By Eric Szczepinski @eszczepinski2
Ten days later the Cleveland Browns were still hung-over from their signature victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Playing at home sitting in first place in the division and facing a quarterback making his first career start it looked to be a promising day for the Browns. However the Browns suffered a 23-7 loss and were severely out-performed. With the loss the Browns fall to 6-4 and remain in the tight AFC Playoff picture. Breaking down the elements of the loss:
The loss of Arian Foster was a non-issue for Houston as rookie Alfred Blue did the heavy lifting in the Texans backfield. The Browns defense did not have an answer for the run game as Blue rushed for 156 yards on 36 carries. The Browns defense lacks interior run stoppers. There is not a quick fix to stopping the opposing run game this late in the season. Injuries to Phil Taylor and Armonti Bryant have devastated the Browns front seven, which lacks depth and skill. The injury to Karlos Dansby on Sunday is a huge loss. Dansby is a run stopping force and the heart of the Cleveland front seven. He has been a major upgrade from Dwquell Jackson and his loss is huge. With a poor defensive line the Browns have failed to generate a pass rush. They did not sack Mallet once and rarely had pressure on him. With two first round picks again in 2015 look for the Browns to address the front seven of their defense. The 2015 draft class features a talented class of defensive linemen to choose from. In the meantime the Browns must find a stop gap on run defense.
The offense was disrupted all day long by #99, J.J. Watt. Watt, considered the best defensive player in the league, had a dominating performance and altered the Browns offense entirely. The Browns did not lead once during the game and were playing catch up. The run game was stopped completely early and Hoyer had to throw. The Browns were relentless at running to the right side against J.J. Watt. Watt blew up most plays and the Browns did not run much away from Watt. Crowell was the feature back on the day who ran 14 times for 61 yards but had a costly fumble.
Brian Hoyer had a rough day. He also had a very painful day. Hoyer was pressured and hit a ton Sunday. Houston brought tons of blitzes and put Hoyer at a disadvantage throwing. However, when Hoyer had time in the pocket he was wildly inaccurate, missing on some big plays. When pressure came he didn’t step into throws and was rattled by the pressure. He often forced throws to his first read and did not work through his progressions. Hoyer finished the game 20/50 for 330 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. The bottom line is Hoyer only completed 40% of his passes, which is unacceptable. Yes, Houston’s defense put pressure on Hoyer and made him uncomfortable. But Hoyer needs to make plays and deliver accurately. Hoyer is at his best using play action after having an established running attack. With play action Hoyer generally has a clean pocket. This is where Hoyer has done most of his damage this season. He has struggled beating blitzes and on third down. The Browns offense once again struggled on third down Sunday, going 3/15. The Browns offense and Hoyer must find ways to convert third downs and to keep drives alive.
The return of Josh Gordon will provide Hoyer with his deep threat and hopefully ignite the Browns sluggish offense. The Browns need to get back on track on the road against the Atlanta Falcons. A road test against an improving Falcons team will provide a test for the Browns to bounce back despite a tough loss to the Texans.