After a week of unfortunate news surrounding the Cleveland Browns, they followed up with a lackluster effort against the Baltimore Ravens. As if the team’s admonishment of Josh Gordon, Johnny Manziel and Justin Gilbert for failure adhere to team rules wasn’t enough for the Browns’ dedicated fan base to handle, the team inevitably fell to the Baltimore Ravens by the score of 20-10.
The Browns defense played inspired football in the early goings of the game as they held the Ravens out of the end zone on fourth-and-one with 8:15 to go in the first quarter. Donte Whitner, Craig Robertson, and Buster Skrine each collected five tackles on the afternoon, and Karlos Dansby led the team with six tackles. Paul Kruger continued to put pressure on the opposing quarterback as he posted his 11th sack of the season.
The Browns run game was the bulk of their offense. Terrance West started the game at running back for the Browns and got the majority of the carries. The Browns and Ravens entered the half with the score knotted up at three points apiece.
The highlight of Connor Shaw’s day came in the third quarter when he connected with Taylor Gabriel for 49 yards. Gabriel, who finished the game with three receptions for 66 yards, was ruled down just before the goal line. West who rushed for 94 yards on 18 carries punched the ball in the end zone to give the Browns the lead by the score of 10-3. Browns’ head coach Mike Pettine spoke about West’s performance after the game.
“We have to get that kind of effort, that kind of professionalism, every week.”
The touchdown by West would be the final score by the Browns as they were just 23 percent in third down efficiency. Connor Shaw who threw for just 177 yards and an interception said after the game, “[That was] probably the most fun I’ve had in football going to war with those guys. … I wish we could’ve converted some third downs.”
The Ravens didn’t fare much better on third downs as they achieved a meager 30 percent completion rate. With that said, the Ravens moved the football when it mattered. The Ravens sealed the game in the fourth quarter as Joe Flacco connected with Torrey Smith on multiple occasions to move their offense into scoring position. Justin Tucker added a 28-yard field goal with 10:41 remaining in the fourth quarter, and on their subsequent possession, Flacco completed a 16-yard throw to give the Ravens the lead by the score of 13-10. The Browns’ offense went three-and-out once again, and Flacco threw a two-yard touchdown to Kamar Aiken. Aiken’s touchdown was the final score of the game, and gave the Ravens the win by the score of 20-10.
Cleveland Browns’ Offseason Outlook
The Cleveland Browns finished the season 7-9, but were in the playoff discussion up until November, which is a welcomed change for Browns’ fans. Many might feel as though the Browns’ season is a success considering how far the team has come, but the first year head coach clearly believes the team can improve. Pettine said after the game, “Seven wins might be an improvement, but there’s more work to do.”
Pettine is right; the Browns have the makings of a very talented team but must get consistent effort on a weekly basis from their young players. While Pettine declined comment on the status of Josh Gordon, Johnny Manziel and Justin Gilbert, he did say,
“I will have plenty to say tomorrow.”
This Browns’ coaching regime has done an outstanding job of prohibiting controversy from marring a successful inaugural season. It is imminent that the incumbent staff will stay intact, but what changes need to be made to improve upon their 7-9 record in 2015?
Below are positions that will likely be upgraded prior to the start of next season:
The Browns’ run defense was nothing short of abysmal in 2014 and it must improve if they hope to emerge from their cellar-dweller status in the AFC North. The Browns gave up 141.6 yards per game on the ground, which is the most in the NFL. To promote scheme versatility, the Browns’ coaching staff is partial to defensive linemen who are stout at the point of attack, but can also rush the passer when asked to do so. Players like Danny Shelton, Christian Covington, Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Mario Edwards Jr. could certainly help bolster the Browns’ defensive front.
Brian Hoyer will be an unrestricted free agent, which means the Browns will be left with Johnny Manziel and Connor Shaw (if Hoyer doesn’t re-sign.) Reports have also surfaced that the Browns are not married to Manziel and will explore options at the position in the offseason. Do not be surprised if the Browns package picks in an effort to acquire Marcus Mariota in the 2015 NFL draft.
The Browns’ coaching staff is enamored with Barkevious Mingo, but he has not been a very productive NFL player. Paul Kruger has been very effective applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks, but the Browns need a player on the opposite side of him to do the same. Jabaal Sheard who was relatively unproductive in 2014 will be an unrestricted free agent. With the Browns in need of pass rushers, look for Pettine’s familiarity with Jerry Hughes to play a major role in bringing him to Cleveland.
Once Alex Mack was injured, the Browns’ offense was never the same. To ensure that their season will not be altered as a result of an injury to an interior lineman, the Browns should take a close look at Jake Smith out of Louisville. Smith could play immediately at guard, and could step in for Mack if he isn’t healthy.
Moveable Chess Piece
Jordan Cameron has played well in recent weeks, but he does have a history of head injuries. Cameron will be an unrestricted free agent and the Browns will need to decide if he’s worth the long-term investment. If the Browns elect to part ways with Cameron, Darren Waller out of Georgia Tech has the tools necessary to replace him. The Browns could add another dimension to their offense if they add a versatile playmaker like Tony Pierson out of Kansas. Pierson has experience at wide receiver and running back and should see significant time at both positions at the next level. His skillset and frame are reminiscent of De’Anthony Thomas.
If the Browns are able to address these areas in 2015, they will greatly improve their chances of winning the AFC North.
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