Another week, another loss.
Is there an echo in here, or is it just me?
The Cleveland Browns fell to the New York Giants on Sunday, 24-13, as the hosts hung around for three quarters before the visitors ruined the fun in the fourth.
The Browns now stand at an ugly 0-12 heading into the bye week.
Homer could easily tell an epic tragedy about this game and Browns team, but I’ll try not to bore you with too many sob stories. Below are the seven takeaways from another loss:
1. Get him out of there: Josh McCown continues to look like a washed-up veteran. His numbers may look good, but McCown again cost the Browns today.
On paper, McCown finished the day 25-of-43 passing for 322 yards and 1 touchdown.
Based on the eye test, McCown looked awful.
The 37-year-old signalcaller fumbled twice, once resulting in a touchdown for the Giants and the other in the end of the game. On the first fumble, McCown held the ball for too long, allowing a Giant defender to strip the ball away, and Jason Pierre-Paul to gallop 43 yards for a score. On the second fumble, McCown was about to attempt a strange flip to get the ball away before JPP knocked the football out of McCown’s grasp.
The first turnover was especially costly early in the fourth quarter. Suddenly, the Browns faced an insurmountable 14-point lead with 11 minutes remaining, more points than the Browns managed in 60 minutes.
Just as damning, many of McCown’s throws were behind wide receivers. The veteran missed the target on a number of throws, including a potential touchdown throw to Corey Coleman down the left side of the field.
To McCown’s credit, his offensive line did him zero favors. I give McCown credit for hanging in there through 7 sacks and 11 quarterback hits. However, McCown did damage to himself by not finding receivers quicker or simply by throwing the ball away.
I’m not sure why Hue Jackson or any fans believe McCown gives the Browns a better chance to win than any other quarterback. While McCown might be a brave soldier and a good man, he’s at the end of his career.
It’s time to stop viewing at McCown as anything but a mediocre quarterback.
2. Gotta finish: The Browns are still struggling to get the job done in the red zone.
Nothing has changed between 1999 and now, even as Hue Jackson promised change.
The Browns continue to struggle scoring 7 points inside the red zone. Entering today, the club sits at 18th in the league with 4.81 points per red zone appearance. Perhaps it’s a silver lining that the number isn’t worse.
The team’s performance inside the 20-yard line didn’t help that stat, however.
The Browns drove inside the 10-yard line twice in the first half today. The first time the Browns drove into the red zone came with about 5 minutes left in the second quarter, following a Giants’ fumble, not long after the Giants capitalized on a Browns’ turnover.
The Browns used 7 plays to move 24 yards to the 6 yard-line. Then, Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell gained 2 yards apiece on runs before McCown tossed an incomplete pass intended for Johnson.
Faced with a 4th and 2 from the 2-yard line, the Browns took a 20-yard Cody Parkey field goal. The next drive, the Giants scored a touchdown to extend the lead to 14-3.
Then, McCown marched the Browns all the way down to the New York 19-yard line before finding Duke Johnson for a 12-yard gain. It was a smart playcall and nice execution. Then, McCown threw it to a blanketed Pryor on a fade route into the end zone, the result – an incomplete pass.
It’s not all the offense’s fault, sure. But the Browns walked away with 6 points from two red zone appearances. Instead of entering halftime with a tie game, or maybe even a lead, the club entered with an 8-point deficit.
Great teams find a way to score touchdowns. The Browns have a long way to go to get to that point.
3. Average Joe: Joe Haden has lost his status as an elite cornerback. Some may say Haden’s heyday has been over for some time. But today marks its official end.
Early in the game, Eli Manning struggled to find his top receiver, overthrowing Odell Beckham Jr. That changed late in the first half.
Beckham ran a crossing route late in the second quarter, with Haden assigned to him in coverage. Haden began close in on Beckham, before the young receiver sped past Haden, dashing into the end zone for a score.
If you missed the play, watch it here (on a side note, watch how Jamie Collins gives up on the play).
Yes, we’ve noticed Haden’s decline for some time now. However, that play shows just how much of a liability Haden has become.
The former Pro Bowler has lost a step and become too slow to effectively cover opposing teams’ top receivers. To thrive in the NFL at corner, you need to have the speed to keep up with top-flight receivers. Due to injury, age, or whatever factor, Haden has lost his edge.
Perhaps Haden can hang on for a few more years as a decent corner. But he’s no longer a top cornerback.
4. Grounded again: One of the Browns’ fundamental issues on offense is a simple inability to establish an effective rushing attack.
To the coaching staff’s credit, the team did not abandon the run today. The Browns attempted 21 runs, more than usual, but only gained 58 yards.
The problem is the Browns’ offensive line can’t open holes and the running backs can’t adjust.
The loss of Joel Bitonio, and of John Greco today, certainly hurts. The offensive line has taken a beating this year.
