AFC North: Cleveland Browns

BEREA, Ohio -- The most penalized person for the Cleveland Browns through the first three games of the season?

The bench, otherwise known as the coaches.

The Browns have been penalized for having 12 men on the field or in the huddle four times, the most frequent penalty called against the team.

Thus coach Mike Pettine’s emphasis prior to the bye week was on fixing procedures, because all are a result of not getting the right substitutions done properly.

The 12-men calls broke down this way:
  • The offense had 12 in the huddle against the Saints.
  • The defense had 12 on the field against the Saints.
  • The defense twice had 12 on the field against the Ravens, and it would have happened a third time had Karlos Dansby not used a timeout to avoid the penalty, a move he called “an executive decision.”

The four 12-men penalties leads the NFL, two ahead of the Panthers and Jaguars, who have two each, according to ESPN Stats and Information. The Browns were called for five all of last season and have accounted for 22 percent of the 12-men penalties in the NFL this season (four of the 18). The Browns have played three games; 26 teams have played four.

This explains Pettine’s anger and his taking accountability for the loss to the Ravens. And it is partly the result of change, because new coaches have new systems that require new signals that require adjustments. Consider: The Browns and Raiders lead the league in 12-men calls since 2001, per ESPN Stats and Information. The two teams have had 31 flags for that violation during that span and combined have had 16 coaches (including interim coaches) -- seven for the Browns and nine for the Raiders.

The day after the loss to the Ravens, Pettine said things had to change, immediately, because the way things were going was “trouble.”

He said the Browns would practice it better and learn to better deal with crowd noise, an oddity given the calls happened at home. Pettine has adjusted to make many signals come through the communication system between the sidelines and huddle.

“There are no excuses for that,” Pettine said. “We need to get better.”

In other penalty oddities through three games:
  • Justin Gilbert has the most penalty yards on the team by virtue of his 31-yard pass interference penalty against the Ravens.
  • Two Pro Bowlers lead their units. Joe Thomas has been flagged twice for 20 yards and Joe Haden three times for 15 yards. Don’t expect the Browns to start working people out at their positions.
On Sunday, Tennessee lost 41-17 to Indianapolis.

Pittsburgh lost to Tampa Bay 27-24. At home.

Jacksonville lost 33-14.

Oakland lost 38-14.

And Tampa Bay ... well it beat Pittsburgh, because either Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay had to win. The game prior to beating the Steelers, Tampa Bay lost 56-14 to Atlanta.

[+] EnlargeBrian Hoyer
Jeff Haynes/AP Images for PaniniThe next five weeks could determine if Brian Hoyer and the Browns will be playoff contenders in 2014.
The common denominator between Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay? They are the next five teams the Cleveland Browns play, with three of the games at home.

Two of the teams are winless. Two have one win. Pittsburgh has two wins, one over the Browns on a last-play field goal.

If the Browns ever are going to get something accomplished this season, this is the time and these are the teams to do it against. The Browns' defense has struggled, especially against the run, but facing this non-gauntlet of teams presents the defense an excellent chance to find itself. The numbers for the five present a challenge, but also an opportunity.

Combined, these five teams are 4-16, winning just 20 percent of their games. On Sunday, the five gave up 24, 27, 38, 33 and 41 points -- an average of 32.6.

Heading into Monday night, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Oakland are the league’s three worst-ranked offenses. Tennessee is 17th, but it's without starting quarterback Jake Locker. Pittsburgh has talent, but struggled to beat the Browns in Pittsburgh.

Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Tennessee and Oakland are the league’s four worst scoring offenses. None average more than 15 points per game.

The Browns are 1-2, but coach Mike Pettine said before sending the team away for the bye that it is about as confident a 1-2 team could be.

“I think we’ve proved over the first three weeks that we can win football games in this league, that we’re close,” Pettine said. “As I said, pass-fail league, we failed two out of three, but there’s a different feel to it just because I know our guys have confidence coming out of it and that if we go out and execute a game plan that we can beat any team in this league.”

