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Digesting the Browns Week One Loss

After a crushing defeat at home against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Cleveland Browns will now turn their attention to their first road game of the season and the Indianapolis Colts.

Three weeks ago, this was marked as an easy win for the Colts. Since then, however, they’ve lost their “all-everything” in QB Peyton Manning. Manning proved to mean more to the Colts than they may have wanted to believe, and lost to the Houston Texans 34-7 in week one.

Now this game becomes a toss-up.

Before I turn my attention and writing to the Browns match-up against the Colts, there’s still a few things that are really eating at me about the Browns loss to the lowly Bengals – at home nonetheless – on opening day.

It’s not that the team committed countless penalties that they shouldn’t be making as professionals. It wasn’t the 39-yard run by Cedric Benson to seal the win at the end of the game. It certainly wasn’t McCoy’s accuracy issues during the game. It wasn’t losing a 17-13 lead with less than 5 minutes to go in the game.

No, it wasn’t any of those things. Well, it was, but it all boils down to one huge issue I have with the team’s loss on Sunday – the coaching.

All off-season, we heard about how first-year Browns Head Coach, Pat Shurmur, was a “players coach” and really had the team working hard. He was quick to rid the Browns of anything and everything to do with former coach, Eric Mangini.

Well someone should tell Mr. Shurmur, that Mangini was the head coach of a Browns team that was one of the least penalized teams in the NFL. His team committed more penalties in the 1st Qtr against the Bengals, than some high school teams commit in an entire Friday Night.

Maybe he should seriously reconsider bringing back the refs Mangini hired to help with practice, it clearly helps.

And how, even as a first-year head coach in the NFL, does one not notice that the other team is lined-up and ready to go, while their team is busy lolly gagging around trying to figure out what in the world is going on? Did the thought of calling a timeout ever cross your mind before the Bengals back-up QB found a wide-open rookie WR heading down the sidelines for a touchdown – and the lead?

The game started off ugly, with Browns QB Colt McCoy completing his first pass of the year to himself. When all was said and done, the Pat Shurmur Era got off to a 3-yards of total offense-7 accepted penalties-down 10-0 to the worst team in the NFL-kind of performance.

Here’s a breakdown of what I witnessed on Sunday, starting with the ugly.

Depth is going to be a concern all season along the offensive line

Cleveland’s offensive line was terrible. For a unit that was once thought to be one of the best in the league, they sure didn’t look like it on Sunday.

Joe Thomas (LT) and Alex Mack (C) are far-and-away the team’s best o-lineman on the team. The other three positions are up for grabs. I understand that injuries have started to take it’s toll on the team already, but can you honestly tell me that there isn’t better talent than Eric Steinbach and Tony Pashos out there?

The way Bengals DE, Carlos Dunlap, embarrassed Artis Hicks at the end of the game was down-right awful. Never, should a veteran be abused by a young guy like that, never.

We’ve heard that the team will “scan the waiver-wire” once teams started cutting down to their 53-man roster before the season. Well, don’t you think it’s time to get started?

Run the ball, Run the ball, Run the ball

The team is talking about giving Peyton Hillis a contract extension, for what? One stellar year? I understand that Hillis is a fan favorite, as made clear by him being the winner of the Madden 2012 cover.

But does one productive year deserve millions of dollars?

In Sunday’s game against the Bengals, Hillis rushed the ball 17 times for 57 yards – hardly a productive day. It wasn’t all Hillis’ fault though.

For one, the offensive line couldn’t knock a team full of biddy league players off the line. Two, the coaching staff abandoned the running game – with the lead!

As opposed to calling passing plays to help run out the clock, give the ball to Hillis. And Hardesty? He didn’t look too bad running the ball and showed his knee isn’t an issue anymore.

With a 17-13 lead, especially in the 4th Qtr, the team could’ve relied heavily on Hillis and spelled him with Hardesty to help kill the clock.

Reevaluate the wide receiver position

Aside from Mohammed Massaquoi, no other Browns wide receiver had more than one reception.

A majority of McCoy’s passes, instead, went to the tight ends and running backs, with Peyton Hillis leading the team with 6 catches.

Brian Robiskie, a starter, was a no-show against the Bengals. We’ve heard all about rookie Greg Little being a first-round talent, but aside from his crushing block on the Bengals Punter, I had forgotten Little was even on the team.

