ReFo: Browns @ Broncos, Week 16
This was a game that proceeded exactly as one might expect. The Broncos now appear slightly more machine than team, and they easily put aside a hardly lightweight challenge from the Browns. Once again Cleveland’s offense held their own against a solid defense, particularly on an offensive line which is now shaping up as one of the NFL’s best, but compared to Denver’s smooth running engine it seemed slightly quaint and old-fashioned.
The game was effectively over midway through the third quarter, but it seemed much earlier as Peyton Manning (+4.2) identified the deficiencies in the Browns’ defense and then ruthlessly took advantage. Here are some of the other individual performances that stood out.
Cleveland – Three Performances of Note
Good Work or Lucky Find?
The Rams drafted guard John Greco (+2.3) in the third round in 2008. For the next three years, on a team hardly brimming with O-line talent, he picked up snaps here and there and looked very good every time he took the field, with overall grades of +2.5, +3.3 and +8.9. In 2011, he was picked up by the Browns where he saw 52 snaps all year. This year it took an injury to incumbent left guard Jason Pinkston for Greco to get the start, but since then he’s done little but impress.
How is it in a league that’s got a dearth of quality linemen, Greco was available and not even a sure-fire starter but for an injury? Such is the mystery of NFL pro personnel departments, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all, given their vagaries, to see Pinkston reclaim his place when healthy.
For those Brown fans who may have been missing Colt McCoy (-3.0), thinking somehow the team made the wrong decision in going with Brandon Weeden (+0.3), here was what they had been missing — the ability to underthrow open receivers at will and take off at the merest whiff of a pass rusher. I lost count at four the number of balls that hit the dirt yards in front of their target. I was thinking this was possibly all he had in his repertoire, until he managed to substantially overthrow Ben Watson on a hitch. On plays under pressure he didn’t complete a single pass, and I got the feeling if they’d kept playing until Christmas that may well still have been the case.
Tackles that Matter
For those needing an example of why high tackle numbers can often be a misleading stat, I offer Exhibit A: Craig Robertson (-4.0). Despite racking up a healthy 12 solo tackles (five in the running game, seven on passes) only three of them constituted a loss for the offense. The majority came after he had already got lost in the passing game and was cleaning up his own mess. He did make a couple of good plays and even showed he had the ability to cover once he made up his mind what to do, with his tight work in the end zone on Joel Dreessen (12:20 left in the fourth quarter), but these were few and far between. After a fantastic Week 1, where he had Michael Vick’s measure, it’s been downhill. If he wants a role next year, improvement is needed.
Denver – Three Performances of Note
The Broncos’ offensive line is a solid group that has improved markedly by having Manning behind them. For reasons that defy unbiased investigation, right guard Chris Kuper has always been seen as somewhat of a lynchpin on the offensive line with Ryan Clady. But, while the left tackle has put together some excellent displays, Kuper has always looked well overvalued in our eyes. It was some cause for concern when he yet again went down with injury and Manny Ramirez (+4.0) was drafted in to replace him. Ramirez has certainly had bad days (notably against Atlanta, Houston and Oakland), but this is now his second good game in succession, and the Browns’ defensive line can be difficult to play. He gave up nothing in pass protection and pull-blocked well early in the game.
I don’t want to sound too many alarms, but I’m still a little concerned about how effective Knowshon Moreno (+0.3) will be as the playoff air becomes more rarified. It’s not that he’s not versatile (he’s a good pass blocker and receiver), or that I’m worried his fumbling problems may reoccur, but I just don’t think he’s an elusive runner. He doesn’t break many tackles (only 12 both rushing and receiving to date) and is only 34th out of 47 qualifying backs in average yards after contact. It’s probably nothing, because one cut and hitting it up inside is likely good enough with Manning behind center, but it’s certainly one to watch.
Was this the day the Defensive Player of the Year award went south? Von Miller (+0.6) was far from poor, but at times I had to check he was on the field and that’s something we rarely say about the sophomore superstar. A couple of sacks (one remarkably unblocked) and a hurry in 25 rushes is the stuff of mortals and Miller didn’t seem to be knifing inside as much as usual. He dropped far more frequently too, with his 20 coverage snaps being a career high. Perhaps the Broncos are playing the long game, knowing that getting him more practiced in his coverage will pay long-term dividends given his elite pass rushing skills were hardly required.
– Yet again the Browns’ O-line did a great job protecting Brandon Weeden. He was pressured only four times.
– Travis Benjamin wasn’t targeted a single time by Weeden, but five times (three catches for 46 yards) by McCoy.
– While Joel Dreessen’s snaps have stayed pretty static (usually around 75%), Jacob Tamme has seen his playing time decrease. In the last two weeks, he’s been in for 35% and 14% of offensive snaps, with 33% here.
PFF Game Ball
You can guess Peyton Manning before the game ,and be right more often than not.
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