After an unexpected Thursday night defeat to the Miami Dolphins it appeared that the Bengals were destined to fall back into striking range for the (then) second place team, the Ravens.
As it turns out, the Bengals had no need to worry as the Browns did their fellow Ohio team a big favor by toppling the defending Super Bowl champions and ending the longest active losing streak in the NFL to one team.
Looking forward, the story-line won’t be “can the Bengals stay ahead of the Ravens?” but instead will be “Can the Bengals keep it going and get hot in the Playoffs?” At a combined 9-16 the rest of the division simply aren’t a legitimate threat unless the Bengals beat themselves.
The Browns evicted a huge monkey from their franchise’s back yesterday by defeating the Baltimore Ravens 24-18 and ending an 11 game losing streak which was the longest active losing streak to one team in the NFL. In the process, they looked efficient on offense, particularly in the passing game led by Jason Campbell and the Horton-coached defense was both dynamic and smothering giving no room to Ray Rice while registering 5 sacks on Joe Flacco.
While Campbell had an excellent Game, going 22/35 for 262 yards and three touchdowns, this was an entire-team win, with the Browns just outperforming the Ravens in essentially every facet of the game. It wasn’t a dominating performance, but a determined one, where mistakes that characterized many of the Browns past losses against the Ravens were not present (well, except for a few unsportsmanlike penalties by Little). Part of that comes from good coaching, part from players showing the will, attitude, and discipline to win, but overall you get the sense when watching this group they really have thrown off a lot of baggage and are moving forward with a winner’s mentality. That’s something rarely seen in Cleveland since 1999.
It may be a little too early to purchase tickets to the playoffs but last night showed a young, energetic, well-coached squad against a team that may still be living off of past accomplishments and trending in the wrong direction. If the Browns can put together a streak of their own this season, it isn’t impossible to think they are out of it in a very mediocre-looking AFC. In Believeland at least the team itself seems to believe.
The Ravens continue to underwhelm in their defense of the Lombardi Trophy, once against demonstrating that the offensive line is far from championship caliber and the defense still has questions in the secondary as the Ravens fell to the Browns by the score of 24-18.
The 11 game winning streak was a nice footnote for the Ravens, but those types of records are meant to be broken, and really don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things being entirely regular season wins. What does matter however is how this team is playing right now – poorly — and even more importantly the mistakes that are being made don’t seem to be getting corrected.
A great deal of credit goes to Horton and the Browns front seven for making the Ravens offensive line look amateuristic at best, but the Ravens seem to delight in continuing to focus on two aspects of the running the game that they simply aren’t good at — zone blocking and draw plays.
It is baffling to see the Ravens run draw plays when the opposing defense isn’t selling out on the blitz or being pulled back into the secondary because the offense has spread them out. Even more perplexing is that, contrary to expectations going into the bye, it seemed as if the Ravens wanted to rely MORE on stretch running plays instead of focusing on downhill power blocking like they have in previous seasons.
It would be easy to continue blaming Juan Castillo for the run game’s problems, but at some point fingers need to be pointed at the offensive coordinator, Jim Caldwell, for creating an offensive that clearly isn’t being catered to the players’ strength but instead seems to accentuate their weaknesses.
The secondary problems on the other hand seem to be more of a talent and health issue. Lardarius Webb still isn’t the player he was before getting injured last season and with Jimmy Smith leaving the game due to a groin injury, there just wasn’t enough depth to expect air tight coverage from the corners.
Now at 3-5 and their playoff hopes on life support, this does not look like a team just about to turn it around and there is a lot of blame to spread around. More frustratingly, the coaching staff on the offensive side of the ball seem to be doing their best to hammer a square peg of a running game into a round hole, again.
I’ll be brief — this should explain how the Steelers did against the Patriots.