Play fast defense saves the day for Browns
For the second consecutive game, the defense gave up only one touchdown on the day, working hard to carry the water until the offense could get its act together.
The defense showed why we’ve been longing for the return of the 4-3 for years, recording five sacks – four from the defensive line – and keeping the Dolphins out of the end zone for the final 52 minutes of the game.
The Browns also held Miami to 4-of-13 on third down and the Dolphins were just 1-of-3 in the red zone (think field goals, not touchdowns).
The biggest series for the defense came with 6:20 left in the game. Leading 13-10, the Dolphins took over with a chance to put the game away. Miami would eventually have a first-and-10 at the Browns 23, but the defense stuffed the Dolphins, forcing Miami to settle for a field goal and give the Browns hope.
As for the offense, it wasn’t very good – until it was.
Playing without starting running back Peyton Hillis and with a limited Josh Cribbs, quarterback Colt McCoy struggled on the day, but saved his best for when it mattered.
With the Browns trailing 16-10 and 3:23 on the clock, McCoy led an 80-yard drive where he completed 9-of-13 passes, hitting Greg Little with three passes (two for first downs) before finally finding Mohamed Massaquoi for the game-winning, 14-yard touchdown pass.
It was a nice throw by McCoy and an even better catch by Massaquoi.
“My best throw of the day,” McCoy said. “Mo did a nice job and got that guy (Miami defensive back Jimmy Wilson) to bite just a little bit. He wasn’t that open, but in the NFL, when they’re like that, you just gotta make a good throw. Mo did a great job of getting his feet in. It was a great feeling.”
Of course, this being the Browns the victory wasn’t that easy. Two highly suspect calls by the refs – yes, it may be sour grapes but the excessive celebration and horse collar tackle penalties were crap calls – allowed the Dolphins to start on the Browns 48-yard-line with 36 seconds and one time out left.
Needing only a field goal to win, Miami quarterback Chad Henne threw three consecutive incompletions before his fourth-down pass was intercepted by Mike Adams and the Browns finally secured the win.
“I’m proud of the guys because no matter if it’s one point, one second left — we hung in there,” coach Pat Shurmur told The Plain Dealer. “Colt knows how to win games. We are learning about each other.”
“We lost four games last year after leading in the fourth quarter,” Cribbs told The Plain Dealer. “This just shows how much we’ve grown.”
So what did we learn on Sunday?
This defense has the makings of being a pretty good and fun to watch group as general manager Tom Heckert’s decision to add Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard to last year’s draft picks of Joe Haden and T.J. Ward looks better every week.
You know who else looks better every week? Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, who had nine tackles and 1.5 sacks on Sunday.
The defense may not have a lot of depth, but the starting 11 looks pretty good.
Montario Hardesty looks like he may be a nice compliment to Hillis at running back. Making his first start on Sunday, Hardesty ran for 67 yards and a 4.8 yards-per-carry average. If he can continue to run like that, the duo of Hillis and Hardesty are going to be a real asset.
The offense is still very much a work in progress. The timing between McCoy and the receivers just isn’t there yet, and McCoy’s accuracy is off – he’s only completing 54 percent of his passes.
It’s obvious that the shortened training camp, combined with preseason injuries to the receivers, has the offense struggling to catch up.
“I’ll be the first to tell you I’ve got a lot of work to do leading this football team, and we as a team have a lot of work to do,” McCoy said in published reports. “We earned some confidence today in each other.”
There are those who will say the Browns “deserved” to lose the game because of the offensive struggles, but the last time we checked both sides of the ball count. The defense made the plays it needed to keep the team in the game and the offense found a way at the end.
There is still plenty of work to do, especially on offense, but for now the Browns hold a share of first place in the AFC North, and that’s a good thing.
“We got the job done,” Phil Taylor told The Plain Dealer after the game.
And really, that’s all that matters.
(Photo by The Plain Dealer)