"The Sunday Five" is a loosely-titled piece where I talk about five NFL- or Browns-related topics related to this past week. In today's edition, I take a look at an easy slate of games for our division rivals this week, and a couple of key statistics that highlight Cleveland's struggles this year.
Here is a distribution of what the Browns have done quarter-by-quarter through five games:
First Quarter: 3 points
Second Quarter: 45 points
Third Quarter: 6 points
Fourth Quarter: 37 points
The struggles in the first- and third-quarters seems unheard of. The Browns scored a lot in the first quarter last year, but this year the team is averaging a pathetic 0.6 points per game. That means that Cleveland is not getting ahead, and it doesn't matter whether they are at home or on the road. Seattle has yielded three first-quarter touchdowns this season, and I'd love to evaluate the Browns this season when they are able to get ahead early.
Even though there was an instance or two where fans complained about the way the running game was used down near the goal line, Cleveland has done well in the red zone, ranking sixth in the league once they get down there. What is different in that area of the field? We see McCoy hit our receivers on intermediate routes in the corner of the end zone, or we see him hit our tight ends. They are 13th in the league at stopping opposing teams in the red zone from scoring touchdowns. Seattle also has done well once they actually get into the red zone, ranking ninth in the league down there.
Do you see the AFC North as a division of dominant defenses? I know total yards allowed is not everything, but if you're using that as your benchmark, the Steelers rank 1st, the Bengals rank 2nd, the Ravens rank 3rd, and the Browns rank 7th in the NFL. That's pretty incredible for one division. While I would agree that the Browns' defense has played at a lower level than all three of our rivals, I remain impressed with what I see from a young group that transition to the 4-3 this year. Also, despite the fact that the Browns rank 27th in the league at stopping the run, that is partially a byproduct from teams running so often: in terms of yards per attempt, the Browns are 11th best in the NFL.
The Bengals are on the bye this week, but the other three teams in the division have good defensive matchups. The Ravens are going to give Blaine Gabbert hell on Monday Night in the spotlight, the Browns will be taking on a below average Charlie Whitehurst in his first start of the season, and the Steelers will take on Kevin Kolb. The re-match of the Super Bowl between Arizona and Pittsburgh is the most competitive game on paper in my book, especially when you see that Pittsburgh failed to close things out on offense against Jacksonville last week. Nonetheless, I expect a fairly easy clean sweep for the division, which doesn't improve Cleveland's place in the division very much.
Here is an alarming statistic, if I am interpreting things correctly: the Cleveland Browns, in five games, have not run the ball on third down once in the third quarter this season. That's right -- every time there is a third down for Cleveland in the third quarter, Colt McCoy has dropped back to pass the football. Granted, the actual sample size of those circumstances has to be small, but occasionally you need to keep a defense guessing.