The Cleveland Browns are a special team. Sort of. The Browns are just the eighth team in NFL history to start off the season 0-13.
The Browns lost again today, this time to the Cincinnati Bengals, 23-10.
Today’s game marked the 5th time this season the club has failed to score more than 10 points, and clinches a last place finish in the AFC North. That makes 14 of 18 seasons since 1999 that the Browns will finish in the division cellar.
Hope is dwindling for the Browns, who are just three games away from finishing winless. A parade is seeming more and more real as the end of the season approaches.
With that mediocrity in mind, let’s dive into the Browns’ loss.
1. Picking up where they left off: The Browns started off the game terribly. The defense allowed an opening drive touchdown to the Bengals, and the Browns’ offense sputtered on a three-and-out.
The Browns did not look like a team coming off a bye week.
The hosts looked ill-prepared on the first drive of the game, as the defense could not cover tight end Tyler Eifert. The Browns did not look ready for running back Jeremy Hill, either.
On offense, the Browns started at their own 8-yard line after a block in the back penalty on the kickoff return. Following a short Robert Griffin III run and a pair of incomplete passes, the Browns punted.
Head coach Hue Jackson said he spent lots of extra time at the facility by himself during the bye week, examining film and looking for ways to fix problems.
I commend Jackson for putting in overtime in the film room, but his efforts did not show on the field. The Browns looked out of sorts, committing avoidable penalties and missing assignments all over the field.
Allowing opponents to score first has been a noteworthy problem for the Browns. In 10 of 13 games this season, the Browns have allowed the opponent to score first.
It’s hard enough to win games in the NFL. It’s even harder to win when you allow the other team to score first.
2. The Return: Robert Griffin III returned to action today, putting forth an alright performance. RG3 played terribly in the first half, but rebounded in the second half.
In the first half, RG3 looked like a guy who hadn’t played since Week 1.
RG3 missed receivers on both long and short passes, short arming his receivers on many throws. Even with his receivers open, Griffin struggled to connect for completions.
Thanks to some adjustments, RG3 performed better in the second half, especially on the Browns’ touchdown drive in the third quarter. RG3 found his receivers with some nice strikes, completing a clutch third down pass to Andrew Hawkins and placing the ball perfectly in the hands of Dan Vitale at the goal line, only to have the fullback drop the ball with nothing but green ahead of him.
Griffin finished off the drive with a touchdown despite Vitale’s stone hands, pushing the ball into the end zone on a quarterback sneak. It marked the first touchdown of RG3’s career in Cleveland.
Who would have thought Griffin’s first touchdown as a Brown wouldn’t have come until Week 14?
Griffin finished the day 12-of-28 for 104 yards and 1 touchdown, average 3.7 yards per attempt.
Jackson has already named him the starting quarterback for next week against the Bills, but based on this game, Griffin is not a significant upgrade over Cody Kessler or even perhaps Josh McCown.
3. What were they thinking? Sometimes, you have to wonder what the Browns coaching staff is thinking.
A prime example came in the first half. Backed up inside the 1-yard line, Jackson and Co. dialed up a flea-flicker on 1st and 10.
Most coaches, and even most Madden players, call a halfback dive in that situation. The risk of a safety or a holding call in the end zone is too high on a pass, so typically most coaches opt for a run up the middle.
Not the Browns.
In typical Browns fashion, the play ended in disaster. Griffin threw a jump ball to Terrelle Pryor deep down field, directly into the teeth of triple coverage. The Bengals intercepted the pass, returned it, and set up a Bengals score.
In a similar fashion, the Browns chose to go for it on 4th and 1 in the second quarter from their own 21-yard line.
Granted, the Browns are winless and have nothing to lose. It was a gutsy call that didn’t backfire, as the Browns converted.
However, if the Browns don’t convert (RG3 only got the first down by a hair), the Bengals likely score again and place the game out of reach even earlier than they did.
Another thing I don’t understand is the staff’s reluctance to place the ball in Duke Johnson’s hands. The second-year back has shown shiftiness and quickness out of the backfield, displayed perfectly on a 20-yard run midway through the fourth quarter.
Johnson received just five touches today. He turned those into 45 yards, and average of 9 yards per touch. The Browns need to get him the ball more.
On the plus side, Isaiah Crowell rushed the ball 10 times for 113 yards, with a long run of 42 yards.
Crowell had a great day, and the coaching staff does deserve some credit for setting him up for success.
4. Can I buy a defense? The Wheel of Misfourtune continues to spin in Cleveland.
The Browns’ defense was battered and bruised by a clearly superior Bengals’ offense. The Bengals bullied the Browns in the run game, pushing the Browns off the line of scrimmage time after time.
The problem lies not with the interior of the Browns. Danny Shelton more than held his own today, occupying multiple blockers and helping his teammates. Too bad the rest of the team didn’t provide any assistance.
