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Posted by Sep - 30 - 2012 0 Comment

The last Sunday of September finds the Browns just past the quarter pole and with the day off having just played the Ravens on Thursday night. While they have played some competitive ball versus a handful of decent opponents, they are 0-4 and appear to be weeks away from another winnable game. This time last year, they were 2-2, and were a .500 team six weeks in to the season. Unless they can figure out a way to beat the Super Bowl champs or win the second of their match-ups with their in-state rival Bengals, they are very likely going to be 0-6. It almost goes without saying that despite the upgrade in talent of this roster from last year, there is absolutely no improvement from 2011. The NFL is a bottom line business, and that bottom line is winning. Going oh-fer for the first 6 weeks (or five, or four) is a step back regardless of the competition you have faced. That sixth game this year (at home vs. Cincy) will come 48 hrs prior to the owners meetings in Chicago where the owners are expected to approve the sale of the team to Jimmy Haslam III. At that point, Mr. Haslam will be a billionaire owner of a team that will have lost (potentially) 12 straight games over two seasons. The following Sunday the Browns will have the opportunity to notch their first win in Indy against the equally pathetic Colts, led by the #1 overall pick and rookie phenom Andrew Luck.  Maybe Jimmy’s first game as the official owner will be a win, but with this team, it’s hard to come anywhere close to guaranteeing anything of that nature. To be fair, they have played three competitive games, and certainly should have beaten Philadelphia, and played well on the road in Cincinnati and Baltimore. Extremely optimistic fans could make a case that the Browns could be at least .500. The reality is they are not, and don’t look to be anywhere near that anytime soon. Still, let’s break down some key elements of the team after the first four games:

