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Posted by Nov - 10 - 2012 0 Comment

Though the Browns have nine games in the bucket, one more than half of the 16 game season, I figured the bye week was a good place to do the mid-season report card. In the last five games since the 2012 season’s quarter pole, the Browns have managed to notch their first and only two wins of the season so far. They have also managed to lose winnable games. They blew an early 14 point lead in New York against the Giants on their way to receiving their only real beatdown of the year, 41-27. That was the game featuring the infamous 3rd and 1 pass play called that was intercepted and would ultimately be the play that changed the tide of that game. The Browns responded by coming home the next week and handily putting away the Bengals 34-24. However they failed to build on the momentum of their first win and fell the following week in Indy to the Colts, 17-13. Another game rife with questionable play calling and the infamous dropped TD by rookie Josh Gordon late in the game that would have been the go-ahead touchdown and possibly seal the victory. Week eight in Cleveland saw the enigmatic San Diego Chargers and Super Storm Sandy arrive, leading to a wet punt-fest and the Browns second win of the season, 7-6. The Browns rode the back of recovering RB Trent Richardson, who showed more of the promise that motivated the Browns to trade up a spot to pick him in April. However in week nine once again the Browns would fail to seize any winning momentum and fell for the second time this year to the hated Ravens, 25-15. After spotting the Ravens two quick touchdowns early, the Browns fought their way back behind stifling defense and borderline inept offense to take the lead 15-14 late in the third on five Phil Dawson field goals. Yet once they had the lead, it was lost on the ensuing Raven possession and was never reclaimed.

What we saw over the last five games from the Browns is that 1. the Browns can play with anyone in the league, and 2. no one is better at beating the Browns but the Browns. Of the Browns 7 losses so far this season, the Giants game is the only one in which they were really beaten, yet that was only after they surrendered a two touchdown lead. A lead that was lost due to poor playcalling and execution. Save for the game in Cleveland versus the Bengals, the Browns rarely execute  all three phases of the game successfully enough to win. On days where the offense is racking up yards and points, the defense cannot tackle and is unable to get themselves off the field. Games where the defense is getting stops and creating turnovers, the offense is kicking field goals instead of extra points while the punt team gets plenty of action. SO let’s dig a little into each side of the ball and see how the Browns got here from their 0-4 start:

