As usual, it’s all about how the Browns stand up to the Ravens’ defense

Posted by Vic Carucci on November 30, 2011 – 9:13 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

After strong back-to-back victories against Cincinnati and San Francisco on Thanksgiving night, this will be a confident Baltimore Ravens team entering Cleveland Browns Stadium on Sunday.

The Ravens come in with their customary, strong defense even though they might be without their perennial Pro Bowl linebacker, Ray Lewis, who’s still bothered by a sore toe. Their defense ranks third overall, third against the run, and fifth against the pass. And it is playing with the same highly physical, attack-oriented style that has defined it for years.

The Ravens had a dominant pass rush against the 49ers, registering nine sacks, and that was the story of the game. Terrell Suggs had three sacks to increase his season total to nine. It seems that, in the second half of the season, Suggs has been a significantly more aggressive and effective player than he was through the first half.

The rest of the Ravens’ front is as strong as always. Haloti Ngata, their standout defensive tackle, and end Cory Redding played extremely well against the 49ers. If Lewis doesn’t play, you can expect the Ravens to try and bunch things up as much as possible at the line of scrimmage with the hope of forcing the Browns to immediately become one dimensional. Even without Lewis, the Ravens are getting very strong play from Jameel McClain and Albert McClellan at the inside linebacker position.

It hasn’t been a spectacular year for the Ravens’ offense and, despite having the highly talented Ray Rice in their backfield, they’re not running the ball all that effectively. Rice still accounts for the major portion of their offense as a runner and a receiver, and they have a veteran presence in Ricky Williams. Even without tremendous success, the Ravens are willing to be persistent with their running game, as they demonstrated against the 49ers.

Joe Flacco isn’t tearing things up with his passing arm. He made some big throws and converted some big third downs against San Francisco.

But the bottom line is that if you’re going to stop the Ravens’ offense, you must stop Ray Rice, first and foremost, as a runner.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci


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Hillis gives Browns’ offense a lift by running like old self

Posted by Vic Carucci on November 29, 2011 – 8:12 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

No one knew what to expect, and that included the Browns’ coaching staff.

But Peyton Hillis was healthy. He had finally recovered from a pulled hamstring and was ready to play.

The lingering question was: How much would he play? Initially, the thought was that Montario Hardesty, who had returned to practice after being sidelined with a calf injury, would get the bulk of the carries in Sunday’s game against the Bengals. But Hardesty’s calf began bothering him during pregame warm-ups, and he wound up not playing.

That led to speculation that Chris Ogbonnaya, making his fourth start, would be the workhorse while Hillis would be limited to short-yardage and goal-line duty.

But after the Browns’ first play from scrimmage, Hillis was on the field, and he would assume the primary role he once held in the Cleveland backfield while Ogbonnaya ended up with a cameo role.

Hillis finished with 19 carries for 65 yards. His 3.4 yards per carry weren’t all that impressive. But he did look more like the Hillis of old, consistently powering his way up the middle.

The Bengals’ defense generally seemed ill prepared to handle Hillis’ blunt, in-your-face running style, which was something he wasn’t showing earlier in the season after it became the signature of his breakout year in 2010 that earned him the cover of “Madden NFL Twelve.”

Hillis ran with a sense of authority and purpose. He played with a higher level of urgency and enthusiasm than he had demonstrated at any point since the season began. The controversy over his pursuit of a contract extension had raised troubling questions about Hillis’ desire to perform at his best and whether he wanted to be part of the Browns.

What the future holds for Hillis on the team remains to be seen. But on Sunday, he seemed all-in. His play said as much. So did his body language.

If Hillis can maintain that sort of attitude the rest of the way, while staying healthy, the Browns’ running game could receive a much-needed lift when the team needs it the most. And if Hardesty is able to get back into the lineup, that should only help the Browns’ offense to continue to make progress.

As the game wore on, the Bengals’ defense seemed to wear down from Hillis’ running. Hillis’ presence also seemed to give Pat Shurmur more options when it came to calling plays and utilizing his personnel. Shurmur had Hillis and Ogbonnaya in the backfield at the same time, once with Hillis lined up at fullback, his position at Arkansas. Shurmur split Hillis and Ogbonnaya wide.

However, Hillis’ contributions weren’t enough. Nothing the Browns did in any phase was enough, which is why they find themselves with a 4-7 record and still at the bottom of the AFC North.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci


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For the Browns, it’s a familiar story that gets old

Posted by Vic Carucci on November 28, 2011 – 9:59 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

We’ve seen this movie before. We’ve read the book, too. We know the ending before we even finish with the beginning.

The Browns put themselves in a position to win a game and find a way to lose, as they did at Cincinnati on Sunday.

It’s getting old to say that there is progress to be found in a loss. It’s getting old to talk about encouraging signs, such as the Browns’ offense scoring its first first-quarter touchdown of the season … or Peyton Hillis returning from his hamstring injury and putting a little bit of spark into Cleveland’s offense with more the tough, straight-ahead running reminiscent of his strong 2010 season …

Or seeing 10-point leads at halftime and in the third quarter … or having a defense that made critical stops, including a goal-line stand, and forced a fumble … or going toe-to-toe with an opponent that is very much in the thick in the playoff race.

