Browns vs Ravens: 4 Things We Learned from Cleveland's 20-14 Loss
The Browns and the Team Formerly Known As the Browns are faring about as differently as possible this season, with the Ravens one win away from winning the AFC North divisional crown and the Browns falling to 4-11 and in danger of failing to match their five-win total from 2010.
While the score looked relatively close, it was all Ravens for the almost the whole first three quarters, with Baltimore up 20-0 well into the third quarter.
The Browns came on at the end, putting two touchdowns on the board (one at the end of the third and one in the fourth), and pulled within six of the Ravens, but it was too little, too late, and Cleveland dropped a division game for the fifth time this season.
A horrendous clock management error and the Browns' usual problems looking alive in the first half contributed to their demise, but we did see some positives for Cleveland in this one, particularly toward the end of the contest.
A loss is a loss, but for what it's worth, the Browns played a better game for the most part than they did the first time they faced the Ravens this season.
Following are four things we learned in the Browns 20-14 loss to the Ravens.
1. Browns Defense Contains Running Game, Slips a Bit Against Pass
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Say this for the Browns run defense this Saturday: We all begged them to do a better job controlling RB Ray Rice, and they did.
Rice still posted 87 rushing yards but no rushing touchdowns. And perhaps just as important, particularly for the defense to prove they've made progress and are learning from their mistakes, Rice's rushing total was less than half what it was the last time the Ravens faced the Browns.
The last contest for the Browns against the Ravens in Week 13 was an absolute disaster for the run defense, which gave up a whopping 204 rushing yards to Rice on the ground.
While 87 yards, in an ideal world, is still too many for a defense to cede to one rusher, Rice is tough to contain even for a top-tier run defense, and the Browns did slash his total by more than 50 percent of what he was able to post against them in Week 13.
Ricky Williams and Joe Flacco each had a few rushing opportunities as well and the Ravens posted 162 total rush yards in the game, but the Browns did manage to avoid allowing a rushing touchdown.
The pass defense, however, slipped a bit at critical junctures in the game and allowed two passing touchdowns.
While Flacco's passing yardage totals were nothing impressive and Baltimore used the run more than the pass to move the ball down the field, in the end it was passing touchdowns to Rice and Ed Dickson that proved to be the Browns' undoing.
2. Peyton Hillis Does What He Does Best
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It took until the second to last game of the 2011 season, but on Saturday afternoon, Peyton Hillis finally looked like Peyton Hillis again.
Though he failed to get into the end zone, Hillis pounded out 112 rushing yards, a total he hasn't even come close to all season until now.
It's interesting that Hillis' best performance of the season came against one of the league's best run defenses, which didn't look all that sharp today.
With the exception of one quarterback sneak by Seneca Wallace, Hills shouldered 100 percent of the carries for the Browns, indicating that not only is he finally fully healthy, he may not have been the one-year wonder that many feared he was after his horrendous start this season.
It's only one game, so we can only put so much stock in what it means for Hillis' abilities going forward, but if he can post numbers like this against a top-notch run defense and then do it again next week against another one—Pittsburgh—it will go a long way in selling both the Browns organization and their fans on why they should still consider re-signing him in 2012.
This was a big game for Hillis in that respect, and he delivered, but he'll need to do it again next week against the Steelers if he wants to improve his value to the Browns or to any other team going into free agency this offseason.
3. Slow Starts and Clock Management Issues Continue to Plague the Browns
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Horrendously slow starts and clock management gaffes have plagued the Browns all season, repeatedly costing them opportunities to win and rarely abating for more than a game (or maybe more like a quarter of a game) at a time.
Today was no different, unfortunately, as the Browns offense was virtually non-existent and totally unable to score until the fourth quarter. The only points the Browns put on the board prior to the fourth-quarter touchdown by Evan Moore was Josh Cribbs' 84-yard punt return TD near the end of the third quarter.
The team failed to execute on multiple occasions in the first and second quarters, alternately squandering productive drives by making errors or failing to get going at all for an entire possession.
But the real kicker was the stunningly horrific clock management blunder at the end of the first half that cost the Browns an opportunity to put points on the board.
The Browns were out of timeouts and driving for the end zone, and made a horrible mistake by allowing the clock to run out when they were well within field goal range and could have scored.
It was a little unclear whether then blame was on Wallace or on Shurmur for the fact that Wallace failed to spike the ball to stop the clock, sending the Browns to the locker room down 20-0 rather than 20-3 in a game where the score was close enough that three points on the Browns' side could possibly have ended up making a difference in the outcome.
It's easiest to blame Wallace, because every quarterback clearly knows he needs to spike the ball to stop the clock when his team is nearly out of time and he's the only person in the stadium who can actually make that happen, and indeed it was probably his fault. However, we don't know for certain whether Shurmur had perhaps told him to try to squeeze in one more play.
We should get some answers about that in the post-game press conference, but no matter what, it was bad, and yet another indication that the Browns have to improve their clock management or it will continue to cost them again and again.
4. A Few Additional Positives
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In honor of Christmas, I'll end this piece on a merry note despite the fact that the Browns lost, and give credit where it's due to a few standout players in the game who will definitely be making Santa's Nice List (at least for today, anyway).
Josh Cribbs, as always, is obviously at the top of the list. Regardless of the team's struggles with how best to use him over the years, you just can't say enough good things about Cribbs as a player, as a teammate, as a person, and as the heart and soul of the Cleveland Browns.
Today Cribbs showed once again how dangerous he can be on special teams, returning a punt 84 yards for a touchdown and lighting a fire under the Browns at the end of the third quarter when they all looked like they were giving up.
Offensive kudos for today go of course to Peyton Hillis, to Evan Moore for his touchdown catch that left the Browns with a respectable point total at the end of the day, and to my boy Carlton Mitchell, who finally got to see some action on the field and caught two of three targets. Here's hoping we see more of him next week and going forward.
Defensively, top marks go to D'Qwell Jackson who, despite a little quieter day than usual, was productive and impressive as always, to Kaluka Maiava, who really stepped up at OLB today and while not perfect, turned in a solid performance, and finally to Sheldon Brown, who struggled a bit at times but picked off a Joe Flacco pass today.
Merry Christmas, Browns Faithful! Feel free to share your thoughts on the game as well as what you think the Browns should be asking Santa for in the comments below.