  • Offense – The Browns continue to confound the fans while being somewhat predictable to opposing defenses. Despite upgrading the quarterback and running back positions as well as adding offensive coordinator Brad Childress, the Browns still continue to out-think themselves when it comes to play calling. While no one respects the Browns passing game (as evidenced by the number of 8 man fronts they have seen in the first month), the Browns could have more success on the ground – if they would just try. Rookie Trent Richardson is averaging 3.5 ypc. Given the poor execution of his offensive line to date, that’s an admirable average. He has proven to be a load to bring down and can move the chains. Still, Pat Surmur in his infinite wisdom has failed to maximize the impact of the #3 overall pick from the 2012 draft. Look no further than this stat: Richardson has more carries (19) in the opener where he was expected to play a limited role after coming back from surgery than he did Thursday night in Baltimore (14) or Buffalo (12), both games where he was by all accounts 100% healthy. Richardson has just 64 carries after 4 games. But here is a an even more alarming stat. Aside from Richardson’s paltry number of attempts, the Browns only have 11 more rushing plays total – over the entire season so far – and 3 of those are by Brandon Weeden! Backup running backs Chris Ogbonnaya, Brandon Jackson, and Montario Hardesty have combined for (ready for this) one carry over four games. That one carry belongs to Ogbonnaya and was for minus six yards Thursday night in Baltimore. The remaining 7 carries belong to Browns WRs Travis Benjamin and Greg Little on end-arounds. You spent the #3 overall pick on a stud running back to help take the pressure off of your rookie first-round pick QB and you’ve run the ball 75 times in 242 offensive plays. That is 31% of your offensive play calls. Meanwhile, Brandon Weeden is averaging just under 42 attempts per game with a receiving corps that leads the league in drops. It’s been said that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over again expecting a different result. The Browns are certainly insane if they thing that their current play calling formula is going to produce wins with a run/pass ratio like that. I don’t care that you have faces three defenses as solid against the run as Philly, Buffalo, and Baltimore. Run the ball. There is no excuse in the world for Richardson to not run the ball at least 23 times a game. None. The biggest deficit the Browns have faces all season was being down 14 to the Bills, and that was early in the game where there was still ample time to utilize the running game and still get yourself back in the game. When Pat Shurmur finds himself no longer responsible for the Browns head coaching duties, he needs to look no further than his mismanagement of the play calling here. Only four of Richardson’s 14 carries Thursday came in the second half of a game that the Browns were very much in, and only one of those carries came on first down. Its hard to be any more predictable than throwing on first down 95% of the time. At that point, you might as well do them all from the shotgun, because who is going to bite on the play-action? The Browns acknowledged at the draft that the best thing they could do for a young quarterback is provide him with a solid running attack. Richardson has proves through the first four games to be someone the defense must consider on each play. But given the paltry use of him, defenses aren’t having to. Not because they have neutralized him, but because his own coaching staff has. You want to win games between now and the holidays? Run the football. Weeden is proving to be at the bare minimum a solid upgrade over Colt McCoy, and shows flashes of a guy that can ascend into a very good QB in the NFL and perhaps the franchise guy the Browns have failed to find since a guy named Kosar was here. Grade: D
  • Defense – The Browns defense has been enigmatic, if anything. Severely hamstrung by the suspension of Joe Haden, the secondary has found it difficult to consistently provide proper coverage of opposing receivers. Combine that with mounting injuries back there, and most QBs should have a field day against the Browns. Sheldon Brown continues to prove that his best days as a corner are well behind him, and the Browns still have yet to find a safety to compliment the oft-injured but capable when healthy T.J. Ward. Yet, for as poorly as the Browns secondary has played, their young defensive line has played considerably well. Rookie DTs Billy Wynn and John Hughes (the latter widely questioned on draft weekend- myself included) have played very well. Hughes missed time with a concussion but rebounded well against the Ravens Thursday. Wynn has made plays behind the line of scrimmage and has shown real ability in putting pressure on the QB. Jabaal Sheard, while only having one sack so far this season, is still getting pressure and doesn’t appear to have slumped in his second season. Ahtyba Rubin is his steady, solid self as always, and free agent acquisitions Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker have both made a positive impact on this unit. They all have played the run respectably, and are frequently wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks. Between the overachieving line and underachieving secondary are the line backers who, like the line, have had young guys step up and play well. D’Qwell Jackson has picked up from where he left off in 2011, continuing to lead this Browns defense. But perhaps the brightest spots might be the two undrafted rookie free agents Craig Robertson and L.J. Fort. Each has at least one interception and a sack, with Robertson snagging a key pick Thursday night in the end zone to kill a Ravens’ scoring opportunity. Both have shown the necessary speed and agility to cover as well as making sure tackles in the open field. Robertson has gotten more opportunity than Fort, and appears to be making the most of it. With the loss of Chris Gocong for the year in preseason and the uncertain status of Scott Fujita, Robertson has not only held the position down for the moment, he appears to be claiming it all his own. Fort has also played well when called upon, both on defense and special teams. The Browns just might have stumbled upon two young guys that compliment Jackson well, and could make for a formidable trio for the next few seasons. Grade: B
  • Special Teams – The Browns Special Teams can be summed up simply with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. The Good: Phil Dawson. The last Brown from ’99 left standing continues to prove that he is absolutely one of the best kickers in both Browns and league history. Look no further than his record-setting performance Thursday where he became the first kicker in NFL history to kick three field goals of 50+ yards in the same half. Each kick would have been good from at least another 5 yards back. I absolutely believe that the next number the Browns organization should retire is #4. The Bad: Punt Coverage. While it’s nice to have Reggie Hodges back, he certainly looks to have lost something on his punts in both accuracy and distance. Compounding that is the fact that Browns are horribly covering his punts, the perfect example coming in the opening minutes in Cincinnati. The 81 yard TD return by Adam Jones proved to be the difference in a game where the Browns offense came out and fired on all cylinders. This aspect of special teams must find ways to improve and help the team win the battle of field position to help the young Browns offense keep from having to traverse the length of the field all day. The Ugly: Josh Cribbs getting knocked out in Baltimore. Arguably one of the most frightening hits I have seen in over three decades of watching football. It is genuinely amazing that Cribbs walked off the field under his own power, let alone know that he was even in Baltimore 15 minutes after that hit. A hit, by the way, that was legal and not malicious. For all the cheap head-hunting shots we have seen in the AFC North, Dannell Ellerby’s hit was just proof hos violent the sport of football can be even when played properly. Cribbs has had a rough start to the season returning kicks already. He appears to have lost a step on kick returns, and has made a couple poor decisions to run kicks from deep in his own end zone, putting the Browns in a fairly large hole to start a series. Everyone appreciates his competitive fire and desire to make a play for his team. But with the new kickoff rules over a year old now, discretion needs to be the better part of valor. Take a knee, and come out and catch a pass or two, Josh. We need your help there the most. Grade: C
  • Coaching – We’ve already somewhat touched on Pat Shurmur’s continued inability to properly call a game offensively for the Browns. He has appeared to improve his clock management somewhat, but that is easily overshadowed by the disparity in play selection. Again, if (when) he is relieved of his head coaching duties, it won’t be hard to explain. It can be said that perhaps he was in a position to fail as the Browns have not armed him with essential veteran talent at key positions (like WR, Tom Heckert) but he could be doing much better with what he has than he is currently doing. Yet, he continues to go about his business thinking he is the smartest guy in the room. If that was winning games for the Browns it would be easier to defend. Zero for his last twelve is a pretty air tight indictment for his dismissal, be it mid season or at year’s end. It would not be surprising in the least to see Shurmur fired and Childress promoted to interim head coach by or during the bye week at week ten. You can certainly see Childress’ fingerprints on the plays called, especially in the passing game. There is just an obvious lack of balance, something Childress managed much better in Minnesota where he had one Adrian Peterson. You can’t tell me he doesn’t look at Trent Richardson with the same ideas. Defensively, Dick Jauron continues to do the best with what he has. If there is a negative, it is his continued use of soft cushions on opposing wide receivers. Granted, the Browns lack anyone outside of Joe Haden capable of playing consistent press coverage, but at some point to have to make the guys you have step up and make plays. Haden will be back against Cincy at home on October 14th, and not a moment too soon. One can’t help but think that had he been there for the first meeting versus the Bengals that the Browns would have notched their first win, and made the Buffalo game more likely a winnable game. Browns Special Teams have not been the same since Brad Seeley left with the firing of Eric Mangini, and could use an upgrade over Chris Tabor. Grade: D.

Over the next four weeks, the Browns will travel to New York to play the World Champion Giants, home for the second matchup with the Bengals, off to Indy to face the rebuilding Colts, then home for the AFC West leading Chargers. If the things that plagued the Browns over the first four games continue to go unresolved over the next four, this team is very likely to be 0-8. At that point, the division leading Ravens come to town and then the much needed bye week. Should the Browns be 0-9 at the bye, I cannot imagine that Jimmy Haslam would see the need to retain Pat Surmur. Mike Holmgren could be gone by then as well with the arrival of Joe Banner and if that’s the case, how much longer does Tom Heckert hang around? Regardless, the Browns must find ways to win; win the games they should and a couple they shouldn’t. A lot of folks think that no matter how many games they win changes are a-comin’. Despite that, the guys here right now owe it to the fans to start winning games and stop blowing opportunities as they have over the last two seasons. There certainly are some bright spots so far this season, and reasons for optimism in the future. But for Pat Surmur and this current regime, the future is now.

Categories: Cleveland Browns, Featured

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