If that’s true, the Browns have a prime opportunity in the next five weeks to establish themselves as more than just another team trying to win, more than the pretenders they have been the past six seasons.

A year ago, the Browns talked about playing a meaningful game in a trip to Cincinnati and fell flat. The rest of the season went south in a hurry.

But the circumstances a year ago were different. The team had no running game whatsoever. Brian Hoyer was hurt; Jason Campbell was at quarterback. The team was so fragile that it couldn’t withstand one really bad quarter against the Bengals.

This season the Browns came back from 24 down at halftime to tie Pittsburgh, before eventually losing 30-27. They have two difficult losses, but much to build on. The running game could be a strength and Hoyer has played well. The defense has struggled, but Pettine and the assistant coaches believe in their scheme and promise it can and will work if the players trust it.

The one player missing this season is Josh Gordon, who remains suspended for the first 10 games of the season. But if the Browns can get something accomplished in the next five games against teams that are 4-16, it can build something positive for when Gordon returns.

The Browns have an opportunity the next five games.

If they are going to make something of this season, it has to start with these five games.
BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns receivers coach Mike McDaniel is in touch with Josh Gordon "often," McDaniel said.

"Right now, my role is to be a supporter, because one thing that jumped off the map for me once I started working with him in the spring is he does want to be great," McDaniel said. "He truly does."

Gordon has always wanted to be great, and last season he played great. The problem is he can’t stay away from off-field issues. Gordon is serving a 10-game suspension -- reduced from the entire season -- for a positive drug test in March.

McDaniel said he supports Gordon "in everything he does," presumably meaning on the field.

"As a young person being pulled in every sort of direction, you’ve got to remember he was a three-star athlete coming out of high school," McDaniel said. "Then he goes to Baylor. He goes through that process, and he’s in the supplemental draft. He’s a second-round draft pick, and then all of the sudden he’s an NFL star.

"It’s a lot to handle. He wants to be great, so I support him in everything that he does. I try to do my best job to get him to be what his ultimate desire to be is, which is the best receiver that he can be."

Gordon has immense talent. He led the league in receiving yards a year ago despite missing the first two games with another suspension. He said during a visit to ESPN in March that there is no limit to an individual’s potential.

"In his mind, he wants to be the best receiver in the league," McDaniel said. "As far as a day-to-day standpoint, I check in on him and we talk. I’m just supportive of the stuff that he’s going through and the stuff that he’s learning, because he’s just learning on the fly -- how to be an adult and an NFL player within the confines of our league."
The Cleveland Browns graciously made their assistant coaches available on Wednesday before the bye week. This is the first in a series of short posts highlighting the issues they addressed:

BEREA, Ohio -- Barkevious Mingo has been on the field for 101 defensive snaps this season and has no tackles for a loss and no sacks.

But that does not concern the Browns, assistant linebackers coach Brian Fleury said.

Fleury, in fact, said he’s pleased with Mingo.

“We’re asking him to do some different things than what he did last year," Fleury said. “When you guys watch the film, he’s in coverage a lot more than he is going after the quarterback. I know there’ve been some questions as to why the sack numbers aren’t there, and I think it’s just simply a reflection of the amount of reps he’s had rushing the quarterback relative to everybody else. We’re happy with where he is and the production he’s given us.”

Fleury added that on many plays Mingo isn’t being asked to get a sack or get into the backfield. Coach Mike Pettine constantly discusses mismatches, and clearly the Browns are trying to create one by using Mingo different from a year ago.

In the opener, it appeared the Browns wanted Mingo to rush the passer. He rushed often and came close to sacking Ben Roethlisberger on a touchdown pass, but Roethlisberger avoided the sack.

Against Baltimore, it appeared Mingo was dropped into coverage more.

