5 Moore Observations: Cleveland Browns Get Ugly Win, Improve To 5-3


The Cleveland Browns are 5-3.

All together now: The Cleveland Browns are 5-3.

It wasn’t pretty, but the Browns were able to brush off early mistakes against a struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers squad to get a 22-17 win at home Sunday afternoon.

With the win, the Browns earned their fifth win in eight games, tying the 2007 team for the best start in the team’s history since 1999. It also set them up for the biggest game in franchise history since 2007, when they travel to Cincinnati to face the Bengals on Thursday night.

Here are 5 Moore Observations from Sunday’s win over the Buccaneers:

Nov 2, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer (6) warms up before a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports1. Brian Hoyer continues to win

Brian Hoyer is the first Browns quarterback to throw for 200-plus yards in each of team’s first eight games since Brian Sipe in 1983, according to NFL.com.

He hasn’t been a fantasy football stud, but he’s winning games. Dating back to last season, he’s 8-3 as a starter, which is tops in winning percentage when it comes to quarterbacks since 1999. The Browns are relevant and will be playing meaningful games in November.

Fans are on the fence when it comes to Hoyer’s play. There’s the Hoyer loyals and others who are hoping to see Manziel. I admit, though. When Hoyer was struggling Sunday in the first half, I wouldn’t have been against a change at quarterback to Manziel to provide a spark. This doesn’t mean I’m behind Manziel at quarterback, but when an offense is struggling, a spark is needed. Manziel in a spark-plug role, when needed, is the only way I would be in favor of seeing him on the field.

But Hoyer bounced back and was able to throw two touchdown passes as the Browns came back and got the win.

After the first eight games, Hoyer is on pace for over 4,000 yards and 20 touchdown passes. Even with the two interceptions Sunday, he’s only on pace to throw eight.

But the debate wages on about Hoyer.

2. Nick McDonald becoming liability at center

When Alex Mack went down for the season with an injury, fans and media didn’t expect the impact to be this severe.

Since Mack’s departure, the Browns running game has been nonexistent. One week, the offensive line unit went from being touted as one of the league’s best to now becoming a liability.

According to ProFootballFocus.com, center Nick McDonald graded out at -8.1. This is following his -4.9 performance against Oakland last week. And the running game has suffered.

When the Browns ran up the middle against the Buccaneers, running backs only gained 22 yards on 16 carries. But the rest of the line didn’t fare well. On 12 carries elsewhere, the Browns gained only 28 yards.

The Buccaneers used stunts and twists to confuse the interior of Browns’ offensive line, taking advantage of the lack of time the line has had to gel.

The play has also had a big effect on John Greco, who has had to help McDonald at times. Greco has had a decent season overall, but losing Mack has added unneeded stress to the unit.

With the Browns on a short week with their matchup against the Bengals on Thursday, a change at center is unlikely. McDonald will have to step up and hold his own as the Browns play their biggest game in seven years.

3. Joe Haden has best game of season

I’ve been critical of Joe Haden, who struggled to start the season. Becoming the highest-paid corner in the NFL has it’s high standards and expectations. Haden was not living up to those in the first handful of games, but has come on strong the last few contests.

In Sunday’s game, he was targeted eight times, only allowing two passes for 13 yards. After allowing passes of 35, 20 and 32 in the first three games, the longest pass he’s allowed since Week 5 is 23 yards (vs. Pittsburgh).

The problem with Haden wasn’t lack of coverage, it was giving up the rare big play in important situations. He’s not allowing big passes and he’s breaking up passes. Haden is living up to his contract.

In the last three games, he’s been targeted 27 times, giving up 12 passes for 104 yards, including not giving up a touchdown. He’s defended five passes in the last two games.

Those last three games have been against the bottom teams in the NFL, but it’s a step in the right direction for Haden, who will have some big matchups in the coming weeks.

Oct 26, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns defensive end Desmond Bryant (92) at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports4. Defensive line needs to improve

While the secondary (sans Buster Skrine) stepped up Sunday, the defensive line continues to struggle.

Billy Winn, Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant played poor run defense, contributing the success of Tampa Bay’s ground game.

Led by Bobby Rainey, the Buccaneers ran for 113 yards as a team on 26 carries (4.3 yards per carry). To their credit, they did stop Rainey and Tampa Bay as the game progressed, but early on, the defensive line was being dominated.

Defensive end Sione Fua played 29 snaps, and played well on run defense. Ishmaa’ily Kitchen had an average game, but still better than Winn, Rubin and Bryant.

Injuries have littered the defensive line and it’s showing.

Karlos Dansby and Barkevious Mingo picked up the slack in run defense. If the Browns want to win important games on the stretch, the defensive line will have to improve and provide consistent rush defense play.

5. Taking care of business at home

The Browns have played five of their first eight games at home, winning four. Their only loss was a two-point heart breaker against the Ravens.

The remaining three games at FirstEnergy Stadium are biggies. They host the Houston Texans (4-5) on Nov. 16, Indianapolis Colts (5-3) on Dec. 7 and Bengals (5-2-1) on Dec. 14.

Since 1999, the Browns have only won at least four games at home five times. So far, 4-1 this season. Their best record at home was back in 2007 (7-1).