Monday, September 23, 2013

Monday leftovers

Maybe it was the body language. Then again, maybe it was the new face in the huddle.

Whatever the reason, the Browns looked as sharp on offense in Sunday’s victory over Minnesota as they have in a long time.

With one exception, plays reached the huddle in plenty of time. Everyone seemed to know exactly what he was supposed to do. Of the 14 drives, only two wound up in a three and out. A third was aborted by one of Brian Hoyer’s three interceptions.

The most surprising aspect of the offense was the crispness with which it was operated. All exchanges between the center and quarterback were clean. The whole offense just seemed to run smoother with Hoyer at the controls.

Don’t know why. Don’t really care why. It just looked much better to the naked eye. Even in the second half, when the Vikings started putting pressure on Hoyer, he did not seem to fluster. 

He owns attributes that clearly separate him from Brandon Weeden. While his arm isn’t as strong as perhaps he’d like, his vision of the field is definitely superior. On passing plays, he scans the field in a 180-degree arc.

To him, everyone is a potential receiver on any given play. He is quick to look off the primary in search of a better opportunity. Unlike Weeden, who usually locks on to his primary target, Hoyer’s goal is to complete the pass to the first open receiver he sees.

He probably learned that in his three seasons in New England, where he watched Tom Brady surgically take apart opposing defenses. He no doubt was a sponge during that time and now he has the opportunity to put all that knowledge to practical use.

It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that Hoyer and Brady discussed quarterbacking on a full-time basis. Learning the tricks of the trade from a future Hall of Famer certainly couldn’t hurt. And you could see some of that in his performance against the Vikings.

Two of his three interceptions were clearly his fault. In both cases, though, he didn’t see first safety Harrison Smith and then linebacker Chad Greenway appear from out of nowhere to pick him off. It wasn’t as though he threw the ball right at them.

Both passes were headed for their targets (Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron) and looked like completions until the Minnesota defenders stepped in and made nice plays. The good news was that neither pick resulted in Minnesota points due to strong transition defense.

Blame the third pick on the offensive line, which permitted Vikings defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd way too much penetration. Floyd hit Hoyer’s right arm and the pass floated to linebacker Erin Henderson, whose return set up the Vikings’ tying touchdown.

You can see Hoyer has complete faith in his receivers, affording him the luxury of throwing the ball before those receivers make their breaks. It is imperative, however, that those receivers run the correct route and be where they are supposed to be.

His 321 passing yards and overall performance was refreshing. Now all the front office has to do to make him an even better quarterback is give him some help with the ground game. Considering he had none Sunday makes what he accomplished somewhat remarkable.

~ Even though it gave up 27 points, the defense looked much better than it did in the first two games. The aggressive nature was evident from the first snap. Strong safety T. J. Ward spent a large part of his afternoon in the box. It was obvious the No. 1 goal was stopping Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

It worked, as evidenced by Peterson’s 88 yards in 25 carries. Gang tackling and not permitting Peterson to use the edge on cutbacks worked well all afternoon. When you hold the National Football League’s best running back to those numbers, that gets the attention of other teams.

Peterson’s longest run was nine yards. Can’t remember the last time he had a game when he did not run for at least 10 yards on at least one play. All the linebackers had strong games, especially inside backers D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson.

~ For the third week in a row, Joe Haden had a big game. This time, the cornerback shut down Minnesota’s Greg Jennings, limiting him to just three catches. He had plenty of help from his secondary mates.

Buster Skrine made two solid plays in the end zone to prevent touchdowns. And the tackling was crisp most of the afternoon.

The overall coverage was the best it’s been all season. Most of the six sacks on Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder were of the coverage variety. And four of Ponder’s scrambles were caused by strong coverage. As long as the Browns put adequate pressure on opposing quarterbacks, the secondary has a chance to be effective.

~ Barkevious Mingo wasn’t supposed to play much as he recovers from his bruised lung injury. But when Jabaal Sheard went down late in the second quarter after strip-sacking Ponder, the rookie outside linebacker stepped right in and made a difference.

Mingo recorded his second sack in two games, but also applied enough pressure on Ponder to make him either throw before he wanted or was the causal factor in a sack credited to a teammate. If Sheard can’t go this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, there won’t be a talent dropoff.

~ In the run-up to the Browns-Vikings game, Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen declared, “We’ve got to stop the run.” He didn’t take into consideration one very important thing. The Browns no longer have a running game. By the time the Vikings realized that, Cleveland had scored 24 first-half points.

Allen, as it turned out, was a non-factor in the game. The normally hyperactive defensive end was completely neutralized by Joe Thomas. The only number for Allen on the stat sheet was one quarterback hit. No tackles, no assists and no sacks.

~ Notebook: Strange sight on the sideline as the Browns drove toward what turned out to be the winning touchdown. Kicker Billy Cundiff, who strained a quad earlier in the game and was ruled out, was playing holder as punter Spencer Lanning practiced placekicking for a possible field goal. As it turned out, Hoyer held for Lanning on his extra point. . . Referee Bill Leavy, who screwed up a ruling in the Green Bay-San Francisco season opener, did it again in the Browns-Vikings game. After the Browns’ Travis Benjamin muffed a punt at the Cleveland 26-yard line late in the second quarter, it was recovered and advanced by the Vikings. Leavy and his crew ruled a muff cannot be advanced, prompting a red-flag replay challenge by Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier. By rule, it was not a reviewable play and a timeout should have been assessed the Vikings. Instead, Leavy assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. So instead of starting the drive at the Cleveland 26, it began at the 41, first down and 25. Leavy acknowledged the mistake after the game. The Vikes settled for a 43-yard Blair Walsh field goal. . . . Third-down update: The Browns were 6-for-15 on third down against the Vikings, bringing their season total to 11-for-44, an awful 25% conversion ratio. Yikes! Of the 11 conversions, seven have been made by wide receiver Davone Bess. Cameron has two and Gordon and Greg Little have one each. Conversely, the defense has stopped the opposition only 25 times in 49 third-down attempts. That’s almost a 50% success rate for the opposition.

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