“He’s a remarkably talented athlete,” Fleury said. “He can run like the wind and cover a lot of the guys that maybe some of the other guys can’t cover. So we’re doing everything we can to take advantage of that.

“He creates a unique mismatch because you don’t know whether to identify him as a coverage linebacker or a rush end. We’ve just been using him a little bit more in the coverage phase so far.”

Pettine admitted Mingo is "battling the shoulder," referring to an injury that kept Mingo out of the win over New Orleans. Pettine added that although there's always room for improvement, Mingo is "doing his job" when he's on the field.

"I don’t get caught up in the statistical part of it," Pettine said. "I’ve seen too many guys over the years, especially defensively, get criticized. Like, 'Hey, why isn’t this guy playing well?' Just because it’s not on the stat sheet doesn’t mean they’re not doing their job. We’re more concerned with a plus on the grade sheet based on our standards than anything that would show up in a game book post game."
BEREA, Ohio -- Head coach Mike Pettine told the Cleveland Browns to make “good choices” as they head out of town for the team’s bye week.

“You hate dwelling on the negative, but we’ve very aware of the scrutiny that NFL players are under,” Pettine said. “We’re more under -- coaches and players -- more under a microscope than most.

“They represent not just themselves, but their families and the Cleveland Browns -- their teammates -- when they’re out of the building. I just kept stressing it to them. ‘Surround yourself with good people. Make good choices.’”

Most players left in a hurry. Johnny Manziel was one of the first ones out of the locker room and did not address the media. Joe Thomas was gone in less than 15 minutes.

Quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains said he thought Manziel would attend the Arkansas-Texas A&M game in Dallas on Saturday, and Loggains addressed the quarterbacks as a group.

Obviously, the Browns are aware that a photo of Manziel could appear on the internet at any time, but Pettine said he had no special message for Manziel other than the one he gave the team.

“We’ll check in with our guys over the time,” Pettine said. “But we didn’t treat him any different.”
The Cleveland Browns' assistant coaches were available on Wednesday before the bye week. This is another in a continuing series of short posts highlighting the issues they addressed.

BEREA, Ohio -- Running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery added confusion Wednesday to the discussion about whether Brian Hoyer's pass to Johnny Manziel was legal.

Montgomery said the back judge told him after the play in Sunday’s loss to Baltimore that he knew the play was illegal and was going to throw the flag.

Except he didn’t.

"He said he was gonna call it," Montgomery said.

The play was illegal because Manziel lined up too close to the Browns' bench area; he needed to be at least five yards from the sideline. But the officials never called that unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and coach Mike Pettine said he was told the way the Browns ran the play was within the rules.

Montgomery said he knew the formation was illegal, and he was hoping the refs wouldn’t see it. According to him, they did.

"He was going to call it," Montgomery said.

That might not make everything clear. But on the half-full side, the illegal shift that was called against Cleveland on the play instead of unsportsmanlike conduct saved the Browns 10 yards.
The Cleveland Browns graciously made their assistant coaches available on Wednesday before the bye week. This is the first in a series of short posts highlighting the issues they addressed:

BEREA, Ohio -- Dowell Loggains addressed the four plays Johnny Manziel has run from scrimmage this way: “We’ve been pleased with what he’s done when he’s gone in and the results we’ve gotten from him.”

Manziel has four read-option plays that have netted minus-two yards.

Those plays also set up a 39-yard Manziel reception on a trick play that was negated by penalty and technically was illegal.

But Loggains, the Browns' quarterbacks coach, is happy that the offense is running those plays because it forces the opposing defense to use time to prepare for the read-option.

“It depends on how you look on it,” Loggains said. “[Manziel) played the two plays and Brian [Hoyer] came in [against New Orleans] and knocked down the two third downs for us.

“So I think that the goal is being accomplished.”
BEREA, Ohio -- In addressing a question about Johnny Manziel, the Cleveland Browns said much about their feelings toward Brian Hoyer.

