Nov 10, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith (89) runs as Cleveland Browns cornerback Tramon Williams (22) chases during the third quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
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How poorly did each position group fare while the Cleveland Browns were in the process of being manhandled by the Ravens? The weekly grade book is out.
In a game that often had the feeling of a preseason friendly, the Cleveland Browns were decisively defeated by a far superior Baltimore Ravens team. This serves as the team’s 13th-consecutive regular season loss dating back to 2015.
Even though Cleveland hung tough throughout the first half, the second half was a much different story. Exactly like the first meeting between the two teams in Week 2, the Ravens rattled off 25 unanswered points to close out the contest and keep the Browns winless.
The second half was a debacle in every area. From questionable at best coaching decisions to a miserable offensive line to a beat up defense, Cleveland’s best bet was to surrender. By the looks of it, they pretty much did.
As a forewarning, the grades from this one are not pretty. The time for sugar-coating nauseating performances is long gone. There ought to be no more disclaimer next to the Browns’ record stating that the team is in a rebuilding process. Typically, rebuilding processes don’t last 17 years.
The following is a complete analysis of the game in the form of letter grades which have been assigned to each major position group. Each unit has earned the grade it has been given on a scale of A-F, and no other factors besides the team’s performance on Thursday night have been taken into account.
Nov 10, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown (13) throws throws during the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore Ravens defeated Cleveland Browns 28-7. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
The quarterback situation is going to be the biggest question surrounding the Browns following Thursday’s embarrassment. Of course, this is due to the fact that three different quarterbacks took snaps for the team, yet none were injured. The strategy behind this is puzzling to say the least.
Regardless, it was a train wreck for the quarterbacks. While it didn’t help that they were forced out of the pocket on nearly every play, both Cody Kessler and Josh McCown made atrocious decisions.
When it was all said and done, Kessler threw for 91 yards and a touchdown, and McCown completed less than half of his pass attempts, totaling 59 yards. This was with the Browns dialing up 32 pass plays, accounting for 73 percent of their total plays. McCown also threw two interceptions in his limited time, and took three sacks.
On a night where no one felt left out, rookie Kevin Hogan also made an appearance. His two plays included a handoff which was blown up in the backfield, and a quarterback draw which moved the ball one yard.
It is safe to say that Cleveland quarterbacks failed, making poor circumstances unbearable. When the team scores just seven points, a lot of the blame will be placed on the quarterback’s shoulders. In Thursday’s case, there is good reason to continue this tradition.
Oct 11, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell (34) runs through the line during the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Running Backs: F
Of everything that went wrong on Thursday, it was most clear that it was not a very efficient evening for Duke Johnson or Isaiah Crowell. The running game was used only to keep a stout Baltimore front seven honest, and never had a chance to be Cleveland’s primary method of moving down the field.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with running a pass first offense. However, Thursday’s game displayed not only a team who favored airing the ball out, but a team that was completely one-dimensional. The lack of a formidable rushing attack allowed Baltimore to pin their ears back, and Cleveland’s quarterbacks became sitting ducks.
In the end, the Browns designed running plays just 12 times. They totaled 30 yards on the ground, 23 from Crowell, six from Johnson, and one from Hogan.
In the passing game, Crowell and Johnson were much more active, gaining 55 yards combined on six receptions. This simply isn’t going to cut it though. When two of a team’s primary offensive threats are held under 100 yards combined when counting both their rushing and receiving yards, one wonders where the offense came from. In Cleveland’s case, it does make a little bit of sense, as there was no offense to speak of.
Nov 10, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Terrelle Pryor (11) makes a catch in front of Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith (22) during the second quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Wide Receivers: F
The only area in which the Browns have thrived for an extended period of time this season has been their passing game. But after a miserable performance on Thursday night, it appears they are back to square one in an area which they thought they had something to build on.
It was critical for rookie Corey Coleman to get going early in the contest. After making the first two catches of the game for short gains, the former Baylor Bear vanished from the field. He finished the night with just three receptions for 17 yards.
Apparently, Coleman wasn’t the only Cleveland receiver pulling a disappearing act. Virtually every other wideout did the same, as they were hardly targeted. Terrelle Pryor was able to catch five passes, but only contributed 48 yards on nine targets.
