For the 13th time in a row, the Cleveland Browns have lost their opener.
The Browns fell to the Philadelphia Eagles, 29-10, in a disappointing start to the season on the road.
The season started out as expected for the Browns, as the Eagles started with a touchdown drive, the Browns went three and out, and miscues doomed the visitors in the second half.
Ahh, football season.
Regardless of the result, welcome to the inaugural Talking Points article of the 2016 season! Just like last year, we will have seven items of discussion after every Browns' game this season. These points are meant to be thought-provoking, whether you watched the game or not, and provide some talking points when you're talking to your coworkers at the water cooler on Monday morning.
Let us know what you think in the comments section below!
1. Just a bit high: A high snap by Cameron Erving changed the course of the game. The team's new starting center had a tough first game.
Early in the third quarter, things were looking up for the Browns. The visitors were trailing just 13-10, as only minutes before Patrick Murray had booted a 35-yard field goal.
Then, Erving flubbed the snap, sending Robert Griffin III scurrying for the ball before it rolled out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
After the safety, Carson Wentz and the Eagles drove 9 plays, 73 yards for a touchdown to advance the lead to 22-10 Philly.
Sure, it's just one play, and the Browns defense shoulders much of the blame. But Erving's bad snap turned the momentum of this game. Erving has had trouble snapping in a shotgun formation since the start of training camp, leading Jackson to say he can't coach that.
Well, Jackson better delegate a member of his coaching staff (or two) to helping Erving, and not just at snapping. The second-year center missed several other blocks throughout the day. He has a long way to go.
2. Tricking no one: The Browns' playcalling was, in a word, curious. Hue Jackson's first half as the Browns' head coach did not start well.
Jackson and the Browns dialed up several strange trick plays early in the game, including a reverse, a play run from the Wildcat formation with Terrell Pryor, and a fake punt.
Hindsight is 50/50, but perhaps Jackson and the Browns shouldn't have shown their hand with unveiling so many trick plays so early in the season. The fake punt was especially ill-advised.
Duke Johnson lined up alone in the backfield on 4th and 5 from the Browns' 35, running right into the Eagles' waiting defense. Britton Colquitt stood on the line as a blocker, fooling no one on the alleged fake punt. The botched play led to an Eagles' field goal, allowing Philadelphia to carry a 13-7 edge heading into halftime.
What was the strategy behind this play? Using your punter as a blocker basically means that nine players must occupy/block 10 players. The numbers don't make sense.
Jackson called a better second half, at least in my estimation, though the Browns' offense didn't receive as many opportunities due to the defense's inability to get off the field.
It's impossible to delve into Jackson's mind to see what he was thinking. But from the outside looking in, Jackson's thought process doesn't seem logical.
3. No-Nonsense Nassib: Browns' rookie Carl Nassib might have been the MVP on the defensive side of the ball. The early rave reviews were justified.
Starting at defensive end, Nassib disrupted a number of plays, even when facing double-team blocks. He deflected a pair of passes, wagging his finger like Dikembe Mutombo after one pass breakup.
On another great play, Nassib sacked Wentz on the last play of the third quarter, forcing the Eagles to punt soon after.
Nassib flashed some solid strength as a pass rusher, and showed off some nice timing on his pass deflections. It's also fun to watch him fight off blocks with his quick hands.
The rookie was one of the bright spots on a defense that had a tough day getting off the field.
4. Boom or Checkdown: Robert Griffin III had a mixed opening game for the Browns. The interesting part of his debut, though, was the lack of a mid-range passing attack, especially early on.
On two occasions, once in the second quarter and once early in the third, Griffin connected on beautiful, deep throws. Pryor hauled in the first, a 44-yard connection, and Coleman caught the second on a very deep comeback route, a 56-yard completion.
Besides these two throws, however, Griffin looked a bit lost.
