Way to follow up a stinker with another stinker, Browns.
A week ago, I got some comments that I was being too hard on the defense. After all, they had held the Bills to 13 points. But they could not get the Bills off the field, were terrible against the run, and let the Bills rack up huge time of possession numbers.
And this game was different how?
The Bengals did not punt until there was around four minutes left in the game. Sure, the Bengals settled for four field goals, but on some of those plays, it was ineptitude by Cincinnati, not the defense, the stalled the drive. The Bengals converted 50% on third down, and they didn't have that many third downs when they were ripping off five or more yards a carry.
There are some disturbing patterns arising:
•The Browns do well on their early, scripted plays. After that, it looks as if they don't know if they want to run it or pass it. Ultimately, when they opened things up because they were behind and they had to, the offense moved the ball. But it was too little, too late, and the defense could not come up with a stop when they knew the Bengals would run.
•The Browns can no longer stop the run. Stopping the run is what fueled their success earlier in the year. Ahtyba Rubin is worn down, a shadow of what he was in the first half. Shaun Rogers did little in this game. Kenyon Coleman gives effort, but he is older and has some limitations. I like Brian Shaeferring, but he and Derrick Robinson got shoved around quite a bit. Slow linebackers don't help with this, either, and the Browns really miss Scott Fujita. The front seven looks like 2005 all over again.
•The offensive line was not good. I'll give Alex Mack a solid grade, but everyone else had problems. John St. Clair is a huge liability. Is Shawn Luavao that bad that the Browns could not give him a shot in these final games? Can he be that much worse?
•The defense looked flat again, and has since the Carolina game. They played well against Miami, but other than that, it has not been good.
•Has the staff lost confidence in Lawrence Vickers? Why is he not in there when they need tough yards?
•This staff bungled the end of the first half in a game they lost by two. A field goal there and this is a different game. What in the world were they trying to do? And McCoy has to not take a sack in that situation and St. Clair has to know the snap count. This staff is terrible in these situations.
McCoy did well, but he made some dangerous throws and got away with them. Still, even with McCoy a little gimpy, the offense was much better with him. One of the knocks on McCoy earlier in the year was not getting the wide receivers involved. He certainly got Brian Robiske involved in this game. Give Robert Royal credit for making a great catch, and Benjamin Watson did very well as the primary target, making some very nice catches in traffic.
The formation with the tackles split wide was interesting, but the Browns didn't do anything with it other than the one play. What made that play was Joshua Cribbs taking two steps back at the snap, sucking in the Bengal defense as they read screen.
On defense, T.J. Ward and Sheldon Brown flew around all day. Joe Haden took a step back. Among the linebackers, it seems to me like Chris Gocong is stepping it up a bit. Overall, though, the defense was just bad.
Here's one you don't say often about this team: the kick coverage was terrible.
Reggie Hodges was brilliant as has become his norm. One interesting stat: he has not had a touchback since early in the year, I believe week 5.
The Coaching Conundrum
Two weeks ago, the Browns were 5-7 and folks were saying Eric Mangini was the obvious choice to coach the team going forward. Now, not so much. The fans have turned, but really to me, something changed after the Jacksonville game. I'm not sure what.
Let me go on record saying that I am not thrilled with the idea of sweeping out this staff and making massive changes again. But this team has gotten some pieces in place to build around and perhaps if you are going to make a change, now is the time to make it.
I really felt that when the Browns went to the spread and moved the ball late in the game, it perhaps sealed the fate of Brian Daboll. He just doesn't seem to be able to react in the game and adapt to what the opponent is doing. This was a winnable game if the Browns reacted to the eight in the box looks the Bengals were giving on first down. The Browns lack talent on offense, true, but I don't think they are getting the most out of the talent they have.
Rob Ryan brings fire, I know, but his defenses have never been in the top half of the league. Too much "bend but don't break". Perhaps if the offense were more consistent, that would work OK. On the other hand, the defense has a lot of missing parts and is worn down. With Rubin not playing at peak performance and Scott Fujita out, the front seven looks very bad. The secondary has improved, but there was regression this week, especially from Haden and Abe Elam. Ryan is a question mark. How would this defense look with a big time pass rusher and some good 3-4 defensive ends?
If I am Mike Holmgren, I have to ask myself two questions:
1. Is this staff getting the most out of the players?
2. Is this staff ultimately going to get the Browns to the Super Bowl?
On question 1, my answer was probably "yes" earlier in the year, but now I'm not so sure. On offense especially, the offensive line has regressed, and in particular, Joe Thomas has not looked good. The Browns have done little to develop the young receivers. They don't use players that make contributions like Evan Moore (now injured), Lawrence Vickers, and Seneca Wallace. They only seem to trust certain players and ride them until they are worn down.
On defense, I think the case could be made that the staff has gotten a lot of out of some marginal players. But it has also put some players, like Eric Wright, in a position to fail far too often. I'm not sure I have a feel on this one.
On question 2, I'm afraid I am coming to conclusion that poor game planning and in-game management will doom this team and this staff. While the Browns have talent deficits, the Browns have been in pretty much every game. Yet, the staff did not find ways to win some of those. I think there is an argument to be made that changing the approach in some games like Tampa Bay and in Cincinnati would have been enough to win. Even just a two game swing from 5-9 to 7-7 would be a huge difference.
A lot rides on the final two games. The direction of the team hangs in the balance. This staff had better pull out every stop. Both the Ravens and Steelers are playing for their playoff lives. Two games left, playoffs off the table, there is no reason to hold anything back.
The Browns face the hated Ravens.
The season is short. Bark hard!