In some ways, you have to commiserate with Austin Davis, whose starting debut with the Browns resulted in a decisive – and humiliating – 37-3 beatdown by the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday.
It’s one thing to enter as game with two of your most reliable receivers (Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel) unable to play because of injuries. And then you lose Travis Benjamin and Marlon Moore early in the first half.
Put that all together and you have a quarterback challenged to be successful when every deep threat is hurt or not available. That’s basically what Davis faced for the better part of the loss to Cincinnati.
Davis, who has the arm to go deep with a fairly large degree of accuracy, was forced to dumb down the Cleveland passing game against the Bengals to short and intermediate routes as a result and the Bengals took full advantage of it.
Knowing the remaining healthy receivers for the Browns were not deep threats, the Bengals tightened their coverages, crept up toward the line of scrimmage and made certain those receivers did not have much room to operate.
The Cleveland offense was reduced to shallow crosses, slants, checkdowns and dumps. Davis, nonetheless, completed 25 of 37 passes for 230 yards, not bad considering the handicap under which he had to work.
He was forced to throw to the likes of Brian Hartline, eight tough catches for 83 tough yards on 11 targets; and rookie Darius Jennings, who was activated before the game and caught five passes for 35 even tougher yards on seven targets.
Six of his 10 second-half completions (in 13 attempts not counting sacks) went to Hartline and Jennings with Gary Barnidge, Duke Johnson Jr., Isaiah Crowell and rookie tight end EJ Bibbs collecting one each.
The Bengals also put the clamps on the normally reliable Barnidge in the second half, limiting him to just the one catch for 11 yards after he caught four balls in the first half for 48 yards.
It’s almost like quarterbacking with one hand tied behind your back and the Bengals knew it, completely overwhelming the Cleveland offensive line at the line of scrimmage.
Davis rarely had the luxury of sitting back in the pocket and picking out his receivers. If he wasn’t stepping up in the pocket, he was rolling out just to avoid the pass rush. He had to throw the ball away on numerous occasions due, in part, to good coverage.
It was obvious on his second-quarter interception that someone had run the wrong route since there was no Cleveland receiver within 15 yards of the ball. It was that kind of an afternoon for Davis.
It would be unfair to say he played badly, but an argument can also be made that he didn’t exactly play well, either. Bottom line: He didn’t exactly pass his first test, but he didn’t flunk it, either.
Considering the pressure under which he had to play against the Bengals, it would be fair to say he deserves another look when the San Francisco 49ers invade next Sunday.
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When the Browns selected Cameron Erving with their second pick of the first round of the last college football draft, it’s safe to assume they expected more than they have received thus far into the season.
The 6-5, 315-pounder came into training camp last summer with every opportunity to unseat anyone on the perceived weak right side of the offensive line. In other words, guard John Greco and tackle Mitchell Schwartz were vulnerable.
Erving didn’t even come close to unseating Greco or Schwartz. In fact, he was disappointingly relegated to the bench despite the offensive line’s inability to live up to its strong performance in the 2014 season before center Alex Mack went down.
It was also thought that when Erving was selected, it was as insurance in the event Mack decides to leave as a free agent. We are now beginning to find out just why Erving was shifted to center from left tackle during his final season at Florida State.
He’s not very good at either tackle or guard. His drop step in pass blocking is slow and sloppy and he can be beaten on a bull pass rush. He also doesn’t appear strong enough to sustain blocks in the run game and get to the next level.
Erving finally broke into the starting lineup a couple of games ago after left guard Joel sustained an ankle injury. Bitonio returned for the Bengals game, but had to leave during the Browns’ first series after a recurrence of the ankle injury.
In came Erving, who didn’t play any better than he had in the previous two games. Bengals defensive linemen Geno Atkins and Domata Peko overwhelmed him all afternoon. Coach Mike Pettine finally had seen enough after Erving was flagged for holding early in the fourth quarter and replaced him with Austin Pasztor.
If and when Mack leaves, and right now that seems like a foregone conclusion, look for Erving to step in next season and anchor the offensive line. That’s when he gets the chance to redeem himself for his disappointing performance this season.
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Bengals running back Jeremy Hill stoked the fires of the Ohio rivalry when he ran and leaped into the waiting arms of fans after scoring on a 1-yard run midway through the third quarter to lengthen the Cincinnati lead to 27-3.
Some fans at that end of the stadium were from Cincinnati, but that didn’t stop Cleveland linebacker Christian Kirksey from hauling Hill back down and lecturing him on what is and what is not proper behavior in Cleveland.
It was sort of a not-in-my-house dressing down from Kirksey, who drew a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct. The two jawed at each other as the officials separated them, but at least Kirksey showed some life. It might have been the only such display for the Browns Sunday.
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Notebook: Easiest money in the game was made by Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber, who had to kick only once as the Bengals scored on every possession except the first and last, which ended on downs. . . . Fox Sports play-by-play man Justin Kutcher, commenting on the Browns’ performance late in the first half: “I was expecting a lot more out of Cleveland.” Echoed color commentator Matt Millen: “So was I.” . . . The second Bengals touchdown, which required only three plays covering 54 yards, consumed just 75 seconds. Two A.J. Green catches, including one for a score, gobbled up 45 of those yards. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. watch: Nine touches, 32 yards, all but two through the air on four grabs. . . . Bibbs’ catch was his first as a professional. . . . Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s passer rating was a nearly perfect 146.8. . . . The Browns’ sack total at home now stands at nine after Paul Kruger nailed Dalton midway through the second quarter. It raised his sack total to a robust 2½ and was his first since the last Cincinnati game on Nov. 1. . . . Cleveland wide receiver Dwayne Bowe was a healthy scratch. Is that an oxymoron? . . . And finally, the Browns are 2-15 since taking over first place in the AFC North 13 months ago.