What did we learn from Sunday's game in Dallas?
Much. Some good, much bad:
- We learned it gets real hot in Texas Stadium in September.
- We learned that if you blatantly hold in the end zone, merciless referees will call a safety.
- We learned that a $25 million quarterback doesn't always see a wide-open $40 million tight end, especially when the 10-cent offensive guards can't pass block.
We also learned that it's possible to record a 0.0 quarterback rating.
Interestingly, if you come in the game and toss a single incompletion, a la Luke McCown, your rating will be a 39.58.
What does it take to record a 0.0 passer rating? I'm not sure, but I do know it involves playing worse than perhaps the most grotesque quarterback performance in living memory.
Consider this frightening statistic: On his worst day in a Browns uniform, the creature known as "Spergon Wynn" recorded no worse than a 20.0 rating. That was Dec. 30, 2000, at Green Bay, a 24-13 loss in which he hit just 11 of 30 passes for 114 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. That's exactly 20 more rating points than Garcia on Sunday, one more touchdown, three more completions in three less attempts and 43 more passing yards. They did match interceptions, however.
In his second start, a week later, Wynn managed to elevate his rating to 23.2 in a 19-3 loss at Baltimore. Progress!
You can calculate NFL quarterback rankings at http://home.new.rr.com/rosslahaye.
What else did we learn?
That the Browns' 2004 draft class basically doesn't exist. The loss of Kellen Winslow and Sean Jones means the Browns are getting zero production from their rookies. McCown is a project for the future. But for the next 14 weeks, the rookie cupboard is bare.
Who were the other draft picks this year? I had to look them up online.
Fifth rounder Amon Gordon, a defensive end from Stanford, isn't even on the depth chart.* Sixth-round pick Kirk Chambers, yet another Cardinal, is the second-string left tackle, so he'll actually play when Ross Verba gets injured. And since Verba plays an important position, you know he will go down. Again.
Lastly, seventh-round pick Adimchinobe Echemandu, isn't on the active roster.
We learned the Browns of old (1999-2003) are still capable of rearing their ugly heads:
- Catastrophic injuries? Check.
- Lame brained decisions? Check.
- Inexplicable mental-breakdowns? Check.
- Loss to a marginal opponent? Check.
- Inscrutable reasoning by Butch Davis? Check.
Did we learn anything good?
A little. Like this defense isn't too bad. But a good defense relies upon depth. And depth along the critical defensive line died a slow death on the steamy Texas Stadium turf Sunday.
Courtney "Glass Ass" Brown is gone yet again. Gerard "Small Change" Warren is out with a chest injury.
That means the successful scheme of rotating defensive linemen to keep fresh-legged pressure on the quarterback took a serious blow. How serious we will see on Sunday in Giants Stadium.
This team doesn't have the talent to rely on its linebackers and secondary to win games. Defensive line pressure masks deficiencies in the secondary. The line was able to get pressure against Baltimore's Kyle Boller and his patchwork offensive line because Cleveland's depth allowed a rotation that kept fresh bodies on the field. That appears to be gone. As the expression goes, we now have to dance with the one that brung us -- even though they might be the culprits behind a 5-11 season a year ago.
The third week of the season brings us yet another test. The season opener was a must-win, in the sense of building momentum and exorcising demons. They did so. The second game was the test to see if the team could avoid an emotional letdown. The jury is still out on that because the team didn't appear to lack emotion -- just talent. And that's a frightening thought after six seasons, indeed.
Certainly, this team is better than what fans witnessed Sunday. Jeff Garcia has never regularly recorded 0.0 passer ratings. No one has. But the team doesn't seem to be as good as the one that defeated Baltimore 20-3 in what seems like six months ago. The reality likely lies somewhere in between, and the question is if that reality is good enough to earn a playoff berth.
The game against Kurt Warner's Giants will go a long way toward revealing what will see the rest of the season. How this Browns team responds to the loss of so many starters will be what defines Cleveland's 2004 season.
Another inept loss like we saw Sunday likely spells doom. It's too emotionally taxing to lose such games week in and week out.
A close defeat after a well-played game is a different story. If the Browns execute, but New York lucks into a victory, then it's still early enough in the season to recover, and the team psyche won't be damaged.
Beating the Giants convincingly -- and I don't mean the jerky, sputtering offense we saw in Week 1 -- and things will keep falling into place. A much smoother offensive performance is critical because the defense can't carry this team long. Eventually, it will wear out.
