The Cleveland Browns are for real.
After their convincing 24-3 win over the then first-place Cincinnati Bengals, the Browns find themselves tied for first at 6-3 and gaining confidence into the meat portion of their schedule.
Underdogs going into Thursday’s contest in Cincinnati, fans and media from around the NFL were interested to see how the Browns would perform on a national stage on the road. They didn’t disappoint.
They dominated the game on offense and defensive while controlling the clock and harassing Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton all night. It was probably the best overall game by the Browns and it came against a divisional foe, which hasn’t happened in almost six years.
Thursday’s outcome showed us that head coach Mike Pettine deserves to be in Coach of the Year talks, Joe Haden has turned his season around and Brian Hoyer, while his numbers aren’t flashy, continues to grow as one of the best game managers in the NFL.
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Here are my 5 Moore Observations from Thursday’s win over the Bengals:
1. Buster Skrine busts out
The curious case of Buster Skrine. This season has been a roller coaster ride for the fourth-year corner from Chattanooga. Fans have been bi-polar on Skrine on social media, ripping into the corner when he gets beat and praising him when he makes plays.
Thursday night, he made plays. And shut down one of the X-factors on the Bengals’ offense.
Skrine was called upon to cover three receivers throughout the night, which included Mohamed Sanu, Greg Little and James Wright.
Sanu, the X-factor on offense for the Bengals with Joe Haden covering A.J. Green, was only targeted four times with Skrine covering him. He caught only one ball for two yards.
Little, who was drafted by the Browns, only caught one pass for eight yards while being targeted three times. Skrine did have one of his two interceptions while covering Little.
The other interception came against Wright, who didn’t catch a pass while being targeted two times by Dalton.
After having a poor game against Tennessee in Week 5, Skrine has had four-of-five decent games in coverage. His only poor performance came against the Buccaneers.
The improved play of Skrine has helped the secondary improve as a whole, which allowed Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil to pressure the quarterback more. Skrine has played a big part in the Browns trusting the secondary more in key situations.
2. Terrance West reemerged
The Browns have gone with a three-headed monster at running back for the better portion of the season. Terrance West got the starting nod Thursday night and was able to fight for yards and bring back the Browns’ rushing attack.
He gained 94 yards on 26 carries, including a touchdown. He shared snaps with Ben Tate and Isaiah Crowell in the backfield, but West carried the load.
West was able to break tackles and wrestle for more yards as the offensive line was able to open up holes after struggling since center Alex Mack went down with an injury.
After opening the season gaining 168 yards in the first two games on 35 carries, West disappeared from the running game. He even was inactive during Week 6 against the Steelers.
But Pettine’s “next man up” philosophy earned another chance for West that he can contribute. And he did.
Nov 6, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) is pressured by Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard (97) during the first quarter at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
3. Defensive line steps up
What a difference a week makes. After struggling against Buccaneers a week earlier, the Browns’ defensive line were a big reason why Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton struggled so much Thursday.
Phil Taylor made his return after missing four weeks with an injury and played well against the run.
Desmond Bryant made key consecutive sacks on Dalton and also played well against the run.
As a whole, the Browns’ run defense gave up 86 yards on 22 carries, which is improvement from previous weeks. Take away the two biggest runs (both 13 yards), the Bengals averaged only three yards per carry.
The linebackers also played well against the run as Paul Kruger, Craig Robertson and Jabaal Sheard all made key plays. Kruger and Bryant led the pass rush all night.
4. Brian Hoyer continues to hold down starting spot
If you have Brian Hoyer on your fantasy football team, you probably won’t win many games. But that really doesn’t matter. He’s winning games for the Browns.
He finished 15-for-23 for 198 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass, but also didn’t turn the ball over. He’s only thrown four interceptions in 275 pass attempts.
While he won’t have the touchdown numbers of Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, Hoyer is becoming better at managing games and putting the Browns in the best position to win games.
He’s 9-3 as a starter for the Browns, dating back to last season. And the last time a Browns quarterback threw for 200-plus yards in each of team’s first eight games since Brian Sipe in 1983. That streak was snapped last night.
Plus, he’s being effective and winning games without one of the best receivers in the NFL in Josh Gordon, who will be back in Week 12. Also, Jordan Cameron hasn’t been effective for most the season. Hoyer is producing with new faces and he’s making the most of it.
5. Greg Little has little impact…doesn’t surprise Browns fans
Oh, Greg Little. You were hoping to “make them [Browns] pay” Thursday night. And all you did was catch one pass in garbage time from Jason Campbell.
Little did do something though. He was called for a 15-yard penalty for head butting Browns defensive back K’Waun Williams at the end of a failed third down conversion in the first quarter.
Don’t worry, Greg. You will have a chance at payback when the Browns and Bengals hook up again in Week 15. That’s if you are still on the team.
5a. One year ago…