Andrew Hawkins was the only other receiver targeted, and he made no receptions. It is amazing to think that a team could dial-up pass plays on 73 percent of their snaps and only complete passes to two different wide receivers, with both being held to under 50 yards. The failure of the wide receivers to get separation and gain yardage in chunks downfield displays the anemic offense of the Browns which decided to rear its ugly head on Thursday.
Nov 10, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Cody Kessler (6) sacked by Baltimore Ravens linebacker CJ Mosley (57) at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
Offensive Line: F
The offensive line was the root of all problems for the Browns in their blowout loss. Pass protection was non-existent, and the team didn’t even trust the line’s run blocking ability to give them much of a chance.
Joe Thomas had a rough night at left tackle, as did Austin Pasztor. Center Cameron Erving also came across as a misfit on an NFL football field, explaining why fans have such a great degree of spite for Ray Farmer.
The inability to move the sticks throughout the entire game is a reflection on the offensive line’s poor run blocking. This, coupled with a defensive line who could not stop the run, explains why the Browns held the ball for under 22 minutes, just over a third of the game.
The inability to protect all three quarterbacks who made appearances led to poor third down efficiency, as Cleveland converted just two of ten. This also led to a humiliating gap in first downs, as the Ravens moved the sticks 29 times compared to Cleveland’s 11.
If the team is going to have a chance in any of the following six weeks, it begins with the offensive line. This unit must find a way to get a running game going so that Cleveland can hold on to the ball, and pass protection so that they can convert on third-down and finish drives.
Oct 30, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns tight end Gary Barnidge (82) canoot get the second foot down on a potential touchdown catch as New York Jets strong safety Rontez Miles (45) defends during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Jets won 31-28. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Tight Ends: F
Since the Browns only recorded 144 yards on the evening, no group really had a standout game. In the case of the tight ends, they were nearly invisible on the field in a game that the Browns ran zero offensive plays in the red zone.
Normally the most reliable receiver on the team, Gary Barnidge‘s name may have been crossed off of the play sheet. The 2015 Pro Bowl selection caught one pass for eight yards, as he was only targeted four times.
The one highlight of the night came as Seth DeValve caught a 25-yard touchdown pass, the first of his career. The rookie out of Princeton has been used primarily as a blocker thus far, as he has just two receptions.
For an offense which likes to use formations incorporating two tight ends, having this unit contribute just two receptions is never good enough. This especially holds true when these players are usually going down field running routes rather than blocking. A combination of factors may be responsible for this lack of production beyond the players themselves. Still, production out of the tight ends must be maximized, as it is a critical area for a winless Browns team.
Nov 10, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Cleveland Browns nose tackle Danny Shelton (55) check on Baltimore Ravens offensive guard Alex Lewis (72) as he lays on the ground after being injured during the third quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Defensive Line: F
The only promising aspect of the play of the defensive line on Thursday night was the resurrection of Cleveland’s pass rush. Early on in the game, the Browns were able to stifle a strong passing attack by flushing Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco out of the pocket. They sacked him two times, and forced an interception as a result of solid pass rush.
But as is the case with everything in football, consistency confirms authenticity. This unit showed no consistency, since they completely fizzled in the second half. Against a beat-up offensive line with two in-game injuries, Danny Shelton and company could not stop the run even when the play call was obviously a handoff. As the game progressed, Terrance West looked more and more like Walter Payton.
The defensive line simply did not do their job. On 34 total rushing attempts made by the Ravens, it was this unit’s duty to halt or at least slow down opposing running backs before they burst into the second level. Since Shelton led the defensive line in tackles but was only the seventh leading tackler on the team, this clearly did not happen.
This means that six Cleveland defenders recorded more tackles than any defensive lineman, proof of just how successful these 34 rushing attempts were. It was as if the unit dissipated after the first half, as the starting three on the line combined for just six solo tackles.
Improvement on the defensive line begins with a unit ready to do their job. The fact that they failed to approach succeeding what they had set out for was physically detrimental to the rest of the defense which was forced to cover for the non-existent unit.
Nov 10, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Kenneth Dixon (30) rushes during the third fourth against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore Ravens defeated Cleveland Browns 28-7. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
It is painful to assess the play of the linebackers in this game. Missed tackle after missed tackle plagued this group, as they could not handle either power or speed. West ran them over, and receiver Mike Wallace blew right by them. There was no winning.
Statistically, Christian Kirksey came away with the most tackles, giving the Browns 13. It is worth noting though that the former Iowa Hawkeye still can not cover a tight end or a receiver, one of the most important roles of a linebacker.
