The Fast Lane: A double-sided defeat

The quarterback will get the attention, but problems run deeper...

The Browns 23–7 loss to the Houston Texans is a difficult one to swallow due to the manner which the Texans dominated the Browns on both sides of the ball.

The game is still played in the trenches and the Browns were a no-show against the Houston team with a first-time starter at QB (Ryan Mallett) and a rookie RB (Alfred Blue).

THE DEFENSE

Mallett showed poise from the moment he stepped onto the field and executed the Texans offense effectively. The Texans new quarterback took what the Browns defense was giving, which was easy pitch-and-catch opportunities to the wide receivers due to the Browns passive defensive approach to press coverage.

The Browns defense did nothing to put pressure on Mallett, mentally or physically. All the first-time starter had to do was make the ordinary play, the kinds of plays that he has practiced for years on the bench in New England, prior to being traded to Houston before the start of the season.

In essence, it appeared the Browns respected Mallett, the unknown commodity, more than the QB did the Cleveland defense, which had been playing much better of late.

Mallett also capitalized on the Browns inability to generate a pass rush, and was aided by a Houston rushing attack led by Alfred Blue The rookie gained 156 yards on 36 carries and gashed the Cleveland defense throughout the contest.

The Cleveland front seven did not factor in a positive way for the Browns. This continues to be a troubling aspect for a defense which was geared to be strong and potentially dominating.

Houston was running the ball effectively prior to the Browns losing LB Karlos Dansby (knee sprain/potential MCL), and losing the veteran only intensified the production of the Texans running attack.

Texans continued to expose the Browns lack of middle defense, manned today by Craig Robertson and rookie Christian Kirksey. While Kirksey was a step late to be in position, it was Robertson that was the most troubling and ineffective for this Cleveland defense.

Robertson’s performance was mediocre at best. He missed tackles, offered little resistance to Houston’s blockers and far too often did not play moving forward to have an opportunity to make even the common plays. With an anticipated loss of Dansby, the Browns may take an extended look at LB Eric Martin inside.

Losing Dansby for any period of time is going to be detrimental to the Cleveland defense, as Dansby is a team captain and makes many of the defensive calls. Losing the veteran linebacker would be the defensive equivalent of losing starting C Alex Mack. The Browns run defense - which actually worsened against the Texans - is an issue that will not be simply resolved.

It is one thing to lose. Any team can go down on any given Sunday. But the inability to execute the simplest of fundamentals on the playing field is inexcusable.

The Browns broke down in nearly every component of the game. We can talk about the inability to run the ball effectively. We can discuss the penalties, dropped passes, inability to tackle and cover a receiver.

Blue gained yardage after contact consistently throughout the game. With the Texans kicking out the DEs and planting the Browns NTs, the interior offensive linemen did an excellent job of walling the Cleveland ILBs, making the running game an overwhelming success for Houston.

When CB Joe Haden is the leading tackler with 13, there is room for concern.

THE OFFENSE

As ugly as the Browns performance was on the defensive side of the ball, the entire game-plan and execution by the Cleveland offense was pitiful.

The Browns inability to get off blocks was atrocious, as was the inability to make plays when they were in position to do so.

QB Brian Hoyer (20–50 330 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) did not play well, continuing his 2014 pattern. Full of ups and downs, Hoyer was inaccurate, late on some reads and didn’t take what the defense was giving him and the Cleveland offense.

While many will point to Hoyer’s ineffectiveness and make a case for Johnny Manziel to play, the solution to the issue on Sunday isn’t as simple as changing the QB. The Browns as a collective group - the coaching staff included - has to put this team in a position to execute.

On Sunday in Cleveland, while the execution left much to be desired, the play-calling left the Browns in precarious situations as well.

Outside of Hoyer’s play, the Browns failed to execute on many levels. The offensive line missed blocks throughout the game, both in run and pass protection. The right side of the offensive line was consistently beaten at the point of attack, although Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan kept coming back to the strong-side run.

Epic fail. Texans DE J.J. Watt blew-up the edge on a consistent basis.

Still, Shanahan isn’t solely the blame for this offensive performance. The left side of the Cleveland offensive line played solid ball, C Nick McDonald was average, but the right side struggled from the onset. The Browns running game tasted some success cutting back behind McDonald – basically feeding off the aggressive Houston defensive front-seven.

In the passing game, Hoyer was as scattershot as shooting buckshot out of a cannon – he sprayed the ball around, missing open receivers by plenty. This issue wasn’t solely due to pressure, as Hoyer missed receivers running toward the hash-marks which is a facet we have witnessed from him. He also had balls floating on him.

When Hoyer is skittish and wildly inaccurate, this Browns team is doomed.

Despite the inability to execute, the Browns had a chance in this game well into the 4th quarter.

A kickoff return negated due to a holding penalty, a couple missed opportunities in the passing game, a dropped pass, a bobbled pass that was intercepted all contributed to the Browns demise late in the game.

Hoyer’s performance will certainly lead to a week full of interesting sports-talk, as calls for Johnny Manziel will be loud – but at the end of the day, neither the Cleveland offense nor defense can be proud of their performance.

As DE Desmond Bryant put it following the loss, “We may have been sitting back a little bit, kind of catching more than we were delivering.”

It isn’t as simple as a problem with Hoyer. But in Cleveland the backup QB tends to be the most popular guy to discuss.


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