It’s hard to believe, but the Browns are 5-3 half way through the season. What was supposed to be the easiest part of their schedule, with games against Jacksonville, Oakland, and Tampa Bay (these teams had a combined one win going into this stretch), turned out to be probably the toughest 3 games so far this season. Once again, it was an ugly, nail-biting win, but the Browns won’t get much chance to revel in their accomplishments, as they head to Cincinnati for a Thursday night game with AFC North Division title implications. Before we get started, I just want to give a quick shout-out to Ben Belden for writing this article last week, you can find more of his work here.
Positives: A win’s a win, no matter how ugly.
Brian Hoyer: As the starting quarterback for the Browns, Hoyer has a record of 8-3. Against the Bucs, he went 21-for-34, throwing for 300 yards and 2 touchdowns, however, he did have 2 interceptions. Hoyer always steps up when he needs to and has successfully held off Johnny Manziel for 9 straight weeks.
Joe Haden, Donte Whitner, Tashaun Gipson: After a slow start to the season, Haden is back to playing at a Pro-Bowl level. Haden had 3 pass deflections, including an alley-oop tip to Donte Whitner for an interception. Whitner, along with his interception, had 8 tackles, including some key run-stuffing stops to halt a couple of Tampa’s drives. Whitner also forced another fumble, but it was called back because of a hands-to-the-face penalty. Arguably one of the best free safeties in the league, Tashaun Gipson added to his league-leading interception total, picking off Mike Glennon to total 6 interceptions this season.
Billy Cundiff: Since missing 2 critical field goals in a loss to Baltimore, Cundiff is a perfect 11-for-11. This is especially important considering the Browns have decided against scoring touchdowns the last couple of weeks.
Taylor Gabriel: Another one of the Browns’ undrafted rookie phenoms, Gabriel had his best game as a pro, with 5 catches for 87 yards and his first career NFL touchdown. The touchdown turned out to be the game winner. Life without Josh Gordon has not been as tough as we thought it would be, as a different receiver seems to step up each week.
Block Party: The Browns would not have won if not for an early blocked field goal and then, in the fourth quarter, a blocked punt which led to the game-winning touchdown.
Negatives: With Alex Mack the Browns averaged 146.4 rush yards a game, without him, 52.7 rush yards.
Clock Management: At the end of the 2nd half, the Browns had 50 seconds left and were on the Tampa 41. Instead of calling a timeout and going for a touchdown, Mike Pettine decided to let the clock run down to kick a field goal. One wonders what he was thinking.
Run Offense: You saw the stat above, for the game, the Browns ran the ball 28 times and gained 50 yards, and average of 1.8 yards per rush. Coming into the game Tampa was 23rd against the run. Ben Tate had 10 carries for 3 yards, which is not good, to say the least.
Brian Hoyer: Sure, he led the Browns to another win, but it wasn’t his best performance. Against three straight sub-par opponents, Brian Hoyer has looked, well, sub-par. Hoyer threw two bad interceptions today, and missed on more than a few throws. As long as he continues to win, the starting job should be his.
Buster Skrine: Rookie wide receiver Mike Evans victimized Skrine all day, including his two impressive touchdown catches. The 2nd half of the football game, Mike Glennon made the smart choice and threw away from Joe Haden and made Skrine look completely lost in coverage. Mike Evans had a career day with 7 receptions, 124 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Flip-flopping: Cleveland twitter is a joy to watch during the game. One second we’re calling for Johnny Manziel to play, the next we are celebrating a Brian Hoyer touchdown pass.
— Chris Sladoje (@CST_Doje)