Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Browns Table: Dropping the Ball Versus Baltimore

Welcome to The Browns Table, a season-long look at the 2008 season for the Cleveland Browns from the point of view of the Browns fans here on Bleacher Report.

This discussion is not just meant for the contributing Browns fans. Please feel free to comment on any of the questions or any of our answers below.

We welcome any comments and an open discussion about the Browns below. If you would like a seat at the table leave me a note on my profile and we will try and get you in the rotation.

As always thanks to Browns fans Samantha Bunten, Dawgfather Robert Cobb and Scott Miles for their contributions this week.

The guys and gals debate the come from ahead loss to the Ravens, the performance of the defense, Derek Anderson and the Browns play-off hopes.

Without further ado, let’s talk Browns football…

The Browns turned a 27-13 late third quarter lead into a 37-27 loss. What do you feel was the turning point of the game?

Samantha Bunten:
Braylon Edwards dropping that critical pass at the beginning of the 4th quarter ended the game and probably the season for the Browns. Edwards has the proverbial 'hands of a bricklayer's son' on passes in critical situations. While I wouldn't pin the blame for the game or the season on Edwards alone, this play was likely the last nail in the coffin for both.

Though the dropped pass sealed our fate, I actually think the turning point came earlier, during the Ravens last possession in the 3rd quarter. Even before they scored the touchdown, their efficient march down the field seemed to visibly deflate our defense.

I feel the turning point was when they had the Ravens’ backed up deep on a 3rd and 16, and they converted I felt that the momentum shifted back to them for good at that point.

Scott Miles:
For as long as I can remember, the Browns have been one of the worst teams defending against third downs. Two yards to go, 20 yards to go - it doesn't matter; I had no confidence that our defense would stop them.

So it was no surprise that, after taking that two touchdown lead and forcing the Ravens into a third-and-15, we give up a 20-yard completion. First down, touchdown, game over. Ugggggh.

Jeff Smirnoff:
There were two. After the Browns scored to go up 27-13, on the ensuing drive the Ravens faced a 3rd and 16. The Browns only rushed 3 and Joe Flacco had plenty of time and found Derrick Mason for 20. From that point on, Flacco looked like a QB who was determined to win the game.

The other play was Braylon Edwards' drop after the Ravens scored to tie it at 27. Whether Edwards would have scored or not is irrelevant, but Derek Anderson looked to lose his confidence from that point forward and it showed on offense.

The defense has been overachieving all season before the Ravens dropped 37 on them. What did Baltimore do that the Browns were unable to defend?

Samantha Bunten:
It wasn't so much what Baltimore did, but what the Browns didn't do. Once again, the Browns failed to deliver in big situations. The offense deserves some of the blame (2 for 12 in 3rd down conversions, for example), but this week most of the onus is on the defense, which seemed to have retreated into the black hole where the Browns offense frequently hides on Sundays.

As per usual, the Browns D couldn't defend against the run, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. I can't bring myself to give Baltimore credit for doing something the Browns were unable to defend. Our defense gave this one away and they should be embarrassed.

This game wasn't as close as it looked. Baltimore dominated us, and their offense is just not good enough for this to have happened. For example, Flacco is a forgettable rookie who doesn't look like he any future potential except when playing the Browns. Rice, also a rookie, has just 339 yards on the season but picked up more than a third of those Sunday against our inept defense. The Browns D made these players and the rest of Baltimore's unimpressive offense look like stars, and they should be ashamed.

They kept the Browns defense honest by running the ball very well which enabled Flacco to set up and throw and their OL did a good job of keeping Rogers at bay, they were more aggressive in attacking the young secondary of Wright and McDonald

Scott Miles:
Well, outside of Shaun Rogers, the defensive ends were inconsistent. The Browns have been unable to get a pass rush with three or four players, like the Steelers and Ravens can with their 3-4 defenses. So we either have to rush six defenders to try to pressure the QB and leave the secondary exposed, or we rush three, get absolutely no pressure and (again) leave the secondary exposed.

I think Mel Tucker has done an admirable job putting together this patchwork defense, but I think he would be best served to study the blitz packages of some of our division rivals and trying to figure out a way to get pressure on the passer without having to send the house.

Jeff Smirnoff:
There was no one thing, the Ravens just made plays when they needed to while the Browns defense did not. If the Ravens needed 5 they got 6. If they needed 16 they got 20. The Browns did not seem to be aggressive on defense with their play calling as they have been previously. They seemed to be caught in bad coverages on a routine basis. The tackled very poorly, especially in the second half, and it cost them. To blow a 14 point lead, at home, to a bad offense with a rookie QB is unacceptable.

Derek Anderson was not the reason the Browns lost but once again he proved to go from hot to cold and back in a matter of a few series. What are your thoughts of DA's performance as a whole at the mid-point of the season?

Samantha Bunten:
Anderson just isn't a good quarterback, and he never will be. The fact that it has to be pointed out when he actually isn't the reason for a loss is telling.

He's near the bottom of the heap in almost every statistical category, most notably completion percentage, where he ranks a dismal 33rd among eligible passers.The stats are bad enough, but the intangibles are far worse. Anderson doesn't have the drive, leadership skills, or mental toughness to succeed in the NFL.

That said, Anderson is not the reason the Browns have had such a disappointing season. We all knew going in that DA wouldn't be our hero. We had a team that showed potential to win in spite of him, not because of him. Anderson played exactly as I thought he would; it has been others who have failed to live up to expectations.

