April 20, 2024

By Eric Szczepinski: 9-15-2014

The Cleveland Browns set the tone early. They played with intense energy and fed off the home crowd. From the opening kickoff the Browns set the pace and didn’t allow Drew Brees and the potent New Orleans Saints offense to find a rhythm early in the game. Mike Pettine showed faith in his defense by deferring to the second half and allowing his defense to make plays and be the tone setters for the game. Feeding off the crowd the Browns defense played with energy and passion and came ready for the challenge. The Browns forced a 3 and out and it gave the Browns early momentum for the game. The Browns forced the Saints to punt on three straight possessions and had the Saints offense searching for answers in the early part of the game. During the first quarter the Browns average field position on start of drives was their own 42, while for the Saints it was their own 13. The Browns controlled field position during the first quarter. With the Browns starting with favorable field position they were able to put two drives together and take an early 10-0 lead.

Brian Hoyer completed 60% of his passes, 24-40, and threw for 204 yards and a touchdown. Hoyer delivered with his own rendition of “the drive” to lead his home town team to thir first home opener win since 2004. Early in the 1st quarter Hoyer took advantage of good field position and a pass interference penalty, which led to a quick slant touchdown to Miles Austin. The Browns offensive coordinator set up the pass with a run heavy attack lead by Terrance West (19 carries 68 yards) and Isaiah Crowell (11 carries, 54 yards). Shanahan used quick throws, which had Hoyer often times throwing to his first target. The Browns used a variety of wide receiver screens, quick outs, and hitches. Hoyer made quick throws and took what the defense gave him. The Browns struggled to move the chains on 3rd down. At halftime the Browns were 2-8 on 3rd down and only managed 10 offensive points despite having good field position most of the half.

While Hoyer played mistake free football he left many plays on the field. On the opening possession of the game the Browns had the ball on the Saints 48, and faced a 3rd and 6. The Browns lined up in shotgun formation with Austin and Hawkins lined up far right and tight end Gary Barnidge lined up on the right side on the line of scrimmage. On this play Miles Austin ran an under route, Hawkins ran a deep out/corner route to the right, and Barnidge ran a seam down the middle of the field. The Saints lined up showing a blitz on the left side of the line. On the right side they played cover 3. As the play developed Barnidge got a clean release off the line of scrimmage and broke into his route. Nickel corner back Corey White (#24) was caught in between guarding Barnidge and helping on Hawkins. White allowed Barnidge to run down the middle of the field freely. Barnidge was wide open on the play and would only need to beat the deep safety for an easy 6. On this play Hoyer looked at Hawkins the whole way and tried to throw a perfect ball over the top of Corey White and in front of Keenan Lewis (#28). The pass sailed over Hawkins’ head and the Browns were forced to punt. Hawkins was the first read but after seeing coverage on Hawkins, Hoyer should have worked his eyes back to the middle of the field to find a wide-open Gary Barnidge running down the seam. This would have been a huge play early in the game and would have produced more points for the Browns offense. Not every week will the defense be able to score a touchdown. Hoyer needs to look through his reads and take advantage of big plays to wide open receivers.

When it counted Hoyer delivered for his team. Trailing 24-23 the Browns began the drive at their own 4-yard line with 2:48 to play. On 3rd and 1 Hoyer delivered a strike to Miles Austin on a quick hitch to keep the drive going. Later in the drive Hoyer faced a 4th and 7 with 38 seconds remaining. Hoyer stayed in the pocket and delivered a perfect strike into tight coverage to Gary Barnidge over the middle for 10 yards. The Browns went no huddle the following play and as the play broke down Hoyer scrambled to his left and kept his eyes down field to find Miles Austin in tight coverage coming back to the ball along the sideline. After this completion the Browns had the ball on the Saints 39 and were looking for one more completion before sending Billy Cundiff out for the wining kick. The Browns lined up in shotgun formation with a bunch wide receiver set to the right. Hawkins ran a corner route and was left unguarded and Hoyer was able to deliver for a 28 yard gain. This set up a 29-yard game winning field goal for Billy Cundiff.

Hoyer showed he was cool under pressure and delivered for his home town team in stunning fashion. For the Browns to continue to win this season the defense must play with the energy, passion, and aggressiveness they displayed Sunday. For the offense Hoyer needs to continue to play mistake free football while continuing to work through his progressions and take advantage of huge plays when the coverage breaks down.

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