At the end of the day, a 1-2 record from the Cleveland Browns is not something to be proud of. Our column explores what went wrong against the Ravens. There are many issues to be corrected on defense and special teams – which we will address all throughout the bye week.
On NBC's Sunday Night Football halftime show, both Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison agreed there are such things as "moral victories" early in an NFL season. The former coach and Pro Bowl safety both argued that in close losses, a team can learn about their identity, resolve and most times, if they are well-coached, can eventually gain enough confidence to be on the other side of the fence.
The Browns should take a message like that and run with it. With 13 games remaining, This team has enough strong suits to overwhelm teams and enough time to fix problems on defense. Here are the three areas that have exceeded expectations.
1) Zero turnovers
Call it lucky, or call it impressive but the Browns are the only team in the league not to cough the ball up. However you deem it, it's a chief reason why the Browns have taken three of the league's past six Super Bowl winners to the wire each week. The Browns have mainly been able to limit mistakes on offense because of...
2) Brian Hoyer
Even the staunchest Johnny Manziel supporters have come full circle to rally around Hoyer. Who can blame them? Hoyer's 97.5 quarterback rating is ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton. He hasn't thrown an interception. Deep bombs against Baltimore to Travis Benjamin (43 yards) and Taylor Gabriel (70 yards) are plays Hoyer is demonstrating he can consistently make. He's the number one reason the Browns were able to beat the Saints and for three quarters, he was the best player on the field against the Ravens.
3) Unexpected players stepping up on offense
This unit was labeled by outsiders as full of has-beens and unproven rookies. And they've completely caught the NFL off guard. Other NFL teams were scared to give Andrew Hawkins such a big role. All the 5-foot-7 receiver has done is rank 7th in the league in total receptions (21), while helping carry the offense on critical third-downs. Nobody could've predicted the running game not missing a beat after Ben Tate sprained his knee, yet Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell respectively rank one and two in the league for rookie rushing yards. John Greco has raised his level of play and Joel Bitonio is more than just a guy on the offensive line.
The point here is that after an exasperating preseason full of mistakes, this unit came together quickly at the last minute – almost like a surprise birthday party. And when the lights came on, we were all pleasantly in a little bit of disbelief.
Notable Quotables from the Ravens loss
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh
"To the Browns, that was a well-played, hard-fought football game. That is a very good football team. We've been playing tough games against the Browns for many years and they are even better than they have ever been before. They are extremely well coached, they are physical and tough. That was AFC North football."
"It's definitely disappointing, but it's early in the season. We can't keep our heads down for a long time. At the end of the day, it's only one game, and while we wanted to win this one, we have the bye week coming up and we are going to come in and study this film because we have a long season ahead of us. It's only the third game of the season, and we are not going to be in panic mode."
"I take it on us. We let them rush for too many yards up front. We didn't get any sacks. That's what we are here for up front, that's what we have to do."
Mike Pettine on Brian Hoyer
"He played well. (He) made some great throws. That's what this league is all about is making enough plays to win and as coaches, putting your players in the best circumstances and the best situations to be successful. We didn't do near a good enough job to do that today."