The talent at wide receiver may be there, but the inability to utilize that talent is an obvious issue.

QB Cot McCoy, threw the ball 40 times during the game, and only 17 of those passes were intended for wide receivers.

Penalties…

With Eric Mangini in control, the Browns were one of the least penalized teams in the NFL. He managed to accomplish this – with far less talent mind you – by bringing in refs to help with the team’s discipline during practice.

I, like many other Browns Fans, am all for putting as much distance between the team and the Mangini Era as possible. However, 11 penalties for 72 yards is unacceptable for most high school teams, let alone a professional football squad.

At least – at least – entertain the thought of bringing back the refs to practice. With 10 penalties in the first-half, it’s a wonder we even had the lead at halftime.

Have another game like that against the Steelers or Ravens, and we’re probably down 30-0 at halftime.

The Bad…

Find a way to hold on

With the blown lead in the final minutes of Sunday’s game against the Bengals, the Browns have now blown a 4th Qtr. lead in 5 games within the last year.

Sunday added to the unlikely ways that the Browns are likely to find in order to blow the lead. The decision to call a timeout should’ve came quickly for Pat Shurmur, who instead let the Bengals hike the ball and score before the Browns Defense even knew what was going on.

But where was Scott Fujita? Who is the team’s leader of defense? Sheldon Brown?

The team needs to show more discipline, on both sides of the ball, but it was the defense that was in the spotlight on Sunday.

Even after the fluke-play that gave the Bengals a 20-17 lead with under 5 minutes to go, the Browns still had an opportunity to get the ball back with less than 2 to go.

An out of position T.J. Ward allowed the Bengals to secure the victory after a 39-yard touchdown run on 3rd & 4 to go.

For the most part, the Browns Defense played well, until it mattered.

Take some pressure off of Colt

The one uneasy feeling I had heading into Sunday’s game against the Bengals, was that QB Colt McCoy was putting entirely way too much pressure on himself as the leader of this team.

Calling 40 pass plays in the game isn’t going to help.

I understand that the team was down late in the game and had to play catch-up and I understand that McCoy is one of the more accurate QBs to ever play in college.

After the Bengals took a 20-17 lead, the Browns got the ball back with a little over 4 minutes to go in the game. One more three-and-out later, the Bengals suddenly had the ball back with a chance to seal the victory.

Instead of throwing the ball on three straight plays, how about giving the ball to Hillis for a couple short gains?

Running the ball gives McCoy the idea that he doesn’t have to do it all by himself. For a young guy, playing the most important position on the field, the less pressure he has on his shoulders the better. Shurmur can not expect McCoy to do everything on offense alone, he’s already throwing the ball to himself.

___________

And, finally, the good….this shouldn’t take long.

Man, the defense has some playmakers

The one player that I’ve been most excited about for the ’11 season, was MLB D’Qwell Jackson, and man did he show-up on Sunday.

There was a lot of talk that Jackson would be a beast in the team’s transition to a 4-3 defense, and now we know why.

Jackson did everything for the Browns D on Sunday. He lead the team with 11 tackles (10 solo), he recorded 2 sacks, had 1 tackle for a loss and was in the backfield for much of the game.

Joe Haden is rumored to be the best cornerback the league has seen since the Jets’ Derrell Revis.

Ask the Bengals who’s better, and they might just say Haden is the better of the two.

Haden was all over the field on Sunday, and was tasked with keeping the Bengals explosive rookie WR, A.J. Green, on an island. For about 55 minutes, he did just that.

To go along with his 5 pass break-ups, Haden also recorded his second career sack and 3 tackles (1 solo).

Another young guy that made his presence felt was Phil Taylor, the team’s 1st Rd. pick in this year’s draft. Taylor caught some heat early from Browns fans due to his holdout, but they’re clearly glad he his finally with the team.

In the first game of his rookie career, Taylor recorded 6 tackles (5 solo), 2 tackles for loss, and was in the backfield all day long. With Ahtyba Rubin establishing himself as a playmaker on defense, the Browns should have one of the best d-lines in all of football before all is said and done.

Although they shouldn’t be, the Browns tight ends may be their best receivers

Colt McCoy threw two TDs on Sunday, both were to tight ends.

