Sunday, September 7, 2008

Browns Suffer Déjà vu in Humbling 28-10 loss to Dallas

On what would have been founder Paul Brown’s 100th birthday the Cleveland Browns decided to celebrate by reliving last years opening day 34-7 debacle against the Pittsburgh Steelers by getting pummeled by the Dallas Cowboys, 28-10. The deficit may have been slimmer but the beat down that the Browns received was just as large as last year’s.

The bad news started before the game even began as both WR/KR Josh Cribbs and S Brodney Pool were ruled out of the game due to lingering issues with their ankle and a concussion, respectively. To everyone’s surprise, however, WR Donte Stallworth was ruled out of the game when he strained his groin in pre-game warm-ups This left second year players Syndric Steptoe and Steve Sanders to fill is in the already thin receiving core.

The game started with the Browns receiving the opening kick-off and drove to the Cowboys’ 45 where they were faced with a 3rd and 1. QB Derek Anderson and center Hank Fraley muffed the exchange and the Browns were forced to punt. Dave Zastudil’s punt bounded into the endzone and Dallas too over at their own 20.

Tony Romo then effortlessly led the Cowboys 80 yards down the field in ten plays in 5:15 to go up 7-0 on a Marion Barber touchdown run. The drive included a 19 yard conversion to TE Jason Witten on a 3rd and 9, one four plays of over 10 yards on the drive. Yes, of the ten Dallas plays, four were over ten yards, a trend that would continue all day. All in all, Romo was 5-5 on the drive for 66 yards.

The Browns offense looked to be going nowhere but an illegal hands to the face penalty prolong the drive on 1 3rd and 6. Anderson then hit WR Braylon Edwards in full stride for what would have been a 53 yard touchdown pass, but Edwards dropped it, his first of four drops on the night.

The Browns recovered thanks in part to great catches by tight ends Kellen Winslow and Steve Heiden and ended up with a 1st and Goal on the Cowboys’ 4 yard line. It looked like the Browns would stall in the red zone but a pass interference penalty on CB Adam Jones on 3rd and 3 gave the Browns the ball 1st and Goal on the 1. Anderson hooked up with Winslow for a 2 yard touchdown to knot the score at 7-7. That was as close as the Browns would get the rest of the afternoon.

Dallas answered the Browns’ drive by putting together a scoring drive of their own, once again taking advantage of the big plays. An 18 yard pass to WR Patrick Crayton and a 23-yard run by Barber set up a 35 yard TD strike from Romo to WR Terrell Owens who burnt CB Brandon McDonald horribly to put the Cowboys up 14-7.

The Browns responded by going three and out twice while the Cowboys drove down the field right before halftime, again without much resistance. This time it was a methodical ten play, 69 yard drive that featured four more plays of ten yards or more. A 3rd and 8 that Romo completed a 13 yard pass to Barber on proved key as Dallas was able to score right before the half on another Barber one yard run to take a 21-7 advantage at halftime.

At the end of the half the score might have been 21-7 but the stat sheet told a much different story. The Cowboys out gained the Browns by a tally of 239 yard to 110. Dallas had 11 plays of ten yards or more out of the 27 plays they ran. The Browns had 5 such plays. The Cowboys looked like a Super Bowl contender. The Browns looked like they did in pre-season: outmatched, unmotivated and unprepared.

Both teams traded three and outs to start the second half but on Dallas’ second possession of the third quarter they put the game away. Another ten play drive, this one 86 yards, culminated with a Felix Jones 11 yard touchdown run right up the middle, for a 28-7 lead. Ballgame.

The Browns were unable to do anything on offense, other than the hard running of RB Jamal Lewis. But a 21 point deficit is not conducive to a lot or running and with Anderson missing on nine consecutive passes after his touchdown connection with Winslow, the Browns were never able to mount a comeback.

The Browns did mount at the beginning of the fourth quarter behind the running of Lewis and a short hot spell by Anderson. Catches by Winslow, Steptoe and Sanders put the Browns in the red zone but the drive stalled and the Browns were faced with a 4th and 3 from the Cowboys’ with just over ten minutes to play.

Now the Browns are down 21 points. That is three scores. If they kick a field goal the score is 28-10 and they are still down three scores. Unfathomably, Head Coach Romeo Crennel called for the field goal unit and made the score 28-10 with 10:13 left in the game. The Browns never got the ball back as the Cowboys burned the clock after the ensuing kick-off.

The final score may have been 28-10 but the statistics were much worse. Dallas out gained the Browns 487 yards to 205, including a whopping 320 to 114 via the pass. This included Romo completing 75% of his passes (24-32) for a whopping 10.0 yards per attempt.

The first downs were even more lopsided 30-11. The Cowboys were 8-11 on third down. The Browns were 3-9. This resulted in a 37:29 to 22:31 advantage for Dallas in time of possession. And the final tally for Cowboy plays over ten yards? Twenty-two.

`It wasn’t that the Browns’ lost again on opening day, as they are now 1-9 in openers since their reincarnation, but how they did it in the same fashion as last year. The pre-season injuries definitely played a factor as the team looked out of sync and rusty, especially on offense. They failed to make big plays on offense and allowed a plethora on defense.

The lack of depth in the secondary and was apparent as Tony Romo and Jason Witten had a field day as Witten looked to be uncovered more often than not. Safeties Sean Jones and Mike Adams were picked apart and were unable to make many plays in the running game wither. Owens burned McDonald early while Crayton and Isaiah Stanback caught crossing routes and converted third downs all afternoon in from of McDonald and Eric Wright.

More evident is the total lack of production from the linebacking core, sans Kamerion Wimbley. The revamped defensive line of Shaun Rogers, Corey Williams, Robaire Smith and Shaun Smith got solid penetration for most of the game but the linebackers were unable to capitalize. Willie McGinest is still slow and Andra Davis and D’Qwell Jackson are the kings of the tackle for a 5 yard gain. Wimbley was able to generate some pressure but with no help from anyone else, his presence was nullified all game.

Offensively, Jamal Lewis continued to get better as the game wore on, as he always does, but the deficit made his efforts moot. Kellen Winslow one again played a great game, but without veterans Stallworth and Joe Jurevicius the Dallas defense was able to keep him quiet most of the second half. Anderson didn’t turn the ball over but was unable to generate anything on the offensive side of the ball for almost the entire second and third quarters.

Not a good beginning to the season, just like in 2007, but the Browns have a chance to rebound against the rival Steelers on Sunday Night Football next week. But if the pre-season and Week 1 are any indication the Browns are anything but primetime players.

The Steelers carved up the Houston Texans to the tune of 38-17 and looked dominating in doing so. Their offensive line did look as little bit shaky as Ben Roethlisberger was harassed most of the game, but the Appalachian Inbred still put up 38 points and 305 yards of offense. I shutter to think of what they can do to a defense that in unable to get pressure on the quarterback or generate turnovers.

So that is the Cleveland Browns task at hand, and it is not an easy one, especially when just getting focused and motivated for any single game is difficult for them. If the Browns are going to live up to the pre-season hype that preceded the season then they need to wake up and wake up soon or the Steelers will put them to bed on Sunday night.

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