But there is just too much about this Browns team that frustrates and leaves so little room for encouragement.

Colt McCoy was solid in many ways, throwing a pair of touchdowns. But he also had an interception that came while he was being hit. Greg Little caught a game-high five passes, one for a touchdown, but he had four drops. Phil Dawson hit a 54-yard field goal, but a 55-yarder that could have won the game fell woefully short because, once again, he was hamstrung by a bad snap and he was kicking into a stiff wind.

And for all that the defense did to help pick up the slack when the Browns’ offense lost its mojo in the second half, it did allow Bengals rookie receiver A.J. Green to again make a decisive play, just as he did in the season-opener.

You know how you feel as a fan – how unbelievably galling it is to watch the Browns be so close to winning, only to see them fall short again. Think of it from the perspective of their players and coaches, who again find themselves carrying the burden of what might have been into the most difficult portion of the schedule.

There is a growing sense of bewilderment within the locker room, and the coaching staff. The questions are many, chief among them: What exactly do we need to do to win a game?

The short answers: Finish what you start. Make the plays that need to be made. Avoid the drops. Stay away from the interceptions and the poor snaps at the most critical of moments.

None of these are revelations to the Browns. Unfortunately, they’re part of a very familiar and disheartening story.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci

 


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Browns suffer maybe the most painful of heartbreakers this season

Posted by Vic Carucci on November 28, 2011 – 1:23 am

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

CINCINNATI – Here are some final thoughts of the Browns’ 23-20 loss against the Bengals:

–Of the multiple heart-breaking losses the Browns have endured this season, this one probably hurt the most. The Browns had looked strong offensively for extended portions of the game, especially in the first half. Their defense consistently bailed them out of tough situations. But in the end, the defense was asked to come through one time too many, and the result was another painful dose of A.J. Green’s playmaking. On Sept. 11, he caught a decisive touchdown on a quick-snap play that caught the defense off guard. Today, it was his 51-yard reception that set up the winning score.

–But this game is also going to be remembered for another field-goal disaster. This time, Phil Dawson was attempting a 55-yarder into the wind, which, by itself, made it a daunting task. Making it nearly impossible was the fact another snap was rolled back to holder Brad Maynard, who again did a remarkable job just to get it placed.

–This is a bad way for the Browns to continue into the most difficult portion of their schedule, with four games against the heaviest of AFC North heavyweights, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, coming up … along with a long road trip to Arizona. How the team handles another tough defeat psychologically will be critical to what happens through the balance of the season.

–Peyton Hillis’ return from a hamstring injury clearly injected life into the Browns’ offense. The Bengals’ defense had problems handling his powerful, straight-ahead runs. Hillis looked like a different guy than he was earlier in the year when he seemed to be turning sideways at the point of contact. Definitely not his style. What we saw today is pure Hillis.

–Greg Little’s dropping issue has grown to a point of great concern. He’s a rookie, yes, but by late November, the growing-up process should be far more advanced.

–Colt McCoy’s mobility was a huge part of the Browns’ offense today. It wasn’t just that he escaped pressure and avoided being sacked. It was that he made highly productive plays when he pulled the ball down and ran. It is a significant, difference-making dimension.

–Left end Jabaal Sheard had a monster game. The Browns’ entire defensive line played well, especially in light of losing right end Emmanuel Stephens early in the game to a shoulder injury. But Sheard was consistently in the thick of the action, forcing Andy Dalton to fumble on a sack and generally being a disruptive force throughout the game.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci


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Bengals 23, Browns 20

Posted by Matt Florjancic on November 27, 2011 – 9:16 pm

CINCINNATI — Mike Nugent’s 26-yard field goal with 38 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of play gave the Cincinnati Bengals a 23-20 victory over the Cleveland Browns Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium.

It was Nugent’s second fourth-quarter field goal, as he was good from 40 yards at the 11-minute mark of the fourth quarter drew the Bengals even with the Browns at 20.

Earlier in the half, the Bengals used a quick-strike to answer Phil Dawson’s 54-yard field goal.

Tight end Jermaine Gresham caught his fifth touchdown of the season and drew the Bengals to within three points at 20-17 with 1:22 remaining in the third quarter from Paul Brown Stadium.

Dawson connected on his seventh field goal of at least 50 yards this season with less than five minutes remaining in the third. In doing so, Dawson extended the Cleveland Browns’ lead to 20-10 over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Dawson is now one field goal away from tying the NFL’s record for the most 50-yard field goals in a season, currently held by Morten Anderson and Jason Hanson.

The Bengals took the second half kickoff and marched 70 yards. Mike Nugent capped the 12-play drive with a 23-yard field goal. The Bengals trailed the Browns 17-10 with 8:51 remaining in the third quarter.