Evan Moore, is a nightmare for opposing teams who try and match-up with the 6’6, 250 lbs. athletic freak at tight end.

Moore had 3 receptions for 35 yards and a TD against the Bengals, but would’ve added to that total had he caught a McCoy pass in the end zone. (Two hands on the ball Moore, two hands)

Watson led the team in receptions last year, and had another solid performance against the Bengals, finishing the game with 3 receptions for 45 yards and an impressive TD.

It’s great that McCoy has weapons at the tight end position, but the passing game should revolve around the wide receivers. When it doesn’t, at least McCoy has Moore and Watson.

Despite 40 pass attempts, McCoy looked decent

The McCoy Era got underway against the Bengals on Sunday, and despite the loss, it’s hard to put the blame on the second-year pro.

Sure, McCoy was inaccurate with his 40 pass attempts, going just 19-40 on the afternoon. However, McCoy was instrumental to the team’s 2nd Qtr success.

During the 2nd Qtr of Sunday’s game, the McCoy-led offense for the Browns managed to score twice for a 14-13 halftime lead. McCoy completed TD passes of 34 and 2-yards, to take the lead.

Many will say that McCoy didn’t look all that great against the Bengals, and it’d be hard to argue that fact. Play calling had a lot to do with McCoy’s success, both negatively and positively.

It’s clear that McCoy has the capability to be a star (just ask Pittsburgh and New England) but Pat Shurmur has to realize that McCoy is still young, and isn’t Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.

___________

At last, I’ve come to terms with the Browns loss on Sunday against the woeful Bengals. Hopefully as the season goes along, there will be far more to write about under “The Good” than anywhere else. It’s not like the Browns are going to go 0-16 on the year, despite the dreadful performance against the Bengals.

The first half the schedule sets-up nicely for the Browns to be somewhat successful, beginning with  the (now woeful) Colts this Sunday.

There’s some obvious changes that need to be made if the 2011 version of the Cleveland Browns are going to be a threat this year, otherwise we’re in for another long year rooting for the Browns.

The shortened off-season could be to blame, so we’ll blame it on that. Cleveland will be alright, and I still believe firmly that they’re heading in the right direction. I know Browns fans are tired of hearing it, but it’s going to take some time.

And, one last rant about Sunday’s game…

You have to start to wonder if Pat Shurmur is taking on too much. Very rarely is a guy successful as a head coach while trying to actually coach the team, as well as calling the offensive plays for their team.

The play-calling was awful against the Bengals, and I truly believe that falls on Shurmur’s shoulders. Earlier in the off-season, the organization decided to let Shurmur go without an offensive coordinator into the 2011 NFL season.

You would think that taking on the task of rebuilding the once proud Cleveland Franchise would be enough.

I guarantee you that come next season, the Browns will have an offensive coordinator in the stadium on Sunday’s, if not before the end of the season.

Just coach the team Shurmur, and don’t try and do too much.


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One Response to “Digesting the Browns Week One Loss”

  1. denolakes says:

    Right call on the defensive breakdown: veteran players have to demonstrate leadership. A good place to start is awareness of what is going on at the moment. In short: alertness. Better to get stung by a weaker team, at least from the standpoint of confidence. A better team which does something like that is laughing at you, making you out to be the pretender that you are. A weaker team is just trying to find a way to win, just like you. You still look like chumps (and you really do, but at least you know the other team will ultimately end up with about the same record as you.

    Re-evaluate WRs? OK, For the sake of argument, the coaches decide that Robo, MoMass and Little can’t get it done, then what? These are our WRs this season. There isn’t an alternative that I can see other than Mitchell and Norwood. Is it realistic to think that either of these guys are better than what is on the field already, at least after only one game where entire position groups and units failed pretty spectacularly (and I am not being derogatory to either of them; I would like to see each of them on the field this year, being productive)?

    OL is a concern. There was far too much penetration from the right side. I know, there are new players there, but that isn’t the issue, is it? The issue is that there is another game this Sunday against a team that is going to be loaded for bear. Steep learning curve? Welcome to reality. How much are you getting paid again to do, what? At that rate, your nose better be in the playbooks and with your OL mates getting it right.

    Isn’t it great to be a Browns fan so you can have these kind of discussions, rather than “Damn! These guys looked good!”?

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