Wondering what might have been

Posted Oct 27, 2013

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Senior Editor Vic Carucci offers his thoughts on the Browns’ 23-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Here are my final thoughts from the Browns’ 23-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium Sunday:

>>Nothing feels good about a loss. And pointing out the positives doesn’t do a whole lot to ease the sting, especially if there are many to find. Doing so, in fact, can make the defeat hurt even more because you’re dwelling on what might have been. However, there were a whole lot of positives in this game worth noting, beginning with the fact the Browns pushed the NFL’s lone unbeaten team to the brink in as loud and hostile an environment as any in the league. Therefore, there were a lot of “might-have-beens.” If only Davone Bess held onto that punt at the end, effectively killing the Browns’ best chance to rally for a win … if only regular punt-returner Travis Benjamin hadn’t left the game early with a knee injury … if only the Browns didn’t commit so many penalties (nine for minus-70 yards) … if only they wouldn’t have started so incredibly slow on both sides of the ball in the first half … we could easily be talking about the Browns putting the first blemish on the Chiefs’ record.

>>In making his first start for the Browns, Jason Campbell was more than solid, more than competent. He played well enough to leave here with a victory. His numbers were strong: 22-of-36 for 293 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions. His quarterback rating of 105.4 was better than that of the Chiefs’ Alex Smith (102.2). For someone who hadn’t played at game speed since last season, Campbell was highly impressive. He was unfazed by the deafening roar of the crowd. He wasted little time with his decision-making and got the ball out of his hand quickly. Despite practicing with the starting offense full-time for the first time during the week, Campbell seemed to have no trouble developing a sense of timing and rhythm with his receivers. He was poised and comfortable, and the rest of the offense clearly fed off of that.

>>The Browns’ offensive line did a remarkable job of keeping Campbell upright against the NFL’s No. 1 sacking defense. Campbell was only sacked once, and that didn’t come until early in the fourth quarter. Let’s first give credit to the blockers for their excellent work against the Chiefs’ extremely quick, athletic, and talented defensive front. With the exception of two false-start penalties on tackle Joe Thomas, they had almost no issues in dealing with the crowd noise. And they were helped greatly by Campbell’s quick release and exceptional pocket awareness.

>>I never thought the Browns would have a whole lot of success running the ball this season, with or without Trent Richardson. But I didn’t think they would ever have the problems moving the ball on the ground that they had in the first half, when their rushing total was an embarrassing minus-one yard. Eventually, the Browns began finding some running success in the second half, as the entire offense began getting into its collective groove. But the offense’s inability to get things going much sooner ultimately did the Browns in.

>>Let’s start with the good from the Browns’ defense. Coordinator Ray Horton promised that his group would play better and be more aggressive, and the result was a six-sack performance. The Browns’ wide variety of blitz packages gave the Chiefs’ offensive line trouble as the game wore on. Safety T.J. Ward even got in on the sack fest. The defense also showed dramatic improvement in a trouble spot, getting off the field on third down, in the second half.

>>Now, for the bad from the Browns’ defensive effort. Smith was sacked only once in the first half and generally had plenty of time to operate in the pocket … when he wasn’t showing off his tremendous speed (six runs for 40 yards). The Browns’ defense also allowed Smith to have far too much success throwing to running backs Jamaal Charles and Dexter McCluster, who combined for 12 receptions for 113 yards. McCluster led all receivers with seven catches for 67 yards, an average of 9.6 yards per catch, and a touchdown. Charles averaged 9.2 yards per reception. “They caught us in zone coverages a couple of times on the screens where guys were deep in their zones and they’d run the screens and they’ve got blockers in front,” Ward said. “So it’s hard to make a play when you have three blockers and two guys there to catch the ball. And other times we were in man and (Smith) would find a seam or a gap and he’d scramble around for a couple of long runs. But in the second half, we got to him.”

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