The Cleveland Browns defeated the San Francisco 49ers 24-10 on Sunday in a game that was not nearly as close as the final score indicated. The Browns dominated the 49ers. The line of scrimmage, open space, decision-making, time of possession, and game-breaking plays all decidedly favored the Browns. If not for two turnovers, then the score would have more properly conveyed the absolute dejected state the team from the Bay area must have felt on the long plane ride home from Cleveland.1
But, I ask you: Who are these freaking guys who suited up in the orange jerseys and brown pants on Sunday? And, where have they been all season?
The easy narrative is the team rallied around Johnny Manziel. Fresh off of his two-game suspension hidden as a demotion for partying and lying over the bye week, Manziel was sharp. Completing more than two-thirds of his passes for just under nine yards per attempt is a good way for a quarterback to play. Channeling the frustration of an interception to focus on eviscerating the opponent through the remainder of the game helps too. But Manziel did his best to kill that narrative when he said, “[I] can’t give enough credit to the O-line up front. That offensive performance today was solely on them.”
Another easy narrative would be to give credit to the offensive line (as Johnny did there) finally living up to the preseason promise and in-season proclamations by the likes of Pro Football Focus as one of the best groups in the NFL. Whether it was giving Isaiah Crowell the room to bust off two 50-plus yard scampers or the push in short yardage that allowed the Crow to demand pizza Lunchables be thrown on the field twice from one and three yards out (that means two rushing touchdowns, for those not in the know), the big guys up front did their job all afternoon. Crowell and Duke Johnson rushed for 215 yards on over six yards per rush. Crowell was certainly appreciative as he noted, “The offensive line did a great job, and the receivers were blocking downfield. It was all great.”
Joe Thomas, Austin Pasztor, Alex Mack, John Greco, and Mitchell Schwartz all held their ground in pass protection, too. If not for them, then Manziel’s numbers would not have been so sterling. Thomas, the elder statesman, summed up the day rather eloquently in saying, “I think we’re pretty happy with the results.” The main question running through Browns fans minds today is, Where has that been all season?
Speaking of a seasonal absence suddenly being found in abundance, did anyone happen to notice a transformation on defense?
Armonty Bryant (two sacks), Nate Orchard (two sacks), Desmond Bryant (one and a half sacks), Christian Kirksey (one sack), Jordan Poyer (one sack), Donte Whitner (one sack), and Xavier Cooper (half sack) all took turns plastering Blaine Gabbert in the backfield of the 49ers. For one Sunday, a defense without a semblance of a pass rush was dominant in that particular aspect. “I thought our pass rush was – I don’t know the last time the Browns had nine sacks.” Pettine said after the game, not realizing the team had just tied a franchise record. “That’s a credit to that group and the pass rush plan (defensive line coach) Anthony Weaver put together for those guys, and they went out and executed.”
The run defense still allowed Browns castoff Shaun Draughn over four yards a carry (well above his previous 3.3-yard clip), but the run defense deficiency is sufficiently masked when the opposing quarterback is constantly under duress and losing yardage on pass plays.
Again, where has this play been all season?
How about this for a narrative: The Browns were frustrated and angry and finally let off steam by putting things together and taking out their anger on a bad team traveling across country. “The hunger has been building in us.” Desmond Bryant said. “Every time we’ve gone out and not gotten the result that we wanted, the hunger has grown more and more, and we finally got the job done.”
So let’s attempt to figure out why the Browns were dominant on Sunday and enjoy a rare win. It sure beats trying to figure out why the Browns had been dominated the previous several weeks.