Another Sunday, another loss.
The halfway point of the season has arrived, and the Cleveland Browns are still without a win. The New York Jets defeated the Browns today, 31-28, scoring 24 unanswered points to crush the Browns’ hopes of winning their first of the year.
It was a tale of two halves, with the Browns controlling the tempo in the first and careening off the cliff in the second.
It’s going to be a long eight weeks.
Anyways, here are your seven talking points after today’s game:
1. That’s why you take the ball: For the first time in a long while, the Browns started the game with the ball. The Browns scored on the first drive of the game, and set the tone early.
Every aspect of an NFL game is scrutinized, including the pregame coin toss, something of relatively little importance. But the coin toss played a significant role today.
Head coach Hue Jackson has made a point of deferring to the second half every time the Browns have won the coin toss, and opposing teams have typically chosen to start with the ball. This week, the Jets deferred to the second half, giving the Browns the chance to score first.
The Browns did just that. Josh McCown orchestrated a touchdown drive, capped off with a toss to Andrew Hawkins on a rollout pass finding Hawk in the corner of the end zone.
The Browns started out quickly today, rolling to a 20-7 lead by halftime. Too bad they couldn’t keep it up.
2. So much for that: The Browns started the game well but collapsed in the second half. The third and fourth quarters were tough to watch.
The Browns entered the break with a 13-point lead and momentum on their side. Everything was going perfectly. The offense looked competent, Ryan Fitzpatrick couldn’t do a thing, and Jackson was looking brilliant.
Then, the Browns collapsed.
The Browns allowed the Jets to score 24 unanswered points in the second half. 24.
First off, Fitzpatrick turned into Fitzmagic. Or, at least the Browns made him seem magical. The veteran quarterback tore the Browns to shreds in the second half, beating nearly every one of the Browns’ corners and toasting the Browns’ safeties with big precise passes deep down the field.
Secondly, the Browns forgot how to tackle. Matt Forte pounded the Browns into submission, picking up 82 yards and 2 touchdowns on 25 carries. The Browns looked particularly beaten once the Jets marched into the red zone, as a result of the Jets’ lengthy, back-breaking drives.
Four of the six Jets’ second half possessions resulted in points. One of those two possessions without a score came in the final seconds of the game after an unsuccessful Browns’ onside kick.
The Browns’ offense, for as great as it looked in the first half, appeared baffled by the Jets’ adjustments in the second.
The first change the Jets made was to place Terrelle Pryor in double-coverage, using a safety over the top to blanket the Browns’ top wideout.
The Jets also paid more attention to Duke Johnson, who tore up the Jets on a couple of plays early on with his game-breaking ability. On on drive, Johnson caught a short pass before making a man miss and charging down field for a big game. Then a couple of plays later, Johnson ran around the left edge for a big gain on the ground.
In the second half, Johnson did not have as much room to run, as the Jets sealed the edges and forced Johnson inside to face the Jets’ big defensive line, headed by Muhammed Wilkerson.
The Browns have now blown four second-half leads this season.
Another tough day for the Browns.
3. Hue can’t do it: Hue Jackson and his offensive coaching staff did a terrific job of calling the game in the first half, but his staff failed to make any significant halftime adjustments.
As with any 0-8 team, there’s a lot of blame to be spread around with the Browns. The front office swung and missed on a few picks, the previous regime was awful, etc. Until today, I’ve mostly seen the problem as a lack of talent.
Today was just one game, but my view is beginning to change.
The coaching definitely has something to do with the 0-8 record. Sure, Jackson does not have much talent to work with. Look at the secondary, for goodness sakes. But the lack of halftime adjustments scares me.
Jackson and his staff cooked up a wonderful gameplan in the first half, especially on offense. Jackson and Co. made McCown look brilliant, using Terrelle Pryor as an effective weapon deep across the middle on post and fly routes to beat the Cover 2. He and his staff called run plays to the left side, where Joe Thomas and John Greco pounded the Jets.
On defense, Jackson does not have as much to say, but his staff came in with a smart plan to stop Fitzpatrick. Jam the receivers at the line and play single coverage to stop Brandon Marshall and the big Jets’ wideouts. Bring Emmanuel Ogbah on the pass rush and let Carl Nassib chase Fitzpatrick.
The gameplan worked well in the first half, with the Jets only reaching the end zone once, on a surprise draw play that saw Bilal Powell break four Browns tacklers en route to a 35-yard touchdown.
Then the Browns strayed from the plan in the second half, and didn’t adjust to the Jets’ new approach. The Browns started playing more zone coverages, letting Marshall find space in between the Browns’ linebackers and safeties. The defense lost its aggressive edge and started playing more reactively. And of course, the defense failed to set the edge.
