During a week of preparation filled with questions about player commitment on defense, the Cleveland Browns got a substantially better effort on that side of the ball, but still fell short against the Baltimore Ravens, losing 23-20, dropping to 2-5 on the season.
The Browns defense has been lambasted for their play over the first six weeks of the season and it's been warranted. Costly breakdowns and an inability to consistently deliver stops had a defense that came in boasting of being a top unit but has been one of the biggest wastes of talent in the league.
After questions came out publicly regarding if younger players were doing what was necessary to be prepared consistently, there was talk of a renewed focus the rest of the week in practice as they prepared for their matchup with the Ravens. The results weren't always pretty but that unit delivered with a significantly better product as they gave the team every opportunity to win the game, including a key forced fumble ahead in the fourth quarter.
The Ravens ran 63 plays for a total of 254 yards, an average of just four yards per play. Lamar Jackson threw for just 120 yards on 16 attempts and the Browns held tight end Mark Andrews without a catch on two targets. When factoring in three sacks, the Ravens had 94 net passing yards.
The Ravens were able to move the ball on the ground, totaling 162 yards. However, they averaged just 3.6 yards per run, so it required far more sweat equity than it has in the past.
Where has this been? It's good that they played better, but deflating that it took this kind of week to produce a professional product.
When the players committed to putting in the necessary work outside of what is required on that side of the ball, the results are significantly better. In a game without corner Denzel Ward due to a concussion and limited availability from defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who was on a pitch count as a result of an injured ankle, that side of the ball should have gotten a wake up call as to what they can be when they put in the necessary work. It remains to be seen if they can carry it over next week against the Cincinnati Bengals and beyond.
Offensively, the Browns got out to a quick start before they petered out for most of the game. They went right down the field on the opening drive to score a touchdown. Tight end David Njoku, who would leave the game with an ankle injury, produced a 22-yard reception that set the Browns up at the Ravens 18-yard line before Chubb would score from the six.
After the Browns defense was able to hold the Ravens to a field goal, the Browns were once again on the move. A 50-yard strike from quarterback Jacoby Brissett to Amari Cooper, taking advantage of a coverage bust from the Ravens, flipping the field immediately. The Browns were able to get to the Ravens 15-yard line before a sack knocked them back eight yards and forced them to go to Cade York to kick a field goal from 41 yards.
Leaving points on the field was frustrating, but hardly uncommon. Worse, the Browns would only score a combined three points on the next five drives. That resulted in part because Brissett missed Cooper on an open 2nd-and-6 corner to Cooper and then threw a 3-yard pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones, producing another York field goal. They also squandered an opportunity to get points before the half and a Jacoby Brissett fumble set the Ravens up for one of their two touchdowns.
The Browns were able to get into the end zone in the fourth quarter largely by running the football. Down ten Chubb ran for carries of 11, 12 and 22. Kareem Hunt took over inside the 10 with runs of 6 and the touchdown from the two, reducing the deficit to just three points.
The Ravens attempted to run the ball and the clock on the following drive. It looked like they might be successful until linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah violently punched the ball out of the arms of Ravens running back Justice Hill who had attempted to cut back into the middle of the field. Rookie defensive lineman Isaiah Thomas was able to recover the ball.
Down a field goal, the Browns had the ball and plenty of time. After a tipped pass intended for Chubb and a five-yard gain from Hunt, Brissett found DPJ running down the right sideline behind a Ravens defensive back for 37 yards. Brissett was decked after the ball came out of his hand. No flag was thrown. Had it been called roughing the passer, the Browns would have had the ball at the Ravens 27-yard line rather than the 42, which would be a factor.
The offense called a shovel pass that went for just one yard that set up 2nd-and-9. It went to tight end Harrison Bryant. The Browns were able to use a shovel pass to Njoku to pick up a third-and-short situation, but it was odd that they used it here. On second down, Brissett was able to elude a pass rusher moving to his right and then rolling all the way back around to his left would find rookie receiver David Bell for seven yards setting up 3rd-and-2.
Stefanski dialed up a 34-yard pass to Amari Cooper down the right sideline. He caught the ball and walked into the endzone. Part of the reason he walked into the end zone was because he had seen the flag on the field. During his route, Cooper extended his arm to gain separation. It was a fair call. That unfortunately cost the Browns 15 yards of penalty yardage, which set them up for 3rd-and-17. They would only get seven of those yards back on the next play in which Brissett scrambled.
Maybe the Browns should've run the ball with Chubb and see if they could've gotten the two yards, but the Browns were almost certainly taking the shot on third down because they were planning to go for it on fourth down. The flag was the reason they didn't get that chance. They got the look they wanted and had Cooper singled up on Marcus Peters, a corner the Browns took advantage of multiple times during the game. Cooper didn't look like he needed to extend his arm to create the separation for the would-be go ahead touchdown.
If no flag is thrown, Stefanski looks great and Brissett looks like a hero. Yes, the Ravens would've had their chance to drive the length of the field with time and timeouts, but the Browns aren't exactly in a position where they can schedule when they score touchdowns with Brissett at the helm. The Ravens had 94 net passing yards to that point.
Instead, the Browns forced to attempt what would've been a 56-yard field goal, except it wasn't a 56 yard field goal. There was a false start penalty called on the Browns field goal unit, resulting in a five-yard loss, making it a 61-yard attempt.
The Browns gave York his shot to make the kick but it was tipped at the line of scrimmage, falling harmlessly short and to the left.
The Ravens have arguably the best special teams unit every season. The Browns, conversely have been one of the worst. They were smart enough to avoid Devin Duvernay on kickoff return, kicking for touchbacks every time. Unfortunately, they were unable to avoid punt return which included a 46-yard return from Duvernay that would set up a Ravens field goal.
Even though York made his two other field goals and Corey Bojorquez had a great game punting the ball, the Browns special teams units were simply outclassed in this contest and may have been the difference in the game.
The defense is not where it needs to be, but this game might have been a good start if they can develop some momentum even if it's a month late. The offense is consistently able to score early but needs to do a better job sustaining success throughout the game. As for the special teams, that unit continues to be a liability that dooms them to defeat in games where the Browns otherwise play anything resembling an even contest.