After an amazing performance in which the Browns dominated the Bengals 24-3, are the Browns legit playoff contenders?
Sure, but so are 20 or so other teams in the NFL. The Browns need to focus on the Houston Texans.
One of the spins on the game is that it was a fantastic performance by Brian Hoyer. In fact, it was fantastic, but the best part was that he had zero turnovers. It was not an aerial blitzkreig, and after the game I was surprised to find out that he had "only" 196 yards on 15 of 23. People talk about game management as if it's a bad thing, but you don't want to have somebody slinging the ball all over the ballfield in that situation. Hand the ball off! The Browns had an astonishing 52 carries in that game, the result of getting an early lead and being faced with an inept Bengals offense that kept giving the Browns great field position. The Browns were without Pro Bowlers Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon, as well as their next best receiver in Anthony Hawkins. On that basis, zero INTs and 23 passes looks great.
Another theme was that this game marked the return of the Browns' running game, but I think it was more the case that the situation called for running the ball. Overall, they averaged just 3.4 yards per carry which is nothing to write home about. They still miss Alex Mack. On the positive side, backup Nick McDonald improved greatly from his first game to his second. So they are not back to where they were earlier this seaon, but they seem headed in the right direction.
With three good running backs, the Browns were able to run 52 times for 170 yards. That's a 3.4 yard average, which is good but not great.
Game balls should be awarded to the entire Browns defense. They made the Bengals look silly. Who ever heard of an NFL quarterback going 10 for 33? Maybe in the 1920s, but surely not today, right? Well Andy Dalton did it. The Bengals seemed determined not exploit their advantage in the run game, with big mouth Stephen Hill averaging 4.6 yards but on only 12 carries. The Browns did not stop the run very well, but the Bengals managed to pass 39 times verus 22 team running plays. How could that happen when the Browns were last in the league in run defense, but highly talented in the defensive secondary? The Browns' Joe Haden crushed A. J. Green, and fellow Pro Bowler Donte Whitner did a great job on Jermaine Gresham. Buster Skrine had a career game with two interceptions. K'Waun Williams and Jim Leonhard also played very well.
The main downer was that rookie Justin Gilbert left early with an injury. Gilbert had been improving week to week.
Desmond Bryant got to Dalton a few times, aided and abetted by Paul Kruger from his outside linebacker post. The Browns are finally applying pressure to the opposing quarterback.
Dalton responded with a pathetic 10 for 33 effort. As bad as it was, it is inexplicable why they decided to pass twice as much as they ran the ball. I can only imagine that Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson was hoping to impress a national TV audience with a high otane passing offense. To put it bluntly, I think the Browns were helped by a foolish game plan from the Bengals coaching staff.
To me it looks like the Browns are improving on Defense and should be able to win a few more games. But I still think that the offense is struggling as they make adjustments. In a few weeks, they will get Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon back, and the Browns may suddenly find themselves playing well on both sides of the ball.