  • Offense -The good: Save for last week’s game against the Ravens, rookie QB Brandon Weeden was steadily improving each week. He was makng better decisions with the football, and went nearly three complete games without an interception. Fellow rookies Josh Gordan, Josh Cooper, and Trent Richardson have all made plays to help the Browns to their first two wins and give hope for Browns fans looking to the near future that there are talented play makers on this team. The offensive line has improved each week, keeping their rooie QB off of his back more than when the season started and opening some holes for Richardson a bit more frequently. They are still work in progress, but have shown marked improvement over the season, and should they reamin healthy, could develop into a solid line for seasons to come. The bad: Weeden took a step back last week against the Ravens and showed that he is still very much a rookie, despite is too often discussed age. Unsettled feet and inaccurate passes made his most recent game one of his worst, second only to the season opener against the Eagles. Richardson suffered a rib injury that significantly hampered his ability to run the ball confidently, leading to a stretch of games where he was in and out of the lineup. When he was in, he ran cautious and tenative, nether of which will get you yards in the NFL. And while Gordon and Cooper have shown flashes of brilliance, they have also shown to be infected with the dropsies virus that continues to plague Browns wide receivers. For this team to take the next step, these young players must show they can be consistent in ther execution each time they are called upon. They have shown enough to prove they possess the skills necesary to be succesful in the NFL. However, until they do it week in and week out they will fi
  • Defense – The Browns defense has played well enough to win more than 2 games so far. However, this is nothing new to Browns fans, or to the players that have been here longer than a season or two. Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron typically has his cast of charachters in place to play well enough to win, despite the team’s nature to bend but not break. Joe Haden returned from his 4 game Adderal suspension to give the secondary a much needed lift, punctuated by a stellar game versus the Bengals in the team’s first win. However he failed to live up to his words about making an impact in the second Ravens game, punctuated by giving up the go-ahead touchdown for Baltimore while “covering” Torrey Smith late in the game. Still, Haden’s presence on the field keeps balls from being thrown to receivers on his side of it, though perhaps he could be better used covering a team’s best receiver rather than just a given side of the turf. The patchwork defensive line continues to play somewhat admirably, and got a big boost last week with the return of DT Phil Taylor. Taylor made his presence felt in the run defense, something the Browns continue to struggle with. The bye week will hopefully give the Browns d-line some time to heal, and perhaps return in Dallas next week with a healthy Ahtyba Rubin next to Taylor. Rookie Billy Wynn has showed out in his first season, and looks to be a draft day steal as a 6th rounder. Fellow rookie lineman John Hughes has showed promise as well, but admittedly this unit must improve against the run to truly be worthy of any more praise. They get gashed from time to time versus the run, and have generated very little in the way of pressure against opposing quarterbacks. All in all, the defense isn’t much unlike their offensive counterparts. They must execute more consistently for this team to win. Games like the ones against the Giants, where tacking seemed optional, cannot happen. Not in a rough and tumble division like the AFC North. Grade: C
  • Special Teams – This is probably the most surprising aspect of the team, and surprising for how poorly they have played outside of the venerable Phil Dawson. Dawson has continued to prove he is one of the best kickers in the NFL, one any team in the league would benefit by having on its roster. Unlike a lot of players on this Browns team, Phil Dawson could go to most any of the other teams in the NFL and significantly upgrade their kicker position. However the same cannot be said for Reggie Hodges. He appears to have lost something since returning from an Achilles’s injury early last season. His punts clearly do not have hang time or accuracy in pinning opponent’s deep as they did in past years. It’s understandable how an injury to one of the largest tendons in the body – and also in the heel – would negatively impact a man who makes a living with his feet. But it has cost the Browns significantly this season as they have often lost the battle of field position given the punt team’s impotence. What is more apparent and disheartening is what appears to be the end of days for Josh Cribbs in Cleveland. Cribbs has raised frustrations both on and off the field in recent weeks. His comments about wanting to make a bigger impact on offense would hold more water were he making the kind of impact on special teams that garnered his last contract extension. Yet he has made poor decisions on returns, both on punts and kickoffs. Running kickoffs unsuccessfully out of h is own end zone has often pinned his young, struggling offense deep in its own end to start drives. His poor decision making on punt returns, hallmarked in the rainy Chargers game where he watched balls splash down that should have been fair caught again pinned his offense in its own end. Punt returners are discharged with the responsibility of defending field position when their opponent surrenders it, and tip it in his team’s favor.  Cribbs has failed to make that impact on recent games, and the team has suffered from it. Given his recent comments about his frustrations and the impending changes to personnel in Berea, it is very likely that this is Cribbs’ last season in Cleveland. His contract expires at year’s end, and it is highly unlikely that he would be asked back at a price he would be willing to accept.    Grade: C
  • Coaching – Critique of this aspect of the team can easily be rinsed and repeated from any other quarterly report of Pat Shurmur’s tenure. Despite two wins in the last four weeks and some play calling that was improved in spots, Shurmur continues to drive nails into his coaching coffin in Cleveland with a sledgehammer. His headed defense of failed in-game decisions with the media in post-game press conferences has endeared him to no one. His befuddlement with the criticisms of his play calls at key moments of games is challenged only by his own befuddlement with clock management during said key moments of games. But what has to be most frustrating for his new boss and owner Jimmy Haslam III is his continued mentality of coaching games not to lose rather than coaching to win the. (Insert obligatory Herm Edwards rant.) Evidence of this was no clearer than his decision to run the ball all but once in the five red zone trips against the Ravens last Sunday. However he wasn’t afraid to burn two time outs in a red zone series that ended in a field goal during the 4th quarter. Time outs that surely would have been handy about the time he decided to go for it on 4th and 2 from his own 28 down a touchdown with about four minutes to play.  You could also argue that his decision to kick a field goal with the ball at the Raven’s 11 yard line with six seconds on the clock and a time out to end the first half lacked the kind of winner’s mentality one wants in a coach. Regardless, when the time comes to determine if Pat stays or goes, it will be much harder to find reason to keep him among all of the reasons he has provided to let him go. On the defensive side of things, while Jauron has coached up his guys to keep the Browns in position to win games, he needs to develop some schemes to get his guys off the field sooner, and generate pressure on the quarterback. Granted we could say this about him going back decades. That doesn’t change the fact that this team needs to improve in that area to create more opportunities for an offense that needs as many as they can get. Special teams hasn’t changed either. That side of the house needs cleaned out, save for the aforementioned Dawson.      Grade: D-.

Despite garnering their only two wins of the season in the last month, it’s hard to feel any different about this Browns team than we did after their 0-4 start. They have far and away proved they can play with anyone in this league, but are hard pressed to actually beat anyone. It is often said that a team is a direct reflection of their coach. If that is the case in Cleveland – and it appears it is – then this is a team with a play not to lose mentality. It is very evident under the direction of Mike Holmgren and Pat Shurmur winning was not culture cultivated by that regime. Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner are dead set on changing that. Come 1 January, that will start with the firing of Pat Shurmur. Unless Shurmur wins out the rest of this season – beyond unlikely – the remaking of the Browns will then extend to the coaching staff. Then the questions will be how far does it extend into the roster? Overall team grade: D

Categories: Cleveland Browns, Featured

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