Sunday, December 4, 2011

Toyed and manhandled

So what else did you expect?

The Baltimore Ravens showed up at Cleveland Browns Stadium Sunday, as scheduled and as advertised, and did just about what everyone expected them to do.

In short, the former Browns toyed with the current woebegone Browns for the better part of 60 minutes and waltzed away with a 24-10 victory that seemed more like a 30-3 victory. That’s what the final would have been had the visitors not self-destructed at times.

They ran at will. Not almost at will. Not virtually at will. At will.

They racked up 290 of their 448 totals yards on the ground against a Cleveland defense that ranked 29th in the 32-team National Football League against the run entering the game. Safe to say that number will settle safely in the statistical basement in that category this week.

The Ravens also owned the ball a ridiculous 37 minutes and 34 seconds as the Browns failed time and again to get off the field on third down.

Say, didn’t the Browns draft a couple of defensive linemen with their first two picks in last April’s college draft in order to strengthen their ability to shut down the opposition’s running game? And get off the field on third down?

Is it time to head back to the drawing board on that one? Again?

Actually, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, one of those picks, had a pretty good game against the Ravens with nine tackles, a strip sack and a pass defensed. But he had little or no help from his mates in other phases of the game.

Here’s one more interesting stat. The Browns entered the game No. 1 in the NFL against the pass. The entire league. And they improved on that by limiting Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to just 158 yards passing and no touchdowns.

Statistically, no one defends against the pass better than the Browns. And this is where stats become extremely misleading.

Now stop and think why the Browns are tops in the league in that category. Here’s a clue: It isn’t because they’ve got a good secondary. Or a good pass rush.

Could it be that teams don’t need to pass on them in order to win games?

So how did the Ravens self-destruct? For starters, kicker Billy Cundiff missed two relatively easy field goals (34 and 41 yards) in the first half. There’s six points right there.

Cundiff had been perfect this season from inside the 40 and six of seven between the 40 and 49. But in the rainy mist that fell all afternoon, he somehow managed to push a couple of them right.

He did, however, put one between the uprights in the final seconds of the first half thanks to a coaching blunder by Pat Shurmur. Following Cundiff’s second miss, the Cleveland coach foolishly decided to throw the ball with a minute left in the half and down just 7-0.

Not content to go in trailing by only a touchdown, he called four straight pass plays from his 31 even though quarterback Colt McCoy was struggling in the tough weather conditions. The first resulted in a Baltimore holding penalty, which seemed to embolden the coach.

The second pass was nearly picked off by linebacker Terrell Suggs, who dropped it probably because he was surprised the Browns were actually throwing at the time. Brain cramp. He forgot this was the Browns.

The next pass was intended for Ben Watson, but the tight end never turned around and the ball skipped to Ravens free safety Ed Reed. That right there should have been a broad clue to Shurmur. Two passes, two near interceptions.

Even though your running game stinks, run the damn ball and wind down the clock. That’s the smart thing to do. Not with this coach.

McCoy dropped back again and fired – no, make that lobbed – a pass toward Mo Massaquoi, who ran a sloppy out route. Rookie Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith jumped the route and made an easy pick with 37 seconds left in the half. It was almost as though he was in the Browns’ huddle when the play was called.

The Cleveland defense bailed out Shurmur with a strong stand, forcing a field goal by Cundiff, this one from 21 yards, where he couldn’t miss, and the Ravens had a 10-0 lead. The Browns are not a good enough team to overcome giving up gifts like that.

The Ravens had compiled 260 total yards in the first 30 minutes and all they had to show for it was a 10-point lead. But considering whom they were playing, it was the safest 10-point lead possible because there was no way the Browns would threaten it.

So they came out in the second half and doubled their dose of Ray Rice running the ball and Flacco completing third-down pass after third-down pass. And when Rice left the game periodically because he was gassed after running through, around and past Cleveland defenders for 204 yards, Ricky Williams picked up the slack for 76 more yards.

Even though the score did not reflect it, the Ravens really did toy with the Browns. For example, after Sheard separated Flacco from the ball at midfield midway through the third quarter, the Browns had a first-and-goal at the Baltimore 5 after Peyton Hillis slipped behind the Ravens’ secondary for a 52-yard pass and run.

After Evan Moore uncharacteristically dropped a touchdown pass, the Browns settled for a 21-yard Phil Dawson field goal. The 10-3 deficit lasted exactly 59 seconds.

It became a 14-point game three plays and 73 yards later when Rice ripped off a 67-yard run to set up a Williams touchdown two plays later. Why not Rice? He certainly deserved the honor of scoring this one. Too tired. Smiling and on the bench, he watched as Williams sent the message loud and clear: OK, boys, the men are taking over this game again.

And let us not forget about the special teams. It seems special teams is a weekly subject for the Browns and not in a kind way. If it’s not botched snaps or missed field goals, it’s poor returns or poor coverage.

And the winner this week is poor punt coverage with Lardarius Webb in the starring role. The Ravens cornerback went 68 yards virtually untouched with a Brad Maynard punt with seven minutes left in regulation.

By then, the Ravens probably felt a little sorry for the Browns, who took advantage of garbage time and put together a 10-play drive, 73-yard drive that resulted in a 22-yard scoring strike to Moore, who was so wide open, it looked like a blown assignment.

Even that could have been worse. A lot worse. Two plays earlier, Ravens corner Danny Gorrer dropped a sure pick 6.

Though the scoreboard did not reflect it, the Ravens manhandled the Browns, who fell to 4-8 with two games with the Pittsburgh Steelers, including Thursday night in Pittsburgh, and one more in Baltimore dead ahead.

That’s the bad news. The good news? The Browns have the same record as the Philadelphia Eagles.


  1. steeler fans will own that stadium come jan 1st...this is disgraceful rich...and believe me when i say this...i wish mangini was still here...shurmur is a joke...mangini instilled discipline....this is like camp crennel again....damn free for all

  2. Mangini no doubt joins you in wishing he was still in Cleveland. No, Mike. The biggest mistake Holmgren made was giving Mangini a second year. The next biggest mistake was hiring Shurmur, who has no business being a head coach.

    You're right about Mangini instilling discipline, but this team does not play smart. Neither did Mangini's. Too many things add up to the constant losing. And you might be right about Camp Crennel. Never liked him as a head coach, either.

    And it wouldn't surprise me if more than half the stadium on Jan. 1 is filled with Steelers fans. Wonder how that will resonate with Holmgren.