A simple "what's next for Johnny Manziel" question was put to Cleveland Browns quarterback coach Dowell Loggains on Wednesday, as the team graciously made its assistant coaches available to the media.

Loggains answered with the obligatory "just get better ever day" statement. But then he added more.

[+] EnlargeBrian Hoyer
AP Photo/David Richard"He's the leader of this team, he's been driving this team," running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery said of Brian Hoyer.
"Can you do this for six or seven weeks in a row and maybe not play as much as you want to?" Loggains said. "Because the kid is a great competitor and he wants to be there.

"It's understanding how to be a quarterback and how to learn and do all those things that he's going to have to do. It's just the process, the grind of that, fighting the boredom of sitting in a meeting room learning a game plan, memorizing a game plan, but not get to go execute it."

Not-so-hidden in that statement is a concession that the Browns quarterback position, which was so jumbled five or six weeks ago, has settled down.

And Hoyer has settled it down.

Nowhere in Loggains' assessment is there any indication that the team expects Hoyer not to play. It is his job at this point (barring injury), and the fact that it's being made so clear in the bye week is also important.

Because the scenario most painted prior to the season was that Hoyer would get the first three starts against Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Baltimore, that it wouldn't go well and the impatient Browns would make a switch during the bye week.

That possibility seems farther removed than the water pump station in Lake Erie is from shore.

"He's a pro," Loggains said of Hoyer (after he of course first credited Hoyer for managing the huddle well).

Loggains then admitted that Hoyer relaxed once the competition factor was removed. That has seemed evident, though Hoyer has always insisted he was never affected by the competition.

"This is becoming his team and he's taken ownership of it," Loggains said.

Keep in mind that Loggains thinks so highly of Manziel that he said on Arkansas radio shortly after the draft that Manziel could immediately be one of the most exciting players in the league.

But Hoyer has thrown 95 passes without an interception, and he has a 95.7 rating. He struggled at the end of the Baltimore game, but also completed 16 in a row at one point. He's also guiding a Browns offense that has scored at least 21 points in each of the first three games for the first time since 1969.

The one thing he hasn't done is win every game, though the Browns were in every game. The lingering question is what happens with the quarterbacks if Hoyer keeps playing well without winning? That, though, is conjecture. Because Hoyer has done his part to silence the post-bye-week-change chatter.

An interesting reality is that when Manziel was drafted, almost every one of the team's holdovers stood up for Hoyer, saying they did not expect him to lose the job.

He raised questions at parts of training camp, but in the end he earned the starter's job and now has "run" with it. And he did it knowing full well that Manziel was waiting to take over.

"He's the leader of this team, he's been driving this team," running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery said. "You have to be proud for Hoyer himself."
BEREA, Ohio -- Heads were still shaking in the Cleveland Browns locker room on Wednesday, three days after a last-play loss to Baltimore.

Running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery talked about being on the other side (he used to coach in Baltimore).

Joe Haden said he’s not playing up to the level he expects.

And Donte Whitner said he’s flat-out steamed -- that he was so steamed he left the locker room Sunday as soon as he could.

“I’m very angry,” Whitner said Wednesday. “Because we don’t know how good we are or how good we can be yet, and we had opportunities to close out these football games. No matter what the outside world thinks or the way they feel, we understand now that we can play with any team in the National Football League.

“If you beat yourself, if you make small minor mistakes, they tend to be big things on the football field. Once we clean that up, we should be right where we want to be. But until then, we’re not going to take that step forward.”

Frustration that it’s been oh-so-close for oh-so-long is simmering, with players saying they’ve been oh-so-close for two years and it’s time for that to end.

“You can’t keep shooting yourself in the foot,” Montgomery said. “At some point you just have to come out ... you look for someone to step up and make a play.”

He added: “It starts with the coaching staff and then it works down through the players.”

Whitner knows the Browns' reputation, and he accepts it. He pointed out his thinking behind the Browns being given a Week 4 bye.

