As a battered and beaten Josh McCown stood in front of a room of Cleveland Browns beat reporters following the team’s 25-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, only one word came to mind—respect.
Fighting back tears from the excruciating pain in his shoulder, McCown stressed the desire to finish the game with his teammates to set an example for his sons and to honor his father and brother who get up and go to work every day despite not feeling well at times. In a time period that has forced Browns fans to watch 25 different quarterbacks start for their team, the man none of them understood the team signing last year showed more grit and fight than nearly all of them in just 60 minutes of football.
This is a guy I would want to play with. Josh McCown’s response on why he kept going back in. pic.twitter.com/gQNoyKoDl8
— Dustin Fox (@DustinFox37) September 19, 2016
Thanks to being bashed over and over again by the Ravens defense thanks to a poor display of blocking by Cameron Erving and Austin Pasztor throughout the game, who knows when McCown will be back to lead his troops to a potential victory. What we do know is that prior to taking the shot that ultimately rendered his left arm useless, McCown was carving up the Ravens defense to the tune of a 20-2 lead.
Was McCown going to suddenly turn around a young Browns team destined for Top 5 NFL Draft pick status? Probably not. But one thing could not be denied—the offense as a whole was running better with him at the helm than it did at any point last week in Philadelphia with Robert Griffin III.
After re-watching the game again (yes I know, I’m a glutton for punishment), there are a few areas from Sunday’s loss that Browns fans should focus on moving forward.
Corey Coleman is a Star in the Making
After a rough start in the team’s first game, fans finally had the chance to see why Sashi Brown and company made Coleman their first pick of their new era. Coleman pulled in five catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns, including a 47-yarder he went up and snagged out of the air like he was a 6’5” wide receiver.
Coleman’s quick rebound from Week 1 to Week 2 should have fans buzzing around town about his potential, but we will have to see how that works out now that the team is on to quarterback No. 3 of the year already in rookie Cody Kessler.
Danny Shelton is Proving Doubters Wrong
Last year, Shelton’s ineffectiveness accelerated to levels where fans were routinely tracking how many times he jumped on the pile at the end of plays. If they are doing the same this year, they are missing out on a complete change in the player we saw in his rookie season a year ago.
Shelton’s metamorphosis under Ray Horton was on full display again against the Ravens, as he was consistently around the ball and making plays either in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage. Usually interior linemen do not show up this high on the stat sheet, but Shelton was No. 2 on the team with eight total tackles according to ESPN—and that was reflected greatly while re-watching the game.
From the first defensive play of the game on, Shelton helped the interior of the line to hold the Ravens to just 3.1 yards per carry on the day. For a Browns defense that has been shredded by the run the majority of my life watching the team, this was a welcome change.
What was most encouraging about Shelton is that he was not being dominated at the point of attack like last year. He held his own, and even when he could not get a big initial push he would find a way to disengage from his man and find the ball-carrier.
Coaches Tried to Help Pasztor
If you follow me on Twitter, my criticism of Pasztor is well-documented. Well, it appears the Browns coaching staff took notice of his struggles, because from the get-go he often was being “helped” in protection by tight end Randall Telfer. Telfer was key in helping the line open big holes, but Pasztor struggled when his safety net was not on the outside of him.
His inability to keep his man in front of him caused McCown to get blasted time and time again on the day. Even though Pro Football Focus had him as one of the most highly rated Browns on the day, my eye-test says if Erving wasn’t injured on Sunday forcing a line shuffle already (John Greco to center and Alvin Bailey to right guard), the team could have been looking at replacing Pasztor.
Cam Erving’s Injury Was a Mercy to Him
I will never openly ask for a player to be injured, nor will I celebrate their injury despite poor play. However in the case of Erving, his pulmonary contusion (bruised lung most likely) could have saved him from an embarrassing decision from the coaching staff after just two weeks as the team’s starting center.
Erving was once again beaten like a drum by the opponent’s interior linemen, this time the main culprit being rookie Michael Pierce. Pierce had his way with Erving all day, stacking and shedding him with ease despite being smaller with much shorter arms. There were at a minimum of five occasions after re-watching the game where Erving’s miscues caused McCown to get hit in a big way, and that is unacceptable from your starting, former first-round center.
