After an embarrassing performance on the road in Jacksonville one week ago the Cleveland Browns looked to take advantage of a weaker Oakland team. Questions lingered about the loss of Alex Mack and the poor play of Brian Hoyer. The Browns could not afford to hand another team their first win of the season, especially playing at home.

Throughout the first half the Browns offense was sluggish and once again could not maintain drives. They were able to connect on three Billy Cundiff field goals to give the Browns a 9-6 halftime lead. The Browns defense continued to gain confidence playing against rookie quarterback Derek Carr, and making him feel uncomfortable. Tashaun Gipson added another interception off an Oakland trick play on 4th down on their opening possession. Gipson is currently the NFL leader in interceptions. The Browns were able to score a field goal off the turnover.

The Browns offense struggled due to the lack of a running game. Browns backs combined for 39 total yards on the afternoon. Nick McDonald made his first start at center and John Greco moved back to right guard. With a new piece added to the line the run game had a tough time. Oakland’s game plan was to shut down the Browns trio of backs and it worked. Oakland put 8 to 9 players in the box. Oakland penetrated the Cleveland front and Ben Tate had nowhere to run most of the afternoon. While moving Greco back to guard and McDonald back to center will help the Browns in the long run, McDonald is no Alex Mack. Expect McDonald to improve and get adjusted as the weeks go on. The loss of Pro-Bowl center Alex Mack may affect the run game the rest of the season. I talked to former Browns Head Coach Sam Rutigliano before yesterday’s game and he said, “The loss of Mack is bigger than people think, he was the quarterback of the line, he made all the line calls and adjustments.” The Browns must be persistent running the football and hope McDonald continues to improve this season.

Brain Hoyer bounced back from a dreadful game last week with a solid outing. Hoyer threw for 275 yards on 19/28 passing and 1 touchdown. He completed 67% of his passes, which was a promising sign after the past three weeks. While Hoyer was not flashy Sunday, he managed the game and handled playing with the lead well. Although the Browns offense was held without a touchdown through three quarters, Hoyer took advantage of two turnovers late in the game to seal the Browns win. However, Hoyer left some throws out there to be made and was lucky two of his passes that should have been interceptions were dropped. Both plays would have shifted momentum back to Oakland, only trailing by 3 at that point. Hoyer forced a few throws into tight or double coverage, but the offense was stagnant for most of the afternoon and he took some chances to make plays with the football.

Hoyer’s best throw of the day came the play following the play of the game. Late in the 3rd quarter, trailing 9-6, Oakland was driving and had the ball on Cleveland’s 29 yard line and the Browns needed a stop. It was Donate Whitner that laid a punishing hit on Raiders running back Darren McFadden, and the ball popped right into the arms of Joe Haden, who returned the fumble 34 yards. A huge stop by the Cleveland defense shifted the momentum and the offense looked to deliver a score.

With all the momentum the Browns looked to take a shot down the field. Hoyer had a clean pocket and had lots of time to throw, he scanned to his right, middle, left and then back middle before finally finding an open Andrew Hawkins on the right sideline. Hawkins ran his route over the middle and was not open and broke the route off back where no defenders were. Hoyer recognized Hawkins’ move and delivered on a play of 32 yards. Three plays later Hoyer connected with Hawkins again on a flat route for an easy touchdown.

This touchdown off the turnover gave the Browns a ten point lead, and all the momentum and noise from the crowd, to finish off the Oakland Raiders. With three minutes left in the game Ben Tate scored from five yards out to deliver the final blow. The Browns were given the ball at Oakland’s nine yard line after a Derek Carr fumble, which Barkevious Mingo recovered.

This Browns win was not sexy and they allowed Oakland to compete with them for most of the game. But the Browns took advantage of two costly Raiders turnovers to seal the game. Hoyer made enough plays when it counted to lead the Browns to victory. The Browns offense must get on track next week as another weaker opponent comes to play at First Energy Stadium in Tampa Bay (1-6). The Browns are establishing their home field advantage with a current 3-1 home record and must continue to play well and gain confidence before a tougher run in the schedule. Another weaker opponent allows the defense to continue to gain confidence and Joe Haden get back to Pro-Bowl form, while rookie Justin Gilbert has begun to adapt to the NFL game. No matter how it’s done a Win is a Win and the Browns are sitting over .500 with a 4-3 record. They must cash in again at home against Tampa Bay. As the late great Raiders owner AL Davis would say: “Just Win Baby”.

By Eric Szczepinski

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