It was doom and gloom all week in Cleveland regarding the Browns, after they played a horrible game in the season opener and got hammered by the New York Jets.
The reality is most teams that turn the ball over five times will probably lose, and a 21 point loss might just be the average margin of victory.
Today, they didn’t turn the ball over once (more on that later), and surprise, surprise, the wound up winning their home opener, defeating the Tennessee Titans, 28-14 at First Energy Stadium.
The turnovers were the difference as the Browns’ defense forced three of them, and harassed rookie QB Marcus Mariota all day long, sacking him seven times as Cleveland evened its record to 1-1.
The Browns were aggressive early, as Johnny Manziel found WR Travis Benjamin for a 60-yard touchdown pass on the second offensive play to give Cleveland an early 7-0 advantage.
After a Terrance West fumble (Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine had to be smiling to themselves after that), the offense took advantage of the short field to move 50 yards in seven plays into the end zone as Isaiah Crowell ran it in from 11 yards to make it 14-0.
It seemed that Pettine and offensive coordinator John DiFillippo went a little conservative in the play calling after that, probably to take pressure off of Manziel, making just his third professional start.
They got a bonus at the end of the half when Benjamin struck again, taking a punt 78 yards to another TD. However, “The Rabbit” wasn’t done.
After the Titans climbed back into the game with two touchdowns to make it 21-14 with a little over six minutes to go, on a 3rd and 6 from midfield, Manziel scrambled away from pressure and found Benjamin again for a score on a play that looked like Johnny Football’s days at Texas A & M.
Manziel threw just 15 times, completing eight for 172 yards and the two touchdown tosses.
Now, for the negatives in the victory.
Once again, the Browns had problems against the run, particularly in setting the edge, forcing runners inside. The Titans ran for 166 yards, with Dexter McCluster getting 98 of them on just 10 carries.
The defense did a little better on third down, allowing 7 of 16 conversions, but did not get off the field well in the first half.
To be fair, because Cleveland scored on big plays, Jim O’Neil’s unit was on the field for 35 minutes today, so fatigue could have been a factor.
Manziel fumbled two more times, but was fortunate that his teammates recovered both miscues. He must be more diligent with ball security, particularly when his team has the lead. If either ball had been recovered by Tennessee, we might be talking about a different outcome today.
Who did well? Besides Benjamin, Crowell gained 72 yards on 15 carries and gashed the Titans in the second half.
Duke Johnson showed improvement as well, getting 43 yards on 12 totes of the pigskin.
Armonty Bryant had 2-1/2 sacks and John Hughes had 1-1/2 as well, as there was much more pressure on the QB than last week.
It didn’t show in the stats, but Tramon Williams was solid too, making nice open field tackles to stop Titan ball carriers short of first down yardage.
And Andy Lee is showing he was worth the 7th round draft pick the Browns used to get him, as he is proving to be a great weapon. He averaged 53.2 yards on six punts.
So, the Raiders come to FES next week in another winnable game. Still, the Browns have to play well, and improve on this week’s performance if they want to get over .500.
However, the panic about an awful season should be abated for a week. The Browns showed that when they play like they want to (run the ball, play solid defense), they are capable of winning games.