Besides the two-game stretch against the Bills and the Bengals earlier this season, the Browns have been destroyed in pretty much every game. The blame can be laid on many different players or coaches (receivers dropping balls, cornerbacks getting burned, no pressure on the quarterback, poor use of the Wildcat).
Despite the problems listed above, the Browns have shown the ability to be effective on the defensive side of the ball. There are instances in which the Browns are torched (against Aaron Rodgers), but then there are instances in which Rex Ryan fires back with gems (against Trent Edwards and Jay Cutler). We've lost both of our starting middle linebackers for the season, but veterans David Bowens and Jason Trusnik appear capable of picking up the slack while Kaluka Maiva and David Veikune hopefully start to develop more over the second half of the season.
The Wildcat hasn't been used enough, but we have the right player to run it (Joshua Cribbs - 19 carries, 131 yards). RB Jamal Lewis has a 3.6 yards-per-carry average this season, and he's made it clear over the past two weeks that he's frustrated. Considering how poorly our quarterbacks have played, Lewis has made the most of his opportunities. He clearly doesn't hit the hole very fast anymore and seldom breaks tackles as he used to, and maybe that is because he's tired throughout the Browns' "physically-demanding practice week." That's where Jerome Harrison should be the team's starting back, with Lewis seeing plenty of action as well (8-10 carries per game).
At the receiver position, there are no excuses for dropped passes that are in your breadbasket. When you're wide open for a touchdown and drop it (Robert Royal), or when you're coming free across the middle and you let it bounce right out of your hands (Chansi Stuckey), that's the receivers' fault. For the most part though, more of the blame falls on the inefficient play of our quarterbacks. Quinn generally went with a "safe" approach in his first few games and would fold unbelievably quick any time any form of pressure surrounded him. For the rocket arm that Anderson had, he couldn't even use it to his advantage. Any time he went deep the pass was over- or under-thrown. Any laser over the middle was read easily by the defense for a break-up or an interception. And forget the short passes -- let's wind up and throw a rocket short to a receiver, also leaving them exposed to the defender who is keying in on him.
Besides Derek Anderson's one "miracle" game (which wasn't all that great to begin with) against the Bengals, the Browns have failed to see efficiency at the quarterback position this season. If Brady Quinn can play efficient the second half of this season, then maybe, just maybe, the rest of the pieces to the puzzle won't appear so "weak." The quarterback could be the first domino that causes everything else to come crashing down.
Here are three keys that the Browns need Quinn (and Brian Daboll) to follow to have efficiency at the quarterback position against the Ravens this Monday and the rest of the season:
Trust the Protection: In Quinn's 2.5 games, he was sacked 10 times. Granted, he faced tough defenses (Minnesota, Denver, Baltimore), but his issues weren't a result of the pressure getting to him to early. If Quinn saw any form of pressure, he seemed to panic and fall to the ground or get rid of the ball too quickly (to the inappropriate receiver).
This remained Anderson's only bright spot -- he trusted the protection. Of course, he ended up trusting it so much that he felt he could roll out in Shotgun to Joe Thomas' side for some reason without telling anyone, but that's beside the point.
John St. Clair seemed to struggle a lot more with Quinn under center, whether it be false starts or letting a free man get to the quarterback. Most of those problems came when we were already so behind that the defense knew we had to throw the football. Since Quinn's departure, St. Clair's play has improved dramatically. Hopefully that has more to do with getting comfortable than it does with the person under center.
If Quinn trusts his protection, he will be protected. This is not a Tim Couch offensive line; this is a line that could probably give a few of the contending teams' lines a run for their money.
First Down Passing: A big reason for the Browns' struggles is that the formula on offense is usually the same. Run it with Jamal Lewis on first down. Incomplete pass on second down. Incomplete pass on third down.
Quinn's game supposedly takes advantage of what the defense gives him on short routes. Set up the a single back formation on first down with Lewis in the backfield and pass it on first down for 6-7 yards every so often. The first-down runs haven't been amounting to much, so even if we do have an incompletion on first down, I'd feel more comfortable feeling that we took the chance to set up a second-and-short run play for Lewis to run effectively. Later on in a game, those types of plays can take advantage of the playaction pass, and with Quinn's mobility, he can find the open receiver that rolls with him. It might seem too hopeful, but mixing the play calling up can go a long way no matter who the receivers are, as long as the protection is decent.
- The Screen Play: Again, this plays into Quinn's short passing attack. The Browns screened teams to death in the preseason with success. In the regular season, the screen plays have been far and few between. It doesn't matter who we run the plays with -- Lewis, Harrison, or even Lawrence Vickers -- the screen pass should be an integral part of the gameplan week in and week out. For all of the times we have Robert Royal and Joshua Cribbs in the game, the Browns should be taking advantage of their blocking abilities.
Sound simple? It is. With the pathetic excuse of a playbook that Brian Daboll seems to have had all season though, "simple" is what the Browns need to try to manage a score or two and then play defense en route to hoping for a close game in the fourth quarter. Maybe quarterbacks coach Carl Smith will help implement some of the basics, or maybe we'll see the same product we've seen all season. With the serious heat that the coaching staff was under heading into the bye week though, it would take some serious guts to go out there and willingly have the same exact method of playcalling that led to the team's 1-7 start. Something should change this Monday against the Ravens, for the better.
I tried to stay simple in my "three keys" for more efficiency at the quarterback position. Do you agree with my assessment? Do you have different "keys" to the Quinn's success (deep ball, Wildcat, running game, etc)? If so, sound off in the comments section!