Greg Little came into Sunday’s game as the leader in receptions among all NFL rookies, but had yet to score a touchdown.

With seven seconds remaining in the first half of play from Paul Brown Stadium, Little’s touchdown drought came to an end when quarterback Colt McCoy hit him in the left back corner of the end zone for a three-yard score.

Little’s touchdown extended the Browns’ lead to 17-7 over the Cincinnati Bengals.

The short scoring drive was set up by a forced turnover.

On second-and-six from Cincinnati’s 27-yard line, Jabaal Sheard rushed around right tackle and stripped Andy Dalton of the football. Fellow defensive lineman Scott Paxson recovered the ball at Cincinnati’s 14-yard line.

Kicker Phil Dawson’s 32-yard field goal put the Cleveland Browns back in front of the Cincinnati Bengals at 10-7 with 9:20 remaining in the first half of play.

Dawson — who capped off a 15-play, 66-yard drive that took 6:01 off the clock — has converted 17 of 21 field goals this season.

The Browns and Bengals were tied at 7-7 after the first quarter of play.

Cedric Benson’s 16-yard touchdown run around left tackle and Mike Nugent’s subsequent extra point drew the Bengals even with the Browns at 7-7 with 21 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

The 90-second scoring drive lasted just three plays and covered 47 yards.

After Benson’s 33-yard run around left tackle, the Cincinnati Bengals had it first-and-goal from the Cleveland nine-yard line with 5:16 remaining in the first quarter.

However, the Browns defense held and the Bengals failed to score. The Browns remained in front of the Bengals, 7-0.

Passing up the opportunity to kick a field goal, the Bengals went for it on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line. Benson took Dalton’s handoff but was stopped at the line of scrimmage by linebacker Kaluka Maiava.

McCoy engineered a nine-play, 82-yard drive that was punctuated by his 24-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Norwood and gave the Cleveland Browns a 7-0 lead over the Cincinnati Bengals with 10:55 remaining in the first quarter.

On third-and-10 from Cincinnati’s 24-yard line, McCoy took the snap, looked to his left and fired the ball over the defender into Norwood’s hands. The score was Norwood’s first career receiving touchdown.

Earlier in the drive, McCoy and Norwood combined on a 36-yard pass play down the right sideline. McCoy went three of five for 68 yards on the drive.


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Bengals draw even with Browns

Posted by Matt Florjancic on November 27, 2011 – 8:36 pm

CINCINNATI — Mike Nugent’s 40-yard field goal at the 11-minute mark of the fourth quarter drew the Cincinnati Bengals even with the Cleveland Browns at 20 inside Paul Brown Stadium.

Nugent’s kick capped off a nine-play, 32-yard drive.


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Browns lead after three

Posted by Matt Florjancic on November 27, 2011 – 8:24 pm

CINCINNATI — The Browns enjoyed a 20-17 lead over the Cincinnati Bengals after three quarters of play from Paul Brown Stadium.

The Cincinnati Bengals used a quick-strike to answer Phil Dawson’s 54-yard field goal.

Tight end Jermaine Gresham caught his fifth touchdown of the season and drew the Bengals to within three points at 20-17 with 1:22 remaining in the third quarter.

Dawson connected on his seventh field goal of at least 50 yards this season with less than five minutes remaining in the third. In doing so, Dawson extended the Cleveland Browns’ lead to 20-10 over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Dawson is now one field goal away from tying the NFL’s record for the most 50-yard field goals in a season, currently held by Morten Anderson and Jason Hanson.

The Bengals took the second half kickoff and marched 70 yards. Mike Nugent capped the 12-play drive with a 23-yard field goal. The Bengals trailed the Browns 17-10 with 8:51 remaining in the third quarter.

Nugent is 19 of 20 on field goal attempts this season.


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Gresham answers with TD

Posted by Matt Florjancic on November 27, 2011 – 8:17 pm

CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals used a quick-strike to answer Phil Dawson’s 54-yard field goal.

Tight end Jermaine Gresham caught his fifth touchdown of the season and drew the Bengals to within three points at 20-17 with 1:22 remaining in the third quarter from Paul Brown Stadium.


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Dawson nears record

Posted by Matt Florjancic on November 27, 2011 – 8:14 pm

CINCINNATI — Phil Dawson connected on his seventh field goal of at least 50 yards this season with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter of play from Paul Brown Stadium. In doing so, Dawson extended the Cleveland Browns’ lead to 20-10 over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Dawson is now one field goal away from tying the NFL’s record for the most 50-yard field goals in a season, currently held by Morten Anderson and Jason Hanson.


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Bengals cut into lead

Posted by Matt Florjancic on November 27, 2011 – 8:01 pm

CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals took the second half kickoff and marched 70 yards. Mike Nugent capped the 12-play drive with a 23-yard field goal. The Bengals trailed the Browns 17-10 with 8:51 remaining in the third quarter of play from Paul Brown Stadium.

Nugent is 19 of 20 on field goal attempts this season.


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