Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Browns Table: Browns Go Three and Out

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 Dustin Haley, Scott Miles and Michael Taylor for their contributions this week.

Another week, another disgusting loss. This time to the rival Baltimore Ravens, 28-10, to drop to 0-3. Now I know everyone wants to talk about the head coaching decisions, quarterback situation, where the orange pants are, why Ray Lewis isn’t in jail and things of that nature, but with the bye week coming up next week, we’ll leave those questions until then.

But for now, let’s talk Browns football…

The Browns turned a 10-7 halftime lead into a 28-10 loss versus Baltimore. To what or whom do you attribute the loss to most?

Dustin Haley:
It’s hard to blame Derek Anderson solely, but Derek Anderson. He was 14 for 37, 1 TD, and 3 INT’s. A whopping 38% completion percentage, rounded up. He’s better than he is playing.

A lot of Browns fans I speak with are saying that he “bought into his own hype, and it is coming back to haunt him.” If that were the case he would look confident, and we all know he doesn’t. It’s not that he doesn’t know what he is doing, it’s he doesn’t know what he wants to do with the ball.

Last year he made quick decisions, trusted his receivers, and got the ball out quickly. This year he’s hesitant to throw his first read, he’s holding the ball, if he doesn’t take a sack he’s missing the check down and forcing the ball to a stared down receiver.

His accuracy was suspect also. I know the media likes to imply that the Baltimore D shutdown Kellen Winslow, but most of the throws his way weren’t even catchable balls. Winslow is a spectacular receiver, but even he is mortal.

To Derek’s credit, Baltimore’s defense is the best in the league, in my opinion. It’s tough to find your receivers with that defense swarming all over the field and coming at you, but someone has to be open. He took a beating so I can understand his erratic play, but you can’t turn the ball over three times during a close game, especially on your side of the 50.

Scott Miles:
I'll credit a combination of Rob Chudzinski and Derek Anderson for the second half debacle. Chudzinski, for completely abandoning the run game after Jamal Lewis averaged 4.4 yards per carry in the first half; and Anderson, for making some God-awful throws. We're lucky Kellen Winslow is still alive after Anderson tried to get him decapitated by Ray Lewis, and Ed Reed against Syndric Steptoe is the biggest mismatch since Bush Sr. versus Dukakis. Those play-calls, and the triggerman on the plays, cost us any shot at winning the game.

Jeff Smirnoff:
Lack of preparation, a poor game plan and poor execution. How do you beat the Ravens? Run right at Ray Lewis and then run play action off of it. The whole first half they did try to run (not enough) but a lot of it was off-tackle and outside. There wasn't too much play action either. The sequence to start the second half was laughable. Jamal Lewis was averaging almost 5 yards a pop and we threw 5 of 6 times to start the half and turned a 10-7 lead into a 21-10 deficit in 6 plays. That handcuffed the Browns options on O, let the Ravens D tee off and made Derek Anderson crumble under the pressure again. The Browns D actually played decent for the second game in a row (although the inability to stop the run when you know it is coming is bad) but was so gassed again because the O can not sustain a legitimate drive.

Michael Taylor:
I'm glad that I didn't get to see that debacle. I was driving home from a family reunion and heard the interceptions while listening on the radio. I'd like to vent about DA and how frustrating his season has been thus far as a returning pro bowler, but he is not the only one not living up to last season. We can look at Edwards, the injuries all over the place, lack of linebacker rush, young secondary, game management, etc.

Bottom line for me is that this team has no identity. Until this franchise figures out what style of ball that they want to play and stick to it, I don't see them maturing. Just look around the division. We hate the Steelers because of their identity of nasty players who produce. We are the opposite, a soft team that is going no where. The talent levels are nearly identical, but the Steelers have something extra that the Browns do not.

I don't think any of us thought the Browns would be 0-3 after three games, let alone how bad they've looked getting there. Why do you think the Browns are 0-3?

Dustin Haley:
Offensive inconsistency. Special Teams. Game management.

Not being able to put up points translates to having a tough time winning games. Our opponents average 10 minutes more than us in the time of possession category because we’re not putting together drives. We are 13 for 37 on third down conversions. Not being able to stay on the field means tougher situations for the defense.

This is not a call out of the special teams unit; they have actually played just fine. However, they have lacked the explosiveness displayed last year.