The Bengals used off-tackle runs time and time again, using outside runs to gain yards in bunches. The runs set up short passes, particularly off playaction. The advantage on the ground won the game for the Bengals.
Just as concerning, the Browns showed an inability to cover the tight end again.
The Browns tried many strategies, from utilizing a cornerback in single coverage (typically Tramon Williams) to using the linebackers in zone coverage, to double coverage with a safety over the top.
Nothing seemed to work, especially over the middle. Tyler Eifert finished with 5 catches for 48 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. Sure, the yardage number is low, but the two scores hurt.
The Browns have struggled against tight ends at times this season, though the Browns limited the Giants’ and Steelers’ tight ends to 3 catches for 17 yards the last two games.
However, on the season, the Browns have allowed 70 receptions for 764 yards and 8 touchdowns to tight ends. That averages to 5.4 receptions for 58.8 yards per game.
As a team, the Browns allowed a season-low 23 points, though that total might have been higher if not for a missed Mike Nugent field goal and a Bengals’ punt late in the game.
The Browns have allowed 375 total points this year, an average of 28.8 points per game. The Browns are on pace to allow 461 points, just one point short of the franchise record, set by the 1990 Browns, which finished 3-13.
This Browns defense is on pace to allow more points than the 1999 Browns (437 points).
And we thought last year’s defense was bad.
5. Terrible teams: The Browns’ special teams disappointed again today, especially in the return game.
Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor hatched the brilliant idea of using Joe Haden as a punt return man this week. It didn’t work out well.
Haden opted not to a field a punt in the first half, leading to the Bengals downing the punt at the 2-yard line. That led to a Browns turnover and a resulting Bengals touchdown.
Haden also fumbled, but recovered, a punt late in the game, though the play was wiped away by a Cincinnati penalty.
The kick return game fared no better. Ricardo Louis returned four kicks for 61 yards, an average of 15.3 yards per return. Thanks to penalties and poor returns, the Browns started at their own 8, 12, and 6-yard line, respectively, after the Bengals’ three touchdowns.
Four of the Browns’ first five drives started within their own 15-yard line. The poor field position further stunted a struggling Browns’ offense early on.
6. Dynamic duo sinks lower: Gary Barnidge and Terrelle Pryor could not find openings in the Bengals’ defense. The two combined for 4 receptions for 30 yards today.
The numbers are concerning.
Let’s start with Barnidge. The club’s top tight end is experiencing a comedown year after a breakout 2015 campaign. Barnidge has 43 receptions for 495 yards and 1 touchdown through 13 games. Compare those numbers to last year’s: 79 catches, 1,043 yards, 9 touchdowns.
Some of it could be Barnidge’s contract extension. A year ago, the nine-year veteran signed a 3-year, $12 million extension.
But that’s doubtful. From all reports, Barnidge is a team player and not one to be content with success.
Here’s the question – does the problem lie with the quarterback or the coaching staff? Are the changes at signalcaller impacting Barnidge? Or is the coaching staff making less of an effort to involve Barnidge in the game plan?
Either way, it’s been a tough year for Barnidge, and it was a tough day today.
As for Pryor, his numbers are far more impressive, with 62 receptions for 855 yards and 4 touchdowns on the season. However, his lack of involvement today was puzzling.
Give credit to the Bengals’ defense for covering Pryor well. But he was open on a few plays that Griffin did not find him.
Speaking of Griffin, Pryor seemed to be quite miffed at the quarterback. Pryor got in a shouting match with Griffin early in the third quarter, as Griffin had trouble relaying the play in from the sidelines early in the third quarter.
Is there a riff forming between Pryor and Griffin? If so, that’s bad news.
7. I love a parade: The Browns are one step closer to a parade, and I don’t mind.
Some people have voiced their anger and outrage at the “Perfect Season” 0-16 Parade, which has been expertly organized by Chris McNeil (@Reflog_18 on Twitter). I’ve seen some fans on Twitter and Facebook condemn the parade as damaging to the team and city.
I’ve cared deeply about the Browns since I was a little kid. I watched or listened to every game with optimism and love in my heart. I’ve been a Browns fan ever since I can remember, and I used to care so much.
Now, in all honesty, I don’t. I’m almost hoping the Browns lose out, so the club can secure the top pick and have this parade.
And you should, too. Here’s the reality: The Browns are an awful team, and will remain so for at least 2-3 years. Until the front office finds a quarterback and brings in quality core players through the draft, this team will continue to be mediocre.
So, why be upset about it? Your anger will not change the situation. Your complaints about Hue Jackson will not cause owner Jimmy Haslam to fire him. The Browns will not find a franchise quarterback because of my lengthy, ranting articles here.
Accepting the reality at hand and making the most of it is the best option. It’s better for your mental health and it’s better for the city. Why be mad when you can be happy?
This is sports. It’s meant to be fun and entertaining.
And what’s more entertaining than a parade?
Three more losses. Let’s Go Browns.