One more note on Erving. Someone needs to have an awareness talk with him when he is better. I’m not sure what world he lives in, but in this one a banged up quarterback is not running for a first down on 3rd & 20—and this is something he needed to understand before running down field and being called for a penalty that negated a big first down for the team.
For someone bragged about by national scouts as being a potential Pro Bowl center, Erving looks he may have to take up the sport of bowling to ever earn that honor.
Stop Trying to Downplay Isaiah Crowell’s Big Day
Crowell is the starting running back for the Browns, and on the day they unveiled Jim Brown’s statue outside the stadium, Crowell had his best performance as a Brown in his honor. He would rush the ball 18 times for 133 yards and a touchdown, which included an 85-yard scamper that was excellently blocked by everyone involved on the play.
If you want to downplay the 7.1 yards per carry average that was obviously inflated by the 85-yarder, that is fine. But given the obvious struggles of the offensive line all day against the Ravens, fans should be excited Crowell was able to put up such big numbers against a stout defensive front. In fact, he is running with more decisiveness and better vision right now than at any point during his rookie season, which is why the team is featuring Duke Johnson primarily as a receiver right now.
More Derrick Kindred, Please
Known as a hard-hitter and gamer out of TCU, many fans did not know what to expect with the rookie. Through two games, Kindred is standing out in the Browns secondary and he needs to start over Jordan Poyer as soon as possible.
Kindred seems to just have a natural feel and nose for the football, seemingly finding himself around it at all times. He finished the day with five solo tackles and two passes defensed, but his impact was much greater than that. Time and time again you could find him in run support closing off running lanes, or making big plays like a near interception.
If Jackson is honest about elevating players who have proven their worth, it should be a no-brainer for Kindred to get a start against the Miami Dolphins this week.
Defensive Line Stand Outs, Loss of Nassib
The Browns were dealt another big injury blow on Sunday, as rookie standout Carl Nassib left with a hand injury. That injury turned out to be a broken hand, and he will have surgery immediately to repair it and be out this week against the Dolphins. Jackson did not say how long he will be out, but he has shown some great growth early in his career, and it would be a shame to see it stunted already.
While we are talking defensive line, I need to give a couple players a whole lot of credit.
Jamie Meder is proving over and over again why coaches love him, as he is relentless at the point of attack and just keeps moving. Even though it will not show up on the stat sheet, Nate Orchard seems to have fixed his issues in run defense and is making quite the name for himself on run downs.
As for the edge rushers, newly signed Tyrone Holmes had quite the impressive bull rush from a four-point stance early on, just bullying the left tackle back into Joe Flacco and forcing an incompletion. Rookie Emmanuel Ogbah also showed off his relentless nature throughout the game, and on one instance fought around the left tackle and then back into the play to drill Flacco into another incompletion. Ogbah is going to get home for a sack, and it will be beautiful.
Christian Kirksey Was Quite the Find for Ray Farmer
Browns fans will scoff at anyone giving Farmer credit, but man Kirksey is fun to watch. No matter what he is asked to do, he seems to be around the ball making plays all the time. He finished the day with seven total tackles, one tackle for a loss and one QB hit, but his impact was felt more than in that box score.
He did get beat in coverage once, but overall the second-year player is emerging as quite the leader in the linebacking corps. His continued growth will be fun to watch as the season goes on.
Last But Not Least—Joe Haden is Back
Haden has been one of the most loved Cleveland athletes since his arrival in the first round back in 2010, but between the injuries and decline in play the last few years, the endearment was starting to fade.
Let’s hope what happened Sunday can change all of that now.
Haden ripped off two interceptions, nearly had a third and time and time again was found making big plays like the Haden of old on defense. The play that stands out most to me wasn’t one of his amazing interceptions or excellent plays on the ball, but in run support as he threw his less than 200-pound frame into a 300-pound offensive lineman to help one of his teammates get the edge and stop the play.
He finished the day with four tackles, four passes defensed and two interceptions, but what was more important than those numbers was his re-emergence as a top cover corner. We will have to wait and see if the old Haden is here to stay, but for one afternoon it was great to see No. 23 once again dominating in the secondary for the orange and brown.