As the Arizona Cardinals methodically rammed the ball down the throats of the Browns defense on the opening drive of the game, I could only think "here we go again".
Only the Cardinals and an uncanny number of turnovers gave this game a feeling that the Browns had a chance -- much like the Browns give-away against the Denver Broncos two-weeks prior in Cleveland.
Up 20-7 late in the second quarter, the Browns were in it. While not necessarily stopping the Cardinals offense, the Browns were battling -- and Arizona QB Carson Palmer just happened to miss to open receivers deep down-field that could have resulted in easy scoring opportunities.
The Browns were moving the ball, and they were putting points on the board against an Arizona defense which figured to stone-wall the Browns into oblivion.
Despite their good fortunes, the game still didn't have a comfortable feel to it. We've been there too many times before, as the Browns have shown the ability to play solid football for periods of time, only to make their customary gaff and the opposition would be off and running.
As the Browns offense crawled into a ‘not to lose or make a mistake’ mode, they quickly went three and out (three running plays) deep in their own territory, resulting in a punt. After utilizing time-outs to stop the clock throughout the Browns offensive series, the Cardinals received the ball in good field-position, drove the ball inside the 20 yard line and kicked a field goal as time expired in the first half, cutting the Browns lead to 20-10.
While appearing to be a "win" for the Browns in not giving up a touchdown, the theme of the game was being set. The Cardinals had moved the ball, just didn’t finish, and the points prior to the half were the beginning of the end for the Browns.
The Cardinals throw the ball down-field more than any team in the league. With the Browns pass rush getting close to Palmer, but not getting enough pressure in his face, the Arizona air-raid was clicking coming out of the half as WR Michael Floyd beat Browns CB Joe Haden on a 60-yard TD reception. Haden suffered a concussion on the play after being beaten on the pass and taking a foot to the head.
The inability to get to and rattle Palmer only enhanced the opportunity for the Arizona offense to attack the Cleveland man coverage effectively. But, it didn’t matter much on this game-day, as Palmer was beating man-press, as well as safety-over opportunities.
Palmer and the Arizona offense systematically attacked the Browns defense — abusing every CB the Browns trotted onto the field. On this day, Haden, Tramon Williams, K'Waun Williams and Johnson Bademosi were beaten early and often, with Bademosi getting schooled by All-Pro WR Larry Fitzgerald.
A telling tale that the Browns pass-rush and pressure groups were ineffective was the stat-line indicating that the Cardinals converted 13 of 16 third down opportunities, averaged 9.5 yards per pass attempt, while rushing the ball 38 times and possessing the ball for nearly 35 minutes.
And the Cardinals won in easy fashion despite turning the ball over four times.
The NFL is a pressure game: if a defense cannot generate heat to force a QB into mistakes or disrupt timing, the outcome generally is what was witnessed on Sunday in Cleveland. The occasional, legitimate pressure the Cleveland defense mustered wasn’t good enough, especially against a good QB with an excellent offensive scheme, quality players at WR of size and ability.