Coming off two less-than impressive wins over the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, this was the type of game the old Cleveland Browns would lose nine out of ten times. With every excuse in the world available at their disposal—short week, injured players, primetime road game and more—the recipe for a loss was there. But then something happened—the new era Cleveland Browns led by head coach Mike Pettine came to play.
Not only did Brian Hoyer and company come to play, they made a loud, chest pounding statement to not only the AFC North—but the entire AFC as well. With an opportunity to move to 6-3 (which we all know they did), the Browns broke a major trend of starting slow by coming out with aggression on the defensive side of the ball. The result? A 17-3 halftime lead that felt like the Browns were up 35-3.
So how did the Browns get to this point on a dreary Thursday night in Cincinnati?
The Pettine defense we have all been waiting for all season finally showed up. To this point, the defense had been okay, but far from dominant. That “bend, don’t break mentality” of years past really came to mind. But what the defense did to Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense on Thursday night showed flashes of greatness—including three interceptions and a fumble recovery.
What is even more impressive is the fact that the Browns could have actually had more turnovers. Tashuan Gipson—the NFL’s interception leader—dropped an easy one right in the bread basket which would have given Dalton a total of four on the day. Instead, Buster Skrine (two interceptions) and Craig Robertson were the ones to celebrate the spoils of Dalton’s historically bad night.
Historically bad—that is truly the only way to describe how bad Dalton was thanks to the aggressive Browns defense. Dalton’s stat line read: 10-of-33 for 86 yards, three interceptions and a QB rating of 2.0. Yes you read that correctly, 2.0 was his QB rating.
The Browns defense also recorded two sacks on Dalton as well, but it felt like the TCU product was on his back or running for his life all night long. According to Pro Football Focus, the Browns had a total of two QB hits, nine QB hurries and two batted passes at the line of scrimmage on top of the sacks, interceptions and fumble recovery. Translation, Dalton never stood a chance.
When was the last time we can truly say the Browns were in a “prove yourself” situation and actually did more than that? With no Josh Gordon, no Jordan Cameron, no Alex Mack and no Andrew Hawkins—it was seriously teed up for one of those “we just didn’t have enough offensive weapons” excuses. Instead, Hoyer made guys like Miles Austin (five catches, 48 yards), Gary Barnidge (two catches, 46 yards), Travis Benjamin (three catches, 46 yards) and Taylor Gabriel (three catches, 31 yards) not only serviceable, but impactful on the night.
Hoyer finished the day 15-of-23 for 198 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He had a QB rating of 92.3, and while he did not throw a touchdown pass, he orchestrated drives which allowed his three-headed rushing attack to each find the endzone one time a piece. All in all, it was just another day at the office for Hoyer, who improved to 9-3 as the Cleveland Browns starting QB.
Efficient offense and aggressive defense, that is becoming the mantra for this Cleveland Browns team. But now that the team is 6-3 and tied for the division lead, the focus has to shift on how to keep this momentum rolling—especially with the Houston Texans coming to down next Sunday.
The Texans are a team searching for an offensive identity with Ryan Mallett making his first start at QB for them. However, it isn’t the Texans offense the Browns need to be worried about right now. It is their stout defense with J.J. Watt leading the way that the focus should be on.
But that is a discussion for another day. Sit back and enjoy victory Friday while you can, because for the next couple of days the Browns are tied for first place in the AFC North—and that feels pretty good.