“The NFL sets it up,” he said. “If they don’t have any expectations for you, they give you a bye week early. If they expect you to go to the Super Bowl, they give you a bye week late.”

The fact that Denver and Seattle have the same bye week as the Browns might blow Whitner’s theory up.

But he still feels not many expect much from the Browns.

“This is where we fall since the Browns haven’t won in a number of years,” he said. “That’s the way it goes.”

He then looked ahead to the Tennessee game coming off the bye and said it’s “almost a must-have game.” Falling to 1-3 would be tough, but not winning after coming so close against two very good teams would let negative feelings take deeper root.

“I don’t think it’s any time to panic,” he said. “We lost two football games by a total of, what, four points? When nobody really gave us a chance to win any of these games. ... We had numerous opportunities to close this last football game out, whether it be the defensive side of the ball or the offensive side or special teams catching a punt and not allowing it to bounce inside the 10-, 5-yard line.

“There’s no need to panic. We just have to clean up the small mistakes.”

Pettine: Sunday's step was back

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
Mike Pettine’s reaction to the loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday was visceral and tangible. A coach not upset after a loss probably ought to be an analyst, but Pettine oozed emotion --- to the point it was unique.

The frustration flowed after Pettine watched his team live up to the reputation that running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery said was there when he worked in the same job in Baltimore. To Montgomery and the Ravens, the Browns were a team that would play tough but then make enough mistakes in the end to lose.

[+] EnlargeMike Pettine
AP Photo/Mark DuncanMike Pettine is seeking the right balance for the Browns in terms of veterans and youth.
That’s exactly what happened on Sunday. It was only one game and 13 remain, but it was a tough finish that happened despite the best efforts of the new Browns coach who has preached several foundation beliefs since he was hired in an effort to wipe out the "same old Browns" theme that has lived too long. Among them:

Mental toughness is more important than physical toughness. Be at your best when your best is needed. Finish.

Against Pittsburgh, the Browns came back but finished poorly.

Against New Orleans, they finished strong.

Against Baltimore, they made enough fourth-quarter mistakes for four games.

Some were mistakes or bad plays. Some were the byproduct of a new coach installing new systems that take time for the players to learn. Not getting the right personnel on the field seems partly a result of a new coach adjusting to a new staff.

Tis ever thus for the Browns, who treat stability as if it is the Plague. Pettine is the latest with the chance to bring stability and continuity, and much of what he says is logical.

But until the Browns actually finish the games well and win them, the same questions will linger, and Pettine will struggle to explain them.

“We found a way to do it against New Orleans and took a step backwards [Sunday] and that’s one of the reasons that we’re so disappointed because that’s been a point of emphasis m-- the ability to finish,” Pettine said. “We don’t like it. We don’t like where we are. ... Last place in the division is last place. There’s no asterisk next to what we are.”

He continued.

“We feel that we can compete with anybody in this league -- and not compete with, beat anybody in this league,” he said, “and that’s important that our guys have that confidence coming out of the bye. For us, we can only worry about the next one and make sure and take steps that [the same thing] doesn’t happen.”

As he continued to speak, he spoke quietly but started to wander a bit off the question -- and perhaps show the frustration and position he and the team are in.

“We’re a mix of veteran guys and young guys and we’ve got to get those young guys veteran experience in a hurry,” he said. “And you want to play your young guys to get them experience, but it’s a catch 22.

“We don’t want to be, ‘Hey, we’re looking to next year. We’re just going to play our young guys.’ We feel that we can win now, we want to win now and that is one of the reasons we’re so disappointed about [Sunday] is that we felt that we let them off the hook.”

The Browns have been trying to turn their 10-loss freighter for years. A losing culture needs to be unloaded.

Doing so takes effort, commitment and time.

Pettine is the latest to lead the effort.

He’s clearly committed and willing to give the effort.

How much time it will take is the great unanswered question.