At the same time, Crowell and Johnson just aren’t finding open space.
Crowell can’t cutback to save his life, it seems. Perhaps we would have a different perspective on film, but it looks like Crowell has cutback lanes on some runs that he’s not taking advantage of.
Johnson seems to have some of the same problems, but the second-year back does have solid burst out of the backfield.
Now, that’s not to say that Crowell or Johnson have zero talent. Quite the opposite.
The two backs perform excellently in the passing game, hauling in passes and making great blocks. The duo combined for 9 catches for 73 yards. The two also picked up critical third and fourth down conversions in the third quarter.
However, Crowell and Johnson’s failure to produce consistently down the stretch of the season should lead the Browns to search for a true early down running back in the offseason.
5. Bright spots: The Browns’ defense leaked like the faucet in your gross bathroom in the basement, but Danny Shelton and Christian Kirksey performed well today.
At least the Browns have a couple of pieces to build around.
Last season, many bashed Shelton, an overweight and overhyped nose tackle. Critics called him a waste of a first round pick.
After watching him play this season, and turn in a stellar performance today, that’s no longer fair.
Shelton fought through blocks and wreaked havoc today for the Browns. The second-year pro only received credit for 2 tackles on the day. But Shelton broke through the Giants’ offensive line and forced running back Rashard Jennings to seek other openings on running plays. Eli Manning also had to rush throws due to Shelton’s pursuit.
Shelton can only have so much impact statistically at nose / defensive tackle. But this guy can play. He’s a lineman the Browns can build around.
Speaking of solid linemen, Emmanuel Ogbah has potential, too. The rookie also played well today, with 3 tackles and a quarterback hit. Ogbah still has plenty of work to do. The defensive end / linebacker needs to finish better and sack the quarterback more frequently. But there is potential in this youngster.
Wrapping up with the brightest young player on the defense, Christian Kirksey played lights out today. Once again, he led the Browns in tackles with an impressive 10. The linebacker also added in a tackle for loss.
With the departure of Karlos Dansby, we worried if Kirksey could do the job. He certainly has.
Kirksey is flowing to the ball and reading running plays well. He’s shooting through the gap at the point of attack and either tackling the running back or forcing him to drastically cut back. Kirksey is also improving in pass coverage, wiping away some of the underneath throws.
As I’ve explained with point #3, the secondary has a long way to go. But the Browns do have a few solid players in the front seven.
6. Wideout weapons: The Browns continue to stumble on offense, but the problems are not because of the club’s wideouts.
Corey Coleman and Terrelle Pryor showcased reliable hands and tricky moves against a solid Giants secondary today. At the very least, the Browns have two wide receivers to build around on offense.
Coleman has struggled through injuries this year, but has flashed outstanding talent during limited playing time. Coleman did not stand out on the stat sheet, but each time Coleman touches the ball, he can take it to the end zone.
Pryor has continued to develop in his new role as the top receiver, experiencing some growing pains as he learns how to battle against opponents’ best defensive backs week after week.
Despite the occasional missteps, the Browns’ receiving corps is developing at a rapid rate. Coleman is becoming better in the open field and Pryor is running better routes.
A prime example of Pryor’s development came early in the fourth quarter when the former Buckeye hauled in a 54-yard pass on a fly pattern deep down the right side.
Coleman also flashed his smarts by finding an open spot in the end zone on a touchdown pass, which kept the Browns in the game midway through the fourth quarter.
The Browns have their starting two wideouts of the future, if they can manage to sign Pryor. With Coleman’s speed and Pryor’s length and strength, the Browns have a dynamic duo to build around on offense.
If only the Browns still had Taylor Gabriel, too ...
7. At last: Finally, the bye week has arrived.
Mercifully, the bye week is here, with a full 14 days before the next Browns game.
So, what should the Browns do in the meantime?
First, the club needs to seriously pursue Pryor. The quarterback-turned-wideout is obviously upset with the team’s 12 losses. Pryor wears his emotions on his sleeve, and reportedly almost blew a gasket on the sideline after the strip-sack-for-six.
Give him time to cool off, but pursue Pryor this week. Try to sign him to a long-term contract. He could be a cornerstone for the offense.
Staying with the offense, it’s time to take another look at blocking schemes, all across the board. The Browns are missing blitzes in the passing game. It’s time for the Browns to adjust the way they make adjustments at the line, or to alter quarterback protections. You can’t allow seven sacks in a game.
On the defensive side, the Browns need to think about altering cover schemes to protect Haden. Both the veteran and youngster Briean Boddy-Calhoun have been beaten badly in recent weeks.
As a whole, the Browns have an underwhelming secondary. Maybe the club should try more zone coverages, with an emphasis on Cover 3 and Cover 4 to force opponents to use short passing plays.
Based on the first 12 games of the season, the Browns could certainly use a break. And the fans could definitely use one, too.