder to at least try to get there? Probably.
Though the Browns did get their only touchdown of the game shortly after the returned punt, that was the only thing we saw after it that made the Browns look even slightly animated and alive.
It was probably the final nail in the Browns motivational coffin. Moore's ensuing touchdown provoked more of a Bronx Cheer from the crowd than any actual hope, and the rest of the players mostly looked relieved afterward, not fired up or encouraged.
4. A Bad Omen for Upcoming Divisional Matchups
Last week, when the Browns fought hard and nearly upset the Bengals, it looked as though they might have some chance to hang tough against the challenging divisional opponents they're stuck facing six times a season in the AFC North.
This week, that chance looked like it was slipping away. Of the three tough customers the Browns are trapped in a division with, the Bengals are the weakest, and the Browns have already lost both matchups against them this season.
After watching Baltimore soundly drub them this week by shutting down their offense completely and mowing down their run defense, things don't look too good for the Browns for the remainder of the season, in which three of the four games left on the schedule are against Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
Defensively, the Browns probably saw the worst of it today. The Steelers running game is solid, but they don't have a rusher of Rice's caliber. The Browns are stuck seeing Rice again, but hopefully will make at least some adjustments so that he's not quite as dominant against them.
Still, the AFC North is pretty run-happy, and the Browns obviously can't handle the run at all. The goal today was to keep Rice under 100 yards. Instead, he put up twice that amount. A 200-yard performance by an opposing rusher is about as bad as it can get for a defense.
Offensively, it may be even worse for Cleveland. The AFC North defenses, particularly those of Baltimore and Pittsburgh, are some of the best in the business, and the Browns have trouble getting their offense going even against mediocre defenses.
Both of those opponents are also at their best against the run, which most of the time, is the only part of the Browns offense that gives them a fighting chance.
If the Browns can't handle their fellow AFC North teams better in these areas going forward, it's going to be a really ugly finish to the 2011 season for them.
5. Roses Among the Weeds
Much as I wish it weren't the case, this wasn't one of those losses for the Browns that we can rationalize by saying "at least they made progress," or "at least they kept the score close" or "at least some of their position groups played well for them."
Alas, sadly, the Browns as a group pretty much flat-out stunk this week. It was tough to find any positives in this week's contest, but there were a few players who impressed me.
The big standout of the week was rookie DE Jabaal Sheard, who played a simply outstanding game. Sheard was all over the field, responsible for nine tackles and the Browns' lone sack of Joe Flacco.
He also had his fifth forced fumble of the season, an exceptionally impressive feat for a rookie who, prior to the season, looked way too raw to be NFL ready at all, much less a solid starter who is progressing faster than anyone could have predicted.
At the end of another disappointing Sunday, the Browns really have no business giving out a game ball to anyone, but if there is someone who did deserve it in spite of the team's overall poor performance, it was Sheard.
Also doing a solid job this week were: perpetual defensive standout D'Qwell Jackson, who had 12 tackles on the day, Joe Haden, who, despite a few minor miscues, did a nice job disrupting the Baltimore passing game and Evan Moore, who scored the Browns lone touchdown and showed once again why he's grossly under-used.