I don’t think I really need to go into the third one.

Scott Miles:
Gosh, where to begin??? How about a depleted receiving corps, with Braylon clearly at less than 100 percent, big-money Donte Stallworth nursing an injury, and Joe Jurevicius still out? Or an offensive line that's struggled in all facets? Or Derek Anderson channeling his best Charlie Frye impersonation? Or Josh Cribbs being rendered ineffective with his injury and unable to take a kickoff past the 25? Or a lack of a pass rush - Kamerion Wimbley (cough, cough) - and a less than stellar run defense? Or a man on the sidelines who might get out-coached in a pee-wee flag football game? But yeah, other than that, the 0-3 start is pretty surprising.

Jeff Smirnoff:
Injuries are a factor but not to the point of making this team look this bad. It starts with the questionable "Club Med" training camp and lack of focus in exhibition season. The front office and coaching staff failed to focus the team at the task at hand and it showed from Week 1 and they have not been prepared to play a football game yet. The Edwards goofing-off injury set a bad tone for the season and got this team, especially the O, so out of sync it still has not recovered. You throw in the great expectations and the fact that almost every player, minus maybe Kellen Winslow, has crumbled under them and you have a truly embarrassing 0-3. A classic case of "you reap what you sew."

Michael Taylor:
I guess I should have waited and answered this question with my previous answer. Once again it is injuries, some regression, some game management mistakes...wait, am I talking about the Indians in the first half of the season???! Oh right, Browns...what a year in Cleveland sports. Tons of hype, and little backing it up. Although the Indians did fight through it and show that the are that good when healthy and having defined roles. We'll see how the Browns handle the adversity.

The Ravens changed the course of the game with their defense. Despite their spotty records as citizens, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are impact players on defense, something the Browns are lacking. Who on the Browns do you think can be (or has to be) an impact player for their defense to be a quality unit int he NFL?

Dustin Haley:
I really like Sean Jones; he is a big hitter with a nose for the ball. Players like he can really amp a defense. If he can improve his ability to read offenses he could be a cornerstone to the defense as a whole.

Alex Hall looked outstanding in his first start at Baltimore. He’s got size, speed, and strength. The “complete package” as far as the tools for linebackers is concerned. It is going to be interesting to see how he develops.

Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald both have done a better job than most expected in the preseason. Either one or both of these guys could develop into shutdown corners. Regardless, they will both be solid players.

Scott Miles:
Wimbley. Or Alex Hall. Or anyone who can not only pressure a quarterback but also tackle him for a loss in the backfield - I think it's called "a sack" but I'm not too sure, it's been awhile since I've actually seen one.

Look at the blueprint for these Super Bowl champions. They have playmakers on defense, particularly guys who can get after the QB (Giants with their D-ends, Colts with Freeney, Patriots with everyone, etc.). Nothing is more frustrating for a fan than watching the opposing team's quarterback drop back and sit in the pocket for five or six or seven seconds, with no one in the same zip code as him, until one of his receivers finally breaks open. No cornerback - Deion Sanders, Darrell Green, Hanford Dixon, Eric Wright, whoever - can cover a receiver for that long.

Jeff Smirnoff:
Who can? Sean Jones. If he can turn into an Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu type of impact safety that will go a long way in helping the young secondary. I think he can if he stays healthy. Shaun Rogers. When motivated the man is a stud. If the losing continues will he stay focused? If he does he is an OC's nightmare each week. Who has to be? Kamerion Wimbley. CAn someone put out an APB for him or file a missing persons report? He may be the biggest disappointment of the season. Where are all these new moves he learned? Seventh round, Division II player Alex Hall has more sacks, tackles and involvement in the game than Kam-Ram. What the heck happened?

Michael Taylor:
Really??!...I want to name multiple, but having to think this long about it makes me realize why this defense is not that good. I like Shaun Rogers and possibly Eric Wright for the future, but really not one player on this defense in my eyes will ever make as much of an impact as either Lewis or Reed. Kamerion Wimbley was supposed to be, but the league has figured his pass rush out and he has been neutralized quite well.

OK. Time to man up. Browns at Bengals, 1 PM Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Who ya got and why?

Dustin Haley:
Objectively I can see this game really going both ways. The Browns offense needs to get it together, or Cincinnati could win this game. Their offense is always dangerous and their defense hasn’t played particularly bad either. Compared to Baltimore’s D we should be able to handle them.