Very erratic and inconsistent, and although he was not the main reason he has to take that "next step" by being more consistent and spreading the ball around, He is the victim of drops by Edwards, bad game plan and questionable and conservative play-calling.

Scott Miles:
In the interest of full disclosure, I am answering this after the decision to bench DA and start Brady Quinn.

But look, this has just been a frustrating season all around. Any Browns fan who thinks DA is the lone reason we're struggling is an idiot. DA has not dropped a single pass this season, several of which would have resulted in touchdowns. He hasn't had Kellen Winslow for a couple of games, Joe Jurevicius for the entire season. His play calling hasn't been inconsistent.

What I haven't been impressed with is his lack of confidence. Frankly, he has bad body language, and your quarterback can't have that. It just seems that every drop, every incompletion, every three-and-out, just wears on him. That's frustrating for me, because he's a captain and a leader. It is for that reason that I think a change needed to be made.

Jeff Smirnoff:
There is no way to sugarcoat it. It has been bad, plain and simple. He is completing less than 50% of his passes when most serviceable NFL QBs complete at least 60%. His inconsistency is maddening. The worst part of his play this year is that when they need him to make a play in a big situation he routinely fails, often in excruciating fashion. Have injuries and the dropsies of the receivers impacted his play? Yes. But he has not passes the "eye test" this season. He just doesn't look like a competent NFL QB right now.

The Browns are now 3-5. They are 1-3 in the AFC North. Do they still have a shot at the play-offs?

Samantha Bunten:
My rational side has completely given up on the Browns and started a countdown to spring training, but there is still some part of me that hasn't lost hope. After all, we're from Cleveland, and we have a reputation to uphold as fans who believe until the bitter end.

Obviously, we won't be getting to the playoffs by winning the division. The Browns would have to play like they did vs. the Giants and the Jags every game for the rest of the season. I can't imagine this happening, and if by some miracle they did win out, they would still need a lot of help. Pittsburgh has a lot of potentially tough games left to play (Washington, Indianapolis, San Diego, New England, Dallas, and Tennessee), but they could easily win all of those and could even afford to drop a few of them and still stay ahead of the Browns. Winning the AFC North is definitely not in the cards.

However, all is not yet lost: embarrassingly enough for the rest of the AFC, the Browns, at 3-5, are still very much in the wild card hunt.

They need help! All the teams ahead of them have not only a better overall record but also a better division record, what the Browns need to happen is go no worse than 6-2 and win both games vs Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to finish at 3-3 in the North and hope some of the teams above them lose a few games, by as it stands the browns are one the outside looking in.

Scott Miles:
Shockingly, we're two games out of the wild card right now. Upcoming games with Denver, Buffalo, Houston and Indy all have playoff implications. And maybe with the change at quarterback, we can win them all - three of the four are at home - and have a shot at this thing. Nine wins will probably get you a wild card spot in the AFC this season.

So yes, it is an extremely long shot, but call me an optimist right now. I don't know why, but I think they could do it.

Jeff Smirnoff:
If you assume that they need a minimum of 9 wins to get into the play-offs and factor in that they are 3-5 that means they need to go 6-2 in the second half of the season. If you look at their schedule and add in their inconsistency I do not see a 6-2 second half occurring. They are D-O-N-E, done.

The Browns play Denver at home in 4 days on Thursday night. Does either team have an advantage and what do you expect to see on Thursday?

Samantha Bunten:
Denver has a lot of talent, but I think they are a team the Browns can beat for several reasons. The Browns inability to stop the run won't be as much of a problem as usual, as the Broncos have an abysmal ground game. Last week vs. Miami they posted a grand total of 14 rushing yards. Their running game was also further weakened when Michael Pittman aggravated a neck injury Sunday.

Denver's biggest strength is the Cutler to Marshall hookup, but Cleveland's secondary has the talent to stop them if they can defend the deep ball. Cutler had 2 TDs and 3 INTs last week. Football's version of Nuke LaLouche, he's got a cannon arm but he's also got very serious control problems. The Browns D should be looking for pickoffs - taking advantage of turnovers could be the key to a win on Thursday.

Denver's defense has a lot of holes. They are still shuffling the secondary to find something that works. Their run defense is decent but is usually hit for big runs about once per game. Their pass rush has improved with their new 3-4 package, but it isn't giving any QB nightmares just yet.

If the Browns take advantage of these 3 things Thursday, I fully expect them to emerge victorious.

I would call this a push, and neither team has the edge but I would give a slight edge to Cutler because he is the better QB with WRs who don't drop the ball, but their pass defense is the fifth worst in the league right now. What I expect from the Browns is to come out fired up and more aggressive because with DA's job on the line he will look to repeat his MNF performance. Early Pick : Browns 24, Broncos 20.

Scott Miles:
Denver should have a huge advantage. The Browns are reeling off of a stunning loss to a division rival, and they have essentially a rookie quarterback starting with one full day of practice. Plus it doesn't seem like we have ever beat the Broncos, ever.

But hey, that's why they play the game, right? We beat the Giants with similar odds stacked against us. It'll be an intriguing match up with Brady getting his first start, against a pretty poor defense. I think he'll have a good game, as will Jamal Lewis, and the Browns will pull out a tight win.

Jeff Smirnoff:
The Browns have a small advantage as they played a 1 PM home game versus the Broncos 4 PM game in Denver. Other than that, both teams are bipolar on offense and have weak defenses. That leads me to expect a 1980s style shoot-out on the shores of Lake Erie, but with the way the season has unfolded to date maybe we should expect a defensive struggle?

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