Sooooooooooo what happened to that whole “They’re tanking away the season/we’re not gonna win a game” thing?
The Cleveland Browns shocked the NFL twice this week: first when they traded away their most recognizable offensive weapon, and second, when they won without him.
I’ve been proposing all week that the trade of Trent Richardson was not a move to tank the season but instead was one about maximizing assets. Running backs aren’t worth that much and they got a first round pick for him. And on Sunday, with a hodge-podge of running backs, the Browns managed to get the same production (3.5 YPC) that they had been getting out of Richardson.
Now, where I was wrong was with the quarterback situation and Brian Hoyer. I said that if you wanted to make the case about tanking that the decision to start Hoyer was more dubious than trading Richardson. Well I was wrong.
We saw the full gamut of what Hoyer is as a QB on Sunday. For most of the first half he looked great. He was poised and made quick decisions. He took advantage of the mismatches that his two best receiving targets (Gordon and Cameron) presented for him and it paid off. He was also patently terrible for about a quarter and a half when he threw three interceptions, two of which were atrocious and a third that, if it had been Weeden, he would be getting killed for as well. But of course none of that matters because the Ohio kid made good on the final drive as he led the team down the field and found Jordan Cameron for the winning touchdown. It was a great game, a great finish, and gutsy performance by an unheralded player who’s finally getting his shot in the league.
Let’s not go crazy though. It was only one win over a winless team. Rob Chudzinski needed to go into his bag of tricks a couple times to get the W, going shades of Mangini in New Orleans on Sunday, pulling off the double fake kicks in the same game. It was a great job by Chud who knew that his team needed a win and needed something to rally around after what was no doubt a tough emotional week. It can’t be easy to go into a game, on the road, having just lost your starting QB and traded away your starting RB, and having listened to everyone in the media and most fans talk about how you’re playing for next year. Chud likely used that as fuel for his team and it drove them to the victory.
The defense was very good again and got big stops in crucial spots in the game, most notably Jabaal Sheard’s strip of Christian Ponder at the end of the first half to keep any points off the board and then Desmond Bryant’s sack to close the game. The front seven continues to be a beast of a bunch as they sacked Ponder six times, had a tipped pass that led to an interception, and managed to hold Adrian Peterson under 100 yards on the day (and only 3.5 YPC). That defensive front for the Browns is easily the best part of the team and is probably going to shape out to be one of the best in the NFL when all things are said and done.
As a whole, the defense was very good. The scoreboard shows that they gave up 27 points but a lot of that falls on Hoyer for turning it over deep in our end as well as Travis Benjamin for muffing the punt. The Browns D really only allowed three long drives on the whole day and held one of them to just a field goal in the end. The biggest thing is they played well enough to win, and that’s all that really matters. It was a whole team effort to get the victory. Heck, even Buster Skrine had two nice pass breakups to save touchdowns.
The offense is going to be a work in progress all year. They’re going to need to figure out how to get more production out of the running game for sure. It certainly didn’t help that the Vikings defense probably knew that every time Willis McGahee was in the game that he was getting the ball. I still think they should give my guy Chris Ogbonnaya the ball more, I mean he only got two carries but he’s already more than doubled up what was Richardson’s longest run of the season. I’m going to continue to beat the “give Ogbonnaya the ball” drum until they start listening.
The receiving core was clearly benefitted greatly by the return of Josh Gordon. I almost forgot how great that guy is at taking the top off the defense and the big play potential he possesses. His presence in the lineup really changes the dynamic of the whole squad. I’m not saying that an improved receiver group is the sole reason why Hoyer looked competent, but it certainly helped a whole heck of a lot.
Time will tell on Hoyer. I was pleased with what I saw (in that he wasn’t a complete disaster as I expected) but he certainly is going to have to do a lot more to get myself, other fans, and ultimately the Browns front office to buy into him as a legitimate championship level QB. I don’t think he’s anywhere close to that and I think that the Browns will be drafting a QB this May. But that’s a long time away and I despise draft talk during the season. I hated hearing Mel Kiper on with Rizzo this past week. It’s Week 3 for crying out loud!!! I listened, don’t get me wrong, and I’ll be watching all the Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota, and Johnny Manziel I can get…but I hate it all at the same time. I want this team to be a winner so bad and that all starts with the QB. I enjoyed Sunday’s win as much as all Browns fans. We needed that one bad. But the win didn’t change how I feel about this team as a whole and that’s that they certainly don’t appear to have a championship level QB on the roster.
But for now, we’ll just enjoy the win. It’s a good day to be a Cleveland sports fan.
And how ‘bout the Tribe!!!
 That 3.5 YPC only accounts for the runs by the RBs. The Browns also got big runs from Josh Gordon (on an end-around) as well as Josh Aubrey (on the fake punt). If you include those the average goes up to 6.1.
 Good to see that Richardson is thriving in his new role in Indi. He got a TD on his first run (one yard) and was really able to take advantage of those “wide open running lanes” everyone was raving about (2.7 YPC).
 Gordon and Cameron combined for 30 targets of Hoyer’s 54 passes.
 I really do hope that we can Weeden again this season with the full receiving core. I’m not totally out on Weeden yet. I think he had the deck stacked against him in the first two weeks. I want to see him with Gordon in the lineup and Norv calling plays. He’s probably not a championship level QB…but I still want to see it to be sure.