The Film Don't Lie: Browns

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
A weekly look at what the Cleveland Browns must fix:

The number, as they say, does not lie. The Browns' run defense is giving up 157.3 yards per game. No team in the league can win that way, and it's especially galling to coach Mike Pettine, who has seen this defensive system work in Buffalo, New York and Baltimore. "Disappointing," was Pettine's understatement for the run defense. The Browns have given up 11 runs of 10 yards or more, six of more than 20 and two of more than 30, which is a trend they'll have to stop when they go to Tennessee after the bye week.

Pettine said he breaks down the run defense on each play in three ways: technique, scheme or talent. If it's scheme, it's on the coaches to fix the calls or even take it out of the playbook. If it's technique, it must be addressed in practice. If it's talent, the coaches have to make a change, either in personnel or alignment to ensure the player is not asked to do something he can't. With the Browns, though, all three are issues.

"We need to get better in our defense across the board," Pettine said.

One way he will address this issue in the bye week is to have the offensive coaches break down and scout the team's defense as if it were playing a game against that unit. That will give a fresh set of eyes to the run defense, which might point to ways to improve it. Whatever happens, the run defense will be a major focus as the coaches spend their time working during the bye weekend.

Gaffes lead to Browns' difficult loss

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns had 305 yards of offense the first three quarters of Sunday's loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

In the fourth quarter they had 70 -- and 70 came on one pass from Brian Hoyer to rookie Taylor Gabriel. The other 13 plays in the fourth quarter netted zero yards. The final quarter for the Browns was a textbook example of how not to win a game when it matters most, as the Browns stumbled over and over. They missed a field goal and had another blocked, were 0-for-4 on third downs and went three-and-out on their last two drives.

Even the one positive play the Browns had was fraught with what could have been, because Gabriel was so wide open on the play he could have easily scored. The Browns had that pass in their back pocket, Hoyer said, for the coverage Baltimore used. Gabriel called it "a perfect play."

"I saw he was wide open," Hoyer said, "just threw it and let him run underneath it."

Except Gabriel stutter-stepped as the ball was in the air, which forced him to lunge for the ball, which took him to the ground. He was able to get up and scamper to the nine, but had he caught the ball in stride he would have scored easily.

"I'm a little upset,” Gabriel said of not scoring. "But at the same time it just felt good getting my hands on the ball."

It was emblematic of the Browns' fourth quarter, which was filled with mistakes. Billy Cundiff doinked a 50-yard field goal off the left upright, then had one blocked from 36, leaving six points off the scoreboard.

Of the 50-yarder, Cundiff said: "The timing didn’t feel like we were on.”

Of the second, he said: "I thought I hit a really good ball. Then it’s the double-thump. As a kicker and punter, that’s definitely what you don’t want to hear."

Asa Jackson blocked the field goal from the outside left of the defense, racing past Billy Winn. Either Jackson was too fast or Winn was too slow to get out of his stance to impede Jackson. Browns coach Mike Pettine said some of the snaps on the kicks might have been low.

"All I can tell you is that it was blocked, and if we do everything correctly it shouldn’t have been," said holder Spencer Lanning. "At the end of the day it’s just not good enough."

The Browns helped the Ravens with other miscues. A missed handoff and then a penalty on Hoyer for throwing a (touchdown) pass when he was past the line pushed the second field goal to the 36. A brutal pass interference penalty on rookie Justin Gilbert gave the Ravens the ball at the Browns' 5. There, the Browns were called for 12 men on the field for the second time in the game. Pettine lamented those miscues, saying he and the coaching staff cost the players the game.

"It’s one of the things I’m talking about," Pettine said. "We need to be better with our procedures."

Especially since two plays after the second 12-man penalty, the defense had to call timeout to avoid a third.

There was more. Travis Benjamin did not field a late punt, which rolled to the Browns' 9 and effectively flipped field position toward the Ravens. Baltimore started its game-winning drive at midfield.

