You cannot call the Cleveland Browns a disappointment, again the home-team did what most expected of them — they lost a game they could have won.
Get rid of the motto around this Cleveland Browns team - “Play like a Brown”, there is little need for the statement, it’s well known. This Browns team plays in that manner, this Browns team is no different than those disappointing teams of years past — more like a decade and a half past.
Three games into the 2015 season, the Browns are proving to be a consistent bunch. The offensive line again struggled, this time against the Oakland Raiders. The rushing attack was transparent and the defense simply crawled under a rock as the Raiders offense came out and did what the Browns first two opponents in the season had — ran the ball effectively and made plays in the passing game.
While expectations of the Cleveland offense are minimal — control the ball, minimize mistakes and seek consistency, the Browns offense ensured they played within the meek expectation. The team appeared listless, the buzz only a week earlier felt at First Energy Stadium had dissipated quickly after the Raiders moved the ball down the field against what many members of the Cleveland Browns continuous state is one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Unfortunately, those are words and the actions on the playing field tell an entirely different story.
Riddled by missed tackles, blown assignments and the Raiders offense executing all all cylinders, the Browns were down 3-0 before the smoke cleared — and if not for an Oakland penalty and a poor pass by QB Derek Carr, the Raiders could have put a seven-spot on the board.
Again, the Browns issues on the defensive side of the ball were all to similar too what we have witnessed throughout the head coach Mike Pettine reign. CB Joe Haden was being abused by rookie WR Amari Cooper from the first snap of the game while Carr had time in the pocket and was making decisive throws against the vaunted Cleveland defense. The Raiders passing game softened up an already poor Browns run-defense, as the Raiders would take advantage of the inability of the Browns to contain the edge, along with poor DB support — safety Donte Whitner being the main culprit.
As has been the story throughout Pettine’s time in Cleveland, the Browns cannot stop the run. Playing run-defense is a commitment to recognition, responsibility as well as talent and coaching. In Cleveland it is not uncommon to see LBs hitting the incorrect gap, no sense of navigating through traffic, an inability to get off offensive linemen getting to the second-level or an OLB or DE failing to set the edge — on Sunday, the Raiders used a simple approach, they sealed and were able to maneuver rookie nose-tackle Danny Shelton with one blocker on many occasions.
Throughout all the noise coming out of the Cleveland locker room about their defense, they continue to display the inability to be consistent, teams don’t view Haden as being a shut-down CB and continue to challenge him. The opposition will continue to expose Whitner in the passing game, he’s simply a step-short and doesn’t instill fear in a receiver that can get position and run away from him.
If not for a Browns defense creating havoc a week ago versus rookie QB Marcos Mariota and three opportunistic plays, the Browns could easily be sitting 0-3 today. On that day, the Browns generated a pass rush against an inexperienced QB and made the most of their opportunities — against Oakland, the Browns pass rush disappeared, another troubling aspect of the Cleveland defense. The Browns pass rush is an inconsistent aspect, with more ups and downs that a roller coaster.
On this day, there were no QB Johnny Manziel deep vertical strikes to WR Travis Benjamin, nor was there an electrifying Benjamin punt return for a TD.
The opportunities were present for the Browns offense during the 27-20 loss to the Raiders Sunday, at a subdued First Energy Stadium. QB Josh McCown, back under center after suffering a concussion in the season opener against the New York Jets played as if he was in a fog throughout the first half of the Raiders game. Under the Raiders relentless pressure, McCown missed numerous pass attempts, was late on many others and the Browns inability to generate anything in the run-game only intensified the aggressiveness of the Oakland front-seven defensively.
As the inconsistent Cleveland offense struggled to move the ball against an Oakland defense that had has had it’s fair share of coverage issues against the pass early in the season, the Browns showed little emotion or urgency, down 17-3 at the half.
The second-half was much like the first with the Raiders maintaining their stranglehold in the trenches.
Down 27-10 in the fourth quarter, the Browns offense finally displayed some urgency in attacking, moving the ball down the field, scoring a FG and TD, putting the Browns down 27-20 with over six-minutes remaining in the game.
After holding the Raiders offense on consecutive series, the Browns had to drive the length of the field, if they were to send the fans home happy. Move the ball down the field the Browns did.
Following McCown under-throwing Benjamin on what should have been a 98-yard TD pass, McCown led the Browns on an impressive drive — only to stall when McCown did what McCown has been known for throughout his mediocre NFL career - he took a sack, then threw an interception from the 35 yard line - again on a pass which he didn’t get air under intended for an open Benjamin heading to the end-zone.
Getting back to McCown is the full-circler of question about this Browns organization, their direction, motive and ultimate plan for not only today, but the future.
McCown is a journeyman, a mediocre NFL QB that has had limited moments of success at the professional level. Throughout the off-season and through training camp the Browns were consistent in praising his leadership and how he performed since arriving in Cleveland. The theory, the plan in Cleveland was to place McCown in a situation similar to where he had his greatest success, a short-run while with the Bears where he managed the offense and limited turnovers.
Against Oakland, McCown showed what he is, a QB that isn’t a guy that will likely win games for a team. Against Oakland, following another defensive collapse, that is what they needed McCown to achieve and he couldn’t.
And it won’t help matters that a week ago, the backup in Cleveland just happened to make two big throws to the same WR that was running free and missed on two occasions on Sunday.
The state of the Browns where they stand today is on general manager Ray Farmer and Pettine — let’s see what the next move is.