Our defense has played better than the statistics have shown and if they can keep the Browns in the game should our offense continue to sputter, we should have a chance to win.

Scott Miles:
Browns. I don't know why. Call me crazy, I guess. I blame my parents for not leaving the city after they got married and turning me into a Cleveland sports fan.

Jeff Smirnoff:
Would it be a surprise if the game ended in a tie? Based on the eyeball test I would have to say the Bengals. They have gotten better with each game, look to be playing with a little bit of fire and battled the defending champs tough for 60 minutes. The Browns have looked worse with each game (especially on offense), look to be unprepared each week and haven't played tough or inspired at all.

Michael Taylor:
I can't believe that I am saying this, but right now the Bengals actually are the favorites and rightfully so. They at least gave a competitive game to the Super Bowl champion Giants last week. The still have play makers on offense and Palmer can light it up. I will still say Browns 27-24 in a close game because I am a homer and hate the Bengals, but I really can't tell you how it will happen with the way they are playing. I want them to establish the run more as Jamal Lewis has said. That will then open up the passing game as it did last season. We'll see though.

Let's get historical. Paul Brown founded both of these teams and is often thought as one of the great innovators of the game of football. But because it was back in the 1950s and 1960s this is often forgotten. When you hear the name of Paul Brown what so you think of and where do you think his place in history is?

Dustin Haley:
When I hear the name Paul Brown I think of names like Otto Graham and Lou Groza. I think of the Hall of Fame. I think of the term “modernizing” football. I think of back to back titles in ‘54 and ’55. I think of dominate Cleveland Football.

Paul Brown is obviously one of the more creative coaches to roam the NFL sidelines. He was a mentor to Bill Walsh who used Browns offense to create the West Coast Offense. He was the first coach to use a film library. Even the use of a radio transmitter for relaying plays was his idea.

Paul Brown should always be remembered for his accomplishments and the way he revolutionized the league.

Scott Miles:
I think of something I heard back when I worked in the Browns Alumni Office a few years ago, something that shuts Bengals fans up in an instant when I'm fighting with them because, well, they're stupid and aren't even aware the franchise existed before Carson Palmer. My old boss would always say, "If Art Modell hadn't fired his busted ass, the Bengals wouldn't even exist."

But seriously, you have to have great respect for a man who won a bazillion titles at every level, was a great talent evaluator, and brought many innovations to the game. Not to mention that he has not one but two stadiums named after him - that's pretty cool. His legacy, especially in the state of Ohio, will never fade.

Jeff Smirnoff:
Underappreciated. Won a National Title at Ohio State and an Ohio High School State Title at Massilon. Broke the color barrier with Marion Motley in the old AAFC. Brought the modern offense and passing game to professional football. Won all four league championships in the AAFC. Won the NFL Championship in 1950, the first year the Browns were in the NFL when the league thought they were a joke. Took the Browns to the NFL Championship Game in 7 of the Browns' first 8 seasons in the NFL and won 3. So, in 12 years he went to the championship game 11 times and won 7. But because this was before the merger and before the NFL Championship was called the Super Bowl he and the Browns are often a forgotten dynasty in the NFL. He WAS Belichick before Belichick was Belichick.

Michael Taylor:
As a Browns fan I hate the fact that the Bengals have his name on the outside of their stadium. It burns me up. Paul Brown is the Browns. He won three championships in Cleveland and only made the playoffs three times in Cincinnati.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ravens’ Frantic 3rd Quarter Sends Hapless Browns to 0-3

It wasn’t seen on National TV. It wasn’t done in horrible, brown pants. It didn’t involve a questionable field goal call. None of those ingredients were present but the Cleveland Browns were able to completely embarrass themselves once again as they fell to 0-3 by dropping a 28-10 decision to the rival Baltimore Ravens on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

The first half looked bright for the Browns as they were able cause the Ravens’ opening drive to stall at the Cleveland 30 yard line. Former Browns’ and current Ravens’ kicker Matt Stover’s 48 yard field goal attempt glanced off the right goal post to give the Browns’ excellent field position.

