That thud you heard was the Cleveland Browns returning to earth.
This loss was hard to take. When the other team turns the ball over six times, you should win the game. But that assumes the offense can do something with those turnovers, and the offense was stymied throughout the second half. Even with doing next to nothing on offense after halftime, the Browns still nearly won the game.
Here are some random thoughts about what I saw:
·I am a huge believer that the game is won or lost in the trenches. That was the case here. A miserable performance by the Browns offensive line is one of the root causes of this loss. Similar to the Atlanta game, the offensive line was manhandled by the Jaguars. Eric Steinbach played hurt and it showed. He has had a good year, but struggled mightily in this game. He had company in rookie Shawn Lauvao. Both guards too often lost their man and the Browns gave up six sacks.
·I am mystified why this coaching staff is so enamored with John St. Clair. Perhaps Floyd Womack was just too hurt to go, though he did practice Friday. All I know is that the Browns win a lot more with Pork Chop in the game than with St. Clair.
·While the defense played well enough to win again, the Browns were shoved off the ball on run plays way too many times. The Jaguars were getting a lot of yards on first down with the run.
·Say what you will, but no matter how well the defense played, you can't go for the strip over the tackle late in the game. Sheldon Brown was the main culprit, but he had plenty of company.
·Bad tackling has been a theme on and off this year. With the defense missing Scott Fujita and Mike Adams, and then losing Eric Wright, some of the bottom-of-the-roster defensive backs saw a lot of playing time. There were too many missed tackles and sacks again.
·On the other hand, the defensive backs came up with big turnovers. Sheldon Brown and T.J. Ward combined for two tipped interceptions. Joe Haden was pressed into service and had a very solid game. Even newly signed Eric King contributed.
·I have to admit, as bad as Abe Elam was in the preseason and early in the year, he has been better of late. Perhaps he may yet grow into a solid safety. An interception, a forced fumble and recovery for a touchdown, and some solid plays otherwise are a good sign. Yet, he looked like he was running away from the play again on the back-breaking pass play.
·I love Peyton Hillis. But if the Browns don't find someone else to help carry the load, teams will be able to key on him like they did here. So much of the Browns offense is ineffective when the run game isn't working.
·With Hillis shut down, the tight ends not being the factor in the passing game I had hoped, and Colt McCoy hobbling in the second half, the play action game was not working. Yet, the Browns continued to go there. Once again, adjustments needed to be made.
·McCoy is a gamer. His touchdown pass once again saved a play that looked like a disaster, escaping from what looked like a sure sack. His scramble on a bad ankle late in the game showed guts. I wish the receivers could have helped him out more. It's hard to believe he nearly pulled it out with a long drive with no time outs.
·Speaking of time outs, the Browns wasted two on one drive by not being ready. Having 13 men on the field is inexcusable, but presumably this is where injuries and using guys that normally don't play much hurts.
·Why do the Browns leave Evan Moore on the bench when all he does is make plays? That is just maddening. What does he need to do to get playing time? Also, with trouble running the ball in the second half, why didn't the Browns use Lawrence Vickers more?
·Likewise, the staff continues to trot out Brian Robiske and he does nothing. It's time for him to come down with a hangnail and go on IR. The Browns can give him one more offseason to see if he can play at this level. How much worse could Carlton Mitchell be? Or Demetrious Williams?
·Clifton Smith made a Pro Bowl as a returner? He is unbelievably slow. His one decent return was wiped out by a penalty.
·Athyba Rubin gives effort every single play. Why am I still surprised to be him chasing ball carriers well downfield?
·I know those kicks were from 50 yards or more, but when is the last time Phil Dawson missed two field goals in a game?
·I'm not blaming the coaches for the loss, but it did seem like the play calling was incredibly vanilla in the second half. Were they trying to protect an injured McCoy? I feel like they retreated form the aggressive style that has worked so well in previous games. Perhaps injuries were part of it.
·The loss of Josh Cribbs was huge in this game on special teams and on offense. I was a bit puzzled that they did not try some wildcat with Seneca Wallace. I assume that was due to injury concerns? The same reason Joe Haden did not return kickoffs?
Let's be realistic. The Browns are banged up. They have some talent deficits, especially at wide receiver. The defense was playing some guys deep down the roster. The special teams didn't really contribute at all. Yet, they almost managed to pull out a win.
The depth on the offensive line is definitely an issue. The Browns have already lost Tony Pashos and Billy Yates for the year. Steinbach and Womack are hurting. St. Clair may be healthy, but he isn't that good. Lauvao is inexperienced. When the line is manhandled, it doesn't bode well for the Browns. It takes them out of much of what they want to do on offense.
The Browns can't go conservative in their approach just because they perceive that these games are "easier". Buffalo is no pushover. Miami has proved tough at times, even if they are down to their third quarterback. The Bengals are sliding but still have some talent. Carolina showed some flashes last week at Baltimore.
The Browns have to win some of these upcoming games or Mike Holmgren will have some tough decisions to make.
The Quarterback Conundrum
So, Colt McCoy is now hobbled by an ankle injury. Meanwhile, Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace may both be healthy again. I think Mangini is taking a gamble putting Delhomme back in, especially against his old team. If he makes mistakes winging the ball all over and the Browns lose, it will not help the cause of this coaching staff. Wallace is a career backup for a reason, but I believe he is less apt to make a big mistake. I'd go with Wallace.
If McCoy can't go, Mangini will have a very interesting decision to make when he is healthy again.
The Panthers come to town reeling. This could be a trap for the Browns if they are not careful.
The season is short. Bark hard!