The former Washington quarterback missed on several deep passes, including twice from within his own 5-yard line. Besides his throws on fly routes, Griffin relied mostly on checkdowns, throwing many of his passes to running backs.
For whatever reason, Griffin and his receivers could not connect on mid-range passes. On one poor play, an Eagles lineman deflected a Griffin pass at the line, causing the ball to float behind Corey Coleman – who was running a slant route – and into the waiting arms of an Eagles defensive back.
Part of the problem was Griffin's inability to cycle through multiple reads. He locked into one wide receiver far too much, often looking to a wideout with a late-developing route.
Also concerning was the hit Griffin absorbed on third down of the Browns' second-to-last offensive possession. Griffin did re-enter the game on the last drive, but he handed off to Isaiah Crowell to end the game. (On an unrelated note: Crowell had a nice game.) After the game, Griffin said he suffered a sprained left shoulder on the hit, but he should be good to go for next Sunday.
Hopefully Jackson can help our RG3 this week, particularly in making reads and avoiding contact after runs.
5. Not good enough? Carson Wentz didn't look like a rookie against the Browns on Sunday.
The early first round pick, who the Browns decided not to select in the NFL Draft, embarrassed the Browns' defense. Wentz connected on both short and deep passes, showing composure in the pocket, even when the Browns blitzed.
A great example of Wentz’s poise occurred midway through the fourth quarter. On a botched 2nd down snap that floated by him, Wentz didn't panic. He managed to get off a throw, though it did fall incomplete. His quick thinking avoiding a big loss, and allowed the Eagles to pick up a first down one play later.
Even more impressive was Wentz's 35-yard touchdown pass down the sidelines to Nelson Agholor. Joe Haden was beaten by a step in single coverage, as Wentz lofted a perfect throw over Agholor's shoulder for six. Wentz also dropped a gorgeous pass to Jordan Matthews in the first quarter for the first touchdown of the 2016 NFL season. Though Tramon Williams was outmatched on the play, credit Wentz for making a phenomenal throw.
As far as debuts go, you won't see much better than that from a rookie quarterback. Wentz finished 22-of-37 for 278 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Full disclosure – I was not a big fan of Wentz heading into the draft, so I lauded the move to trade down. I'm having doubts now, but it's still far too early to tell who won the trade.
6. Dropfest: The Browns' receiver corps dropped too many passes today. One of the team's most improved positions, the wide receiver group did not look good besides Pryor and Coleman's pair of long catches.
One of the biggest surprises today was the lack of support from the wideouts. The new regime placed increased emphasis on the wideout position in the offseason, drafting four players to overhaul the position. Many fans were excited about the wideouts entering today, but the enthusiasm was somewhat dampened.
Drops are not an official stat in the NFL Gamebook (available here), but I counted at least four. Gary Barnidge was responsible for two, RG3's first pass on the first play of the game, and on the opening play of the second quarter. Both were catchable balls, so it was strange to see Barnidge show such rust. He finished without a catch today.
Coleman also dropped a catchable ball early in the game, similar to his reportedly poor performance in practice one day this week. It's concerning to see Coleman drop a pass, but the rookie made up for it with the 58-yard reception to start the second half.
With the unquestionable talent of the Browns' receivers, you can't condemn them for a so-so game. This game will likely be an abnormality when we look back in January.
7. It's just one game, but ... The Browns don't look all that good. And that's OK.
If you expected the Browns to have a winning record this year, you're crazy. Brian Billick is also not wise for saying the Browns won't win a game. The final record will be somewhere in between – not winless and not undefeated, but towards the lower end of wins.
The Browns have a lot of growing and building to do. Love or hate the new regime, we cannot judge this analytics approach, coaching staff, or front office on one season, let alone one game. It's a process.
The challenge is to remember this while watching the Browns this season. The number of wins does not matter, except for the draft order. What matters is the development of the young players. Period.
On that note, thanks for reading! Stay tuned to DBN for more coverage of your Browns.