The staff’s inability to stop the Jets in the second half is partially due to a defense thin on talent, especially at linebacker and safety. But it also falls on the coaches to scheme of better ways to stop a good, but certainly not great, Jets offense.
4. Swiss cheese: The Browns’ defense performed well in the first half before losing all progress. The secondary was atrocious in the second half.
Remember a couple of years ago in training camp when Tashaun Gipson said the Browns might have one of the best secondaries in football?
So much for that. The Browns might have one of the worst defensive backfields in the league.
Joe Haden returned to the field from his groin injury today, a positive sign for a war-torn Browns secondary. But Haden was beat on several outside throws by Marshall, and gave the Jets a free first down by virtue of a defensive holding call.
On the plus side, Haden was not beaten for any lengthy touchdowns, but he didn’t seem to have much of a positive impact.
Looking at the other members of the secondary, Jamar Tayor enjoyed a great first half, batting away at least three catchable passes. Taylor might be the best member of the secondary, which is a low bar, and almost frightening based on his experience.
The safety spots were the weakest positions for the Browns today. Tracy Howard missed tackles on multiple occasions and was sucked in by playaction on several other plays. At one point, he left the game, leaving the Browns to play two strong safeties — Derrick Kindred and Ibraheim Campbell. These two didn’t do much to slow the Jets’ onslaught, missing coverage assignments on a few plays.
Here’s where the coaching staff, and even the front office, cannot shoulder the blame. The onus lies on the previous regime for not drafting better in the secondary.
The Browns will have to use some picks on the secondary in the next few drafts.
5. The Duke of Cleveland: Running back Duke Johnson enjoyed a great game today, thanks in part to a solid performance from most of the offensive line.
One of the team’s bright spots, Johnson enjoyed a great day. The Duke rushed four times for 29 yards and caught 6 catches for 87 yards. That’s 116 yards on just 10 touches, or 11.6 yards per touch.
Johnson found ways to break tackles and create open space for himself. The second-year back has a knack for evading would-be tacklers in the open field. This kid is special. Besides a pass that deflected off his hands into the hands of a Jet for an interception, Duke had a great day.
His counterpart at running back, Isaiah Crowell, did not have a great day, finishing with 11 attempts for 29 yards.
Perhaps it’s time to take a look at the allocation of carries?
Johnson should be receiving more than 10 touchers per game. It’s that simple. Perhaps the coaching staff believes the way to keep Johnson healthy is to limit his touches, since the short back has experienced injury issues in the past.
Whatever the reason, it’s time to think about giving Johnson the ball more.
6. You are ... The weakest link: Is it time to say “goodbye” to Cameron Erving?
For the second straight week, the Browns’ second year center had a tough day. From allowing late hits on McCown to being pushed back into Johnson on a run, Cam Erving struggled today.
In all fairness, Erving has dealt with a lung injury and an apparent illness last week. Dealing with health issues is never easy.
However, Erving’s performance this season has been alarming. A highly touted lineman out of Florida State, Erving has not played like a first round pick this season.
The previous coaching staff did Erving a disservice by expecting him to play all five linemen positions, but Erving is not hampered with that issue this season. Jackson has a much better offensive staff in place, and only expects Cam to play center.
Yet Erving continues to struggle. So what’s the issue?
I’m not an offensive line coach, but from my perspective, it appears Erving is not getting low enough on his blocks. Opposing defensive linemen have beat him one-on-one by simply using leverage to knock him backwards.
From flag football and onward, coaches stress the phrase, “The low man wins.” Erving is not blasting low enough out of his stance. At least from the looks of it from the TV broadcast view, Erving is standing up too much after snapping the ball.
The Browns’ coaches need to correct Erving’s problem, and quickly.
7. At least they didn’t give up: The Browns made it close at the end of the game, but the poor two-minute drill was concerning.
To the Browns’ credit, the offense did not give up at the end of the game. McCown orchestrated a touchdown drive, finishing it off with a touchdown strike to Hawkins.
However, the length of the drive is concerning. The Browns took 3:52 to drive 82 yards. For a typical drive, that’s not bad. But the Browns wasted time on the two minute drill.
At one point, Thomas turned around to see what the heck was going on and why McCown wasn’t snapping the ball.
From what Doug Dieken said on the Browns’ radio broadcast (I always mute the TV and listen to the radio), rookie Seth DeValve had no idea what to do on a few plays.
That’s a problem.
The question is — Who is at fault? Was DeValve not prepared well by the coaches? Or did DeValve simply freeze at crunch time?
Regardless, the Browns did not manage the clock well, even with a veteran under center. That’s an issue that needs to be corrected. The difference could be between a win and a loss this season.
Speaking of, we’re halfway through the season, folks. The Browns still don’t have a win. Is this the year of 0-16?
It’s beginning to look that way.