The Browns shocked most of the football world on Sunday by pulling off an electrifying 31-27 win over the Minnesota Vikings. Outside of the excitement around a Browns win, here are 8 big things we learned from Sunday’s game.
1. Brian Hoyer is a better option than Brandon Weeden, for now.
Before you think I’m jumping over the cliff, let me clarify. I’m not saying Brian Hoyer is the chosen one to lead Cleveland back from near 2 decades of irrelevance. I’m just saying that in the 19 years since the Browns rebooted as a franchise (ie the “new” Browns), Hoyer is one of two QB’s ever to win their first start with the team. He also had the best first game statistically of any Browns Quarterback EVER. That’s not a typo. Out of the entire history of the Cleveland Browns organization, pre and post move, he had the best first game. While he may not be the Browns Franchise Quarterback, he does have that spark of leadership, accuracy and mobility that makes Brandon Weeden so hard to watch. As a caveat to that, Hoyer’s average release time (the time it took him to throw a pass from the start of the play) was 2.14 seconds on Sunday. Weeden averaged 4.4 seconds per attempt in his two starts this year. The offensive line, particularly the right side, is the culprit for the quick releases, and Hoyer definitely made a few mistakes (the three picks), but he was getting rid of the ball faster. What does that mean? Well, for starters it explains why Hoyer only took 3 sacks, instead of the 5.5 Weeden is averaging. It also accounts for a couple of those extra 3rd down conversion, as well as the deep ball to Gordon that ended up a touchdown. Simply, in a league that is putting an emphasis on rushing the passer, a QB has got to be able to release quickly. The other thing I liked watching Hoyer was even when he made those bad throws, he seemed to realize it quickly and I think he can learn from it. It may not be the end of the story, but I think it can be the start of something.
2. Josh Gordon is the real deal
If there was ever any doubt about just how good Josh Gordon is and can be, I think he put it to bed on Sunday. 10 catches for 146 yards and a touchdown. The thing that made this so impressive was that Gordon hasn’t played in a regular season game yet, and he was playing essentially for the first time with Brian Hoyer. Gordon showed us what we already knew, that he is a phsyical nightmare for opposing corners because of the size/speed advantage that he has against virtually everyone, but also that he has became a prolific route runner and has a great set of hands. Not only can Gordon stretch the field, but he looked like a guy who can be counted on to pull the ball in. Given the many, many painful drops we’ve seen from Greg Little and Travis Benjamin in the first two weeks, boy was this great to watch. Gordon has the potential to be a top WR in the NFL in a very short timeline.
3. Jordan Cameron is an emerging superstar
If you haven’t noticed the trend towards TE’s becoming a viable passing threat in the NFL, then you haven’t been watching football for a while. The advantages to having a great pass catching tight end are obvious. They can create mismatches with linebackers across the middle, and they are an outstanding short yard/red zone option to have available. Cameron is averaging 13.5 yards per catch this season, which is 5th among TE’s in the NFL. He’s pulled down 20 catches for 269 yards and 4 TD’s. Those 4 TD’s put him in a 4 way tie for 2nd overall AMONG ALL RECEIVERS in the NFL so far. Read that again. Against all WR/RB/TE’s, Jordan Cameron is tied for 2nd in total TD’s so far this season. He has some development to do in blocking, but honestly, who cares. He’s legitimately probably the best offensive position player that the Browns have on their roster at the moment.
4. Joe Thomas may be the most dominant Brown of all time
Big words, I know. But lets crunch some numbers from Monday. Matched up against the Vikings best pass rusher, Jared Allen, Thomas allowed only one QB pressure on 52 plays. The majority of the Browns issues on the right side of the offensive line have come from defenses adjusting their line ups to put their best pass rushers opposite Joe Thomas. Now, if the Browns had a QB with a good release or mobility, having the pass rush ALWAYS coming from the side the QB can see it would allow the defense to be carved up easily. Because of the Browns QB woes in the first two weeks, we haven’t been able to take advantage of this. Thomas is keeping the blind side rush at bay constantly, and he’s doing it in a simply dominant fashion. Not many teams can boast that an offensive lineman on their roster can create such a disasterous mismatch for opposing pass rushers that they have to shift assignments to get around him. If the right side can pick up its play (when Lauvao/Pinkston get healthy), or whoever our QB is going forward can learn to make good, quick decisions, we can start to really do damage to opposing defenses. Thanks to Joe Thomas.
5. We MUST address our run game post T. Rich
I won’t get in to the debate on whether or not Trent Richardson was going to blossom into an elite RB, or whether the trade was a good move or not. The facts are this: Willis Mcgahee, Chris Ogbonnaya and Bobby Rainey combined for a total of 49 yards on Sunday. That is just not going to cut it long term. I don’t mind using a multiple running back system, and I don’t mind not having one break out star at the position. The NFL has changed, and you don’t need an every down back like Adrian Peterson to win football games. But, when you’re up by 7 or more at half, having a running back or two or three who can reliably eat up yards and clock is a must. Having no one, or having to rely on trick plays, is not a viable long term solution. We need to develop a running attack that can keep defenses off balance and to move the chains.
6. The Defense is very, very good
The starting front seven for the Browns are as good as any in the NFL. They have consistenly pressure/hit/sacked opposing QB’s, have bottled up one very good (Ray Rice) and one elite (Adrian Peterson) RB, and have created opportunities for turnovers. The biggest problems in the Browns defense have been getting worn out late in games from overplay due to lack of offense, and the Skrine/Owens combo opposite Joe Haden. On Sunday, Buster Skrine looked like an entirely different player, and the offense did enough to keep the defense from being exhausted late. The thing is, with the Browns defense being so good at stopping the run, its forced opposing teams to throw the ball more. And when they get into every down passing situations, the pressure on opposing QB’s has been consistent and effective, especially in the first half. You may remember, the Browns have been leading at halftime in all three games this season. Barring injuries, the Browns defense is good enough to keep them in every game this year.
7. Davone Bess is one of the better slot receivers in the NFL
I loved the Davone Bess trade the second it happened. Maybe because I’ve had him on my fantasy football roster for the past few years (in PPR leagues), but I had a good feeling about what he could do in the slot. One slot passes Sunday, Bess was 100%, targets to catches. You read that right, he caught every single slot pass that came his way. He does struggle on sideline plays, but thats not what he’s built for. With Gordon out, Bess was forced to take on a role outside of what he’s naturally good at, but with Gordon back, Bess did and will continue to thrive in the slot. He hauled in 7 catches for 67 yards on Sunday, and that kind of productivity is what he can give you week in and week out. That’s nothing to snort at.
8. This is a young team
Take this however you will. This is still a very young football team. They are young in the new coaches system, they are one of the youngest rosters in the league, and this group hasn’t been together long. They are going to make mistakes. Some will make you hit your head against the wall in frustration. They will lose some painful close games. But, they will grow and get better. This game showed what they can do when they gel as a team. This was the first Cleveland Browns game that has excited me and made me hopeful in a very long time. Once we plug a few holes, we can be a playoff team. And we are young enough that it will be for more than one season.