The Browns ensuing drive stalled in Ravens’ territory and the Baltimore offense started where they left off on their first drive, driving into Cleveland territory once again. After converting a 4th and 2 on the Browns’ 49 Ravens’ rookie Joe Flacco was intercepted by Browns’ linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.

The Browns’ took over on their own 48 and used a series of short passes to Lawrence Vickers and Syndric Steptoe and the running of Jamal Lewis to get into the red zone as the first quarter expired. On the first play of the second quarter, Derek Anderson hit Jerome Harrison on a screen pass in the right flat and Harrison took it to the house for a 7-0 Browns lead.

Flacco was intercepted on the Ravens’ next possession but the Browns were unable to capitalize once more and were forced to punt. The Ravens’ then tactically shifted their focus to the run and it immediately paid dividends as they rode Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain down the field. McGahee seemed to be caught in the backfield at the 5 yard line but his effort combined with poor tackling made the score even at 7 with just over six minutes left in the first half.

The Browns answered by driving down the field themselves, mixing Jamal Lewis runs with intermediate passes to Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow. However, in the drive stalled deep in Baltimore territory and they were forced to settle for a Phil Dawson field goal and a 10-7 lead at halftime.

When the teams came out for the second half the Ravens came out with a purpose and the Browns crumbled in the face of adversity.

The Browns received the ball to start to half and on third down, Anderson hung Winslow out to dry as Ray Lewis leveled him as he was about to make the catch. The ball ricocheted into the air where Chris McAllister intercepted it and returned it to the Browns’ 12. Four plays later McClain barreled into the endzone for a 14-10 Baltimore lead. Lewis’ one play had changed to course of the game and set the tone for the last 26 minutes of the game.

Anderson has been criticized for shrinking in big game and when adversity arises. But he had a shot at redemption on the following series. He responded by throwing another interception on third down, this one directly into the arms of Ed Reed who returned it 32 yards for a touchdown and 21-10 Ravens lead.

With the game still within reach the Browns responded by completely unraveling on the ensuing series. A Jamal Lewis run was nullified by a Braylon Edwards penalty. The Browns eventually punted but allowed a 21 yard return to the 50 and then gave the Ravens 15 more yards on Mike Adams personal foul penalty on the punt. Five plays and only 3 minutes later, McClain dove into the endzone for a second time on the afternoon and the Ravens were up 28-10. Ball game.

The Browns were never able to mount any sort of retaliation as the Ravens were able to pin their ears back and pressure the Browns with the 18 point cushion. The Browns responded with more penalties, dropped passes and poor execution. When the Ravens has the ball, they were content to salt away the clock with McClain and rookie Ray Rice mixed in with short, safe passes.

Late in the game, the Ravens faced a 4th and 5 at the Browns’ 3 yard line and mercifully ran up the middle for one yard to give the ball back to the Browns at the two minute warning. In one of life’s great ironies, Anderson’s pass was thrown right into the waiting arms of Samari Rolle for his third interception of the game.

Jamal Lewis didn’t have a bad day rushing 12 times for 56 yards but was rendered meaningless with the large deficit in the third quarter. Anderson was a putrid 14 for 37 for only 125 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. He looked rattled and confused most of the game, even in the first half.

He didn’t get much help from his superstars Edwards and Winslow who only have 3 catches for 27 yards and two catches for 14 yards, respectively. Guard Eric Steinbach’s absence was also felt as Anderson was harassed all day and sacked five times. This from a unit that only gave up 14 sacks all last season.

The defense seemed to play inspired in the first half, bending but not breaking while protecting the 10-7 lead. But the great field position afforded to the Ravens’ offense by the Browns’ offense and special teams proved too much for them to overcome and they were worn down by the Ravens’ punishing rushing attack.

Jackson played inspired for the second consecutive game and his interception lead to the Browns’ only touchdown. Rookie Alex Hall notched his first professional sack and was the only Browns’ defender to be somewhat of a nuisance all game. Other than that no one stood out against a Ravens’ offense that predominantly only ran the ball of the last two and a half quarters of the game.

The loss drops the Browns, the pre-season darlings of the NFL, to 0-3 the same record as their next opponent the cross-state rival Cincinnati Bengals. Right now the Browns can’t get out of their own way as they look unprepared, lost and totally out of sync through the first three games of the season. If they can’t get out of their own way and in the Bengals’ way next week they will be staring 0-4 and their bye week straight in the face.