The division right now looks like a three-horse race. Pittsburgh is done. Cincinnati won a sloppy game against a deflated Dolphins squad. The Ravens looked better against the Steelers, but that's not saying much.
Beat the Giants, the division crown is a realistic goal.
Fall apart in the Meadowlands, a season collapse will be at hand, and reviled media critics like Sean Salisbury will feast on the fetid remains of this team. Rightly so, unfortunately.
Any talk of losing is considered defeatist blasphemy in some circles. A schism is emerging among the Browns faithful, between the head-in-the-sand Pollyannas and the doomsday-is-here Chicken Littles. Shunted to the crevices of the conversation are the realists.
I think of myself as a pragmatist when it comes to pro football.
Defeats such as we saw Sunday are the sort which damage the foundation of season. And let's make no mistake, this was a catastrophic loss. It's only the second week of the season, but the injuries sustained in the losing effort may have damaged the team's ability to build momentum. For a brief moment, the Browns had depth at most positions.
Now, the cupboard is bare at several spots -- the very problem that vexed the team for five years. The 22 starters don't play 60 minutes.
The Dallas loss magnified everything that's wrong with this team. The problems may not be as awful as they looked Sunday, but they were there for all to see on a national stage. The best hope is that such a harsh spotlight on so many problems leads the franchise brain trust to finally address these issues. Like addressing the offensive line for the first team since, say, 1965.
The complexities and contradictions of the NFL season allows fans the luxury of hope, especially this early in the season. And going into this game, there is no reason to believe the Browns cannot defeat the Giants, who are not exactly overflowing with talent.
If there was a perfect time to come out and obliterate a suspect opponent, this is the time. The Giants frighten no one on defense, so what's left of Cleveland's offensive line should be able to create just enough of a hole for either William Green or the maybe or maybe not injured Lee Suggs.
This is also the team to establish something of an aerial attack against. Can't do much worse than last week. Perhaps this week's game plan will be something more sophisticated than "Throw deep to someone" and that someone is either a step behind, or drops it.
On Sunday, the team couldn't have done worse with Warren Beatty quarterback from "Heaven Can Wait" throwing bombs to Nipsey Russell. Or any other celebrity appearing on the "Match Game."
(Exception: Brian Billick, who appeared as a guest on the Oct. 16, 1977 episode. He hit on the grotesque Brett Somers. Think I'm making that up? Check it out your own self: www.matchgame.org/bbillick. He lost 5-0. Prophetic?)
So, who do I think wins Sunday? I'm a fence sitter. I can never decide where to eat dinner, either.
Unfortunately, my gut instinct is that the Browns simply lost too many players at Dallas, and Kurt Warner will have his way with them because we can't get pressure on him. It pains me, but I see a 31-13 Giants' victory. No one will be happier than me if I'm wrong. A convincing victory shifts me closer to thinking again they could manage a playoff run.
At best, though, we can hope for a repeat of 2002, a stormy season that saw a neo-Kardiac Kids team wobble into the playoffs (courtesy of the tender mercies of the New York Jets) after 16 weeks of the theater of the absurd.
OK, enough heavy thinking. On the eve of the Browns' critical game at New York, there are some things I just need to get out there, both questions and comments. Maybe someone can answer me.
- What the hell happened to Sterling Sharpe's eyebrows?
- Why is Myron Cope allowed anywhere near a microphone?
- Elephant rampages: I will always stop to watch.
- It's always fourth down in Cincinnati, on and off the football field.
- It's no accident those Levitra commercials during NFL telecasts are in Ravens purple.
- The NFL Network: A good idea long overdue.
- The RFD Network: A very, very bad idea that makes me laugh very hard.
- My fantasy team at one point this season had both Todd Heap and Kellen Winslow.
- Anyone else still saying, "Oh, that's right, the Seahawks are in the NFC now"?
- A Ravens-Steelers game with lots of injuries: There is a just God!
Former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor Bill Shea writes the Doc Gonzo column for Bernies Insiders each Thursday. Except when he doesn't. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hopes to receive nasty e-mails touting a Browns victory over the Giants on Sunday.
* EDITOR'S NOTE: Doc obviously looked on a depth chart on a site other than BerniesInsiders.com. We maintain the most up-to-date depth charts for the Browns anywhere, and Amon Gordon is definitely on it. So there.