An offensive awakening
Whether it was a blip on the pro football radar or the real thing, it sure was fun watching the young Browns offense grow before our very eyes Sunday in Cincinnati.
Sure, the team lost its fourth game in a row to the Bengals, but this time, the offense awoke from Rip Van Winkle land and provided some excitement along the way. This one was lost due to a defense that couldn’t stop the pass and poor special teams play.
The Browns sent fair warning to the Bengals that this just might be the beginning of something big, not only in the series between the two teams, but as a broad hint that they no longer consider themselves a soft spot on the schedule.
If there is any solace to be gained from this loss, it’s that the offense came alive. The 34-27 final is much easier to swallow because that offense, which showed absolutely no signs of life last week against Philadelphia, began making plays.
Trent Richardson ran like a top draft choice. Brandon Weeden threw just like he did in his final two years at Oklahoma State and the Cleveland offense performed as it hadn’t in a long, long time.
The Bengals were hanging on at the end. And when you break down the game, the difference was Pacman Jones’ 81-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter when five different Browns missed tackles.
After a very forgettable debut against the Eagles, Richardson showed why he was considered the best running back to come out of college in the last five years. He displayed a burst and speed that is tough to defend.
He rang up 145 total yards and two touchdowns in 23 touches and didn’t look as though he was just six weeks removed from knee surgery. He clearly provided the spark this offense has longed for. Barring injury, this is the kind of performance we can expect from him every week.
Once the Browns’ coaches realize there are other running plays besides the boring dive play, Richardson should become an impact running back. His slashing style is tailor-made for misdirection plays.
Weeden, meanwhile, did not look like a freshman college quarterback as he did last week. He was confident in the pocket, did not stare down receivers for the most part, saw the entire field much more clearly and was extremely decisive in delivering the ball, especially on checkdowns.
It was as though he suddenly opened up his eyes and saw the game in a completely different way. He did not rattle and was precise with his reads.
And then there’s that throwing arm. We heard about it when he was drafted, but hadn’t seen any evidence of its worth. But against the Bengals, thrown footballs arrived at their expected destinations with great velocity and almost unerring accuracy, two facets of Weeden’s game that was AWOL against the Eagles.
Weeden arrived in the National Football League known for his accuracy of nearly 70% in college. So was last week’s 34.3% completion rate an aberration? Or did the Eagles just get lucky? Perhaps Weeden was nervous in his NFL debut.
Coming back and completing 70.3% of his passes with no interceptions against the Bengals should hold off those howlers (yours truly included) who wondered if the step up to the NFL was too big for him. Based on what we saw Sunday, no way.
Critics will throw up the caution sign and warn it was only one game. No need to get too excited. He has shown us he can put up significant numbers. Now comes the hard part for Weeden. He has to do it again and again and again. He has to show he can be consistent.
In the meantime, he can’t be happy the Browns lost. And he can’t be thrilled the club is 0-2. But Sunday’s performance should act as a confidence booster, not only to him, but his cohorts on the offense.
It took the better part of two seasons under coach Pat Shurmur, but we finally saw receivers get separation in the opposing secondary. And we final saw a game where only two passes were dropped.
Of Weeden’s 26 completions (in 37 attempts), 12 were caught by wide receivers, a meaningful statistic. If he can maintain that ratio of apportionment with the wideouts, then maybe, just maybe, a light has flickered in that tunnel.
The self assurance that begins in the huddle with the quarterback seems to be spreading. The offensive line threw up a more solid pocket for the rookie. Then again, maybe it seemed that way because Weeden was getting rid of the ball on time.
It all added up to a 439-yard afternoon, the most net yards a Cleveland offense has posted since throwing a similar number at the Lions in Detroit in a 2009 loss. After what we’ve seen the last two seasons, it was clearly an eye opener.
An offense even remotely resembling that last week against the Eagles, when they posted just 12 first downs and 210 yards of offense, and we’d be talking about a .500 Browns team.
What disappointed the most was the inability of the defense and special teams to prevent the big play and the 10 penalties that stymied drives on offense and prolonged them on defense. There is no excuse for three holding penalties (Shawn Lauvao, Joe Thomas and Alex Mack) and two false starts on the offense.
That shows a lack of discipline and if there’s one thing this team needs now that Weeden shows signs of belonging, it’s discipline. This young man needs all the help he can get.
The secondary, supposedly the strength of the defense, was exposed for the second week in a row and has now surrendered 601 yards through the air. The run defense, supposedly a weakness, has allowed 230 yards in two games, including just 80 against the Bengals.
Last week, the defense and special teams held up their end of the bargain. This week, it was the offense. Just the offense. One of these weeks, this team just might put it all together.
And won’t that be something.