Demario Davis and Cam Johnson also chipped in to the effort of stopping running backs before they rattled off another 20 yards, an effort that was completely in vain.
The one positive to take away from this group was the play of Jamie Collins, recently brought over from the New England Patriots. In just his second game with Cleveland, he performed explosively, attacking the offensive line head on and making the fundamental plays. The 27-year-old even contributed a sack and two tackles for loss. Unfortunately, Collins could not inspire his teammates to follow his lead.
Linebackers were all over the field, but couldn’t make one-on-one tackles. The small amounts of extra yardage gained by Baltimore added up over the course of the game, to the tune of 396 total yards. Gang tackling is encouraging, as the Browns are hustling. But the fact that Cleveland’s linebackers are unable to make fundamental tackles at the NFL level further indicates that the group is not physically capable of a solid outing.
Nov 10, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Kenneth Dixon (30) runs past Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden (23) during the first quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
It has become more and more evident as the weeks have gone on that Cleveland urgently needs secondary help. After surrendering another 296 yards through the air on Thursday, the unit has once again shown no improvement.
Even on an evening where Flacco did not appear to be at his best, Mike Wallace, Steve Smith, and Breshad Perriman combined for nearly 200 yards and two touchdowns. When the Browns locked down on a particular receiver, another got open and did equal damage. Even Darren Waller, a third string tight end, got in on the action by catching two passes and scoring a touchdown.
Interceptions made by Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Joe Haden served as flashed of excitement, but were overshadowed by chunk plays through the air which burned the Browns all night. Tramon Williams missed a slew of tackles and committed an illegal contact penalty. Ed Reynolds II also had a rough second game.
All in all, it was another horrendous game for the Browns against the pass. This is quite possibly the most critical area that the team needs to improve upon.
Oct 23, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns kicker Cody Parkey (3) kicks a field goal against the Cincinnati Bengals in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 31-17. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Special Teams: F
While it wasn’t the most active day for Cleveland’s special teams unit, it was a far from smooth effort. From the very first attempt at a punt return when Haden and Johnson collided, the return game and kick coverage was a severe liability.
The Browns finished with two attempts at a punt return, totaling in negative two yards. Thankfully, the team spared themselves other possible special teams adventures by refraining from returning any kickoffs. Their overall inability to do anything on special teams impacted field position and made it even more difficult for a struggling offense.
On the flip side, the Browns had issues slowing down Baltimore’s return game. Devin Hester returned two kickoffs for 42 yards, and two punts for 27 yards. This benefited the Ravens’ offense in the category of field position, an area where they needed little help.
Cody Parkey was silenced, stepping onto the field just once to convert on an extra-point attempt. Britton Colquitt was busy though, punting the ball seven times for 300 yards, averaging 42.9 per punt. Overall, the inability for this unit to get anything going to help the Browns in any aspect of the game cost them a chance at a passing grade.
Nov 10, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (55) speaks with Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson during a time out during the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore Ravens defeated Cleveland Browns 28-7. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
It wasn’t a pleasant Thursday evening for the head coach of the Browns, as the team’s performance on national television was cringe-worthy.
Not only was the play on the field troublesome, Hue Jackson and his staff seemed to have lost their minds at times. Playing McCown after the first possession of the second half instead of the rookie bewildered many fans. Also, as has been the case lately, balance on offense was non-existent. The Browns threw the ball on nearly three-fourths of their plays, despite a running game which was consistently pounding out a few yards a play.
For a head coach who is expected to turn the team around beginning on the offensive side of the ball, this incompetence raises a red flag. As a play caller, Jackson has shown inconsistency as well as a lack of commitment to his game plan. Going forward, this does not bode well for the first-year head coach.
Thankfully, Jackson had a good long hug with Terrell Suggs, an old pal. He also found a way to burn timeouts before the game became irrelevant, a struggle in recent weeks. This was accomplished by simply sending 12 men onto the field before the first play of the game. Finally, Jackson’s fantastic evening was capped off with a friendly handshake with John Harbaugh, a head coach who is 16-2 in his career against the Browns.
So, maybe the night wasn’t so bad after all. And fortunately, there’s no where for the Browns to go but up. Unless, of course, they just stay right where they are. If that’s the case, fans should brace themselves for an 0-16 season. Right now, the odds look pretty good.