"I got up under the ball correctly, and at the last minute a gust of wind blew it and it went past my hand," Benjamin said. "I didn’t want to go back and reach for the ball, so I just let it pass by."

The Browns also had two chances to put the game away late, but two drives took just 55 seconds off the clock with consecutive three-and-outs. On the second, Hoyer threw behind Andrew Hawkins on third-and-7 from the 10.

"I have got to put it in front of him," Hoyer said.

"If we get that, they don’t have any timeouts and the game is over," Joe Thomas said.

If, if, if.

Players lamented the inability of the team to come up with a needed play when it mattered most the way they did against New Orleans. But they also lamented the mistakes they made that led to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco being 12-1 against the Browns.

"We have no one to blame but ourselves," Hoyer said, "and that’s what hurts the most."
CLEVELAND -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cleveland Browns' 23-21 loss to Baltimore:

Coach's angst: Mike Pettine put himself in the crosshairs by saying the last-second loss to Baltimore was on him. He said the players played well enough to win but the coaches didn't do a good job of putting them in the best positions. He said there was a "long list" of miscues by the staff.

When it matters: Against New Orleans, the Browns converted a fourth down and a winning drive. Against Baltimore, they failed twice with their hands on the ball. "We got to do it when it counts," quarterback Brian Hoyer said. "That's what it comes down to."

Gaffes galore: The Browns missed a field goal and had another blocked, three times had 12 men on the field on defense, did not catch a vital punt and did not get a point in the fourth quarter despite having the ball at the Ravens' 30- and 9-yard lines. Players lamented the mistakes that they said led to the Browns beating themselves.

Rapid Reaction: Cleveland Browns

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21

CLEVELAND -- A few thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 23-21 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium.

What it means: Browns running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery worked for the Ravens prior to coming to Cleveland. Montgomery said during training camp that the Ravens always looked on the Browns as a team that would play Baltimore tough, then make mistakes at key points of the game to give the Ravens a victory. The Browns did that again with a new coach and new quarterback, bungling the last three or four minutes en route to a last-play 23-21 loss. Not getting a key first down, throwing poor passes and failing to catch well-thrown ones, wasting timeouts, having 12 men on the field, giving up a big catch on the Ravens' game-winning drive -- the Browns wasted a good effort in a winnable game due to late mistakes. They are an improved team, but until they win in crunch time, they won't win overall.

Stock watch: The Browns have to shore up their run defense. Baltimore was without Bernard Pierce and turned to rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro, a fourth-round pick out of Coastal Carolina. Yet the Ravens still ran the ball well against the Browns, averaging 4.8 yards per carry and totaling 160 yards for the day. Baltimore had run well in its previous two games, so it wasn't a shock. What was a concern was the Browns' inability to stop the run even though they knew it was coming. No doubt this will be an area of focus for the coaching staff during the bye week.

Manziel package: Johnny Manziel was involved in a trick play that could have gained 39 yards had Terrance West not been penalized for an illegal shift. Manziel's trick play involved hiding on the sideline and catching a pass from Brian Hoyer after Manziel had run the read-option the play before. He scampered up the sideline, but the play was negated by the penalty on West. The reason the Browns ran Manziel for those three plays against New Orleans? To set up the trick play for Baltimore.

Game ball: With the game in the balance, the Browns' offense had two drives that used up less than a minute and went nowhere. But prior to that, Brian Hoyer had the team in position for a win. Hoyer completed 16 of his first 17, and the one incompletion came because Jordan Cameron fell after getting tangled up with a Ravens defender. Hoyer finished 19-of-25 for 290 yards and a 127.1 passer rating. He did not come through in the final two drives, but to that point, he had overcome numerous Browns mistakes to put them in position to win.

What’s next: The Browns have an early bye week before returning for a trip to Tennessee to play the Titans on Oct. 5 in Nashville.