Derry: Average Is As Average Does

It didn't take long for the Ravens to assemble the points needed to beat the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, as the visiting squad put the ball on the ground on their first play. Frank Derry looks at the team's effort and a failure in play-calling judgment that put the team on its heels early...

Romeo Crennel said it best … the 2005 Cleveland Browns are an "average" team.

They are good enough to stay on the same field with just about anyone when they play error-free football. And they are bad enough to lose to anyone when they shoot themselves in the feet.

Sunday afternoon, they did the latter.

A bad snap on the Browns' first offensive play resulted in a fumble by quarterback Trent Dilfer which was recovered by Ravens defensive sparkplug Ray Lewis. And, believe it or not, that was the ball game. The Browns never recovered. It was over. Both teams might as well have headed to their locker room, packed their bags and left the stadium.

Of course, the NFL would never allow such a thing. And, as we all know, it's not really over until the final whistle and the fat lady sings. But if Don Meredith, he of Cowboys quarterback and Monday Night Football fame, had been on hand, he could have started warbling, "Turn out the lights, the party's over" with more than 53 minutes left to play. Realistically, this one was OVER. DONE. FINISHED.

There was never a point in this game when it seemed like the Browns had any chance of coming back after spotting the Ravens a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter, the result of the botched snap.

The Browns seemed shell-shocked by that development and never got anything going offensively in a disheartening 16-3 loss to the Ravens, a team that was ripe for the picking after getting whipped by the Detroit Lions the previous week.

There was talk that Ravens head coach Brian Billick had lost control of his team. That the inmates were running the asylum. That another loss, especially one to an AFC North Division foe, might put Billick on a hot seat from which he could not extricate himself.

There's no doubt the Browns wanted to come out and turn up the heat by turning off the fans and putting an early score on the board.

With a nice wind at their backs in the first quarter, the game plan was to go to the air and let Dilfer show the Ravens that they had made a huge mistake in not re-signing him after he led Baltimore to the Super Bowl crown following the 2000 season.

And that was all well and good. But the Browns coaches picked the wrong way to do it.

Some in-depth analyzing of the situation makes you wonder why the Browns would come out in the shotgun on their very first play. Think about it:

First off, the crowd was in a frenzy, as it always is to start a game in Baltimore, so it was going to be very difficult for center Jeff Faine to hear the Dilfer call the signals.

Secondly, Crennel and his staff were well aware of the wind situation down on the field. It was deceptively windy, a fact which Crennel admitted after the game. When it's that windy, the snap in the shotgun is never a given.

And the fired-up Ravens defense was ready to take out its frustration on anything that got in its way.

So you've got a loud crowd, a hungry defense and windy conditions and … SURPRISE! … a mistake. A costly mistake. A game-ending mistake. In the opening minutes of the first quarter!

UNBELIEVABLE!

"When you play on the road, you can't put yourself in a hole," Crennel acknowledged. "We knew they were going to try and rally from their performance a week before and we just encouraged their rally by doing some stuff, giving them seven points to start with, giving them big plays, pass plays and running plays."

But Romeo, if you knew they were going to try and rally; if you knew they were going to come out fired up; if you knew the crowd was in a frenzy and if you knew the wind was blowing at a good clip down on the field, then why not come out in a conservative offense, one which was not high-risk?

All I can say is you can chalk this one up to inexperience, not so much on the players' part but rather the inexperience of a first-year head coach and a first-year offensive coordinator (Maurice Carthon).

Let us hope they put this one in the memory bank and don't make the same mistake again.

Had the Browns' defense been able to shut down the Ravens, it might have been a different story. But as has been the case all season, the defense has not been able to stop opposing teams from running the ball.

The Ravens ran for 150 yards on 33 carries, including 92 on eight carries by Chester Taylor, the player the Browns tried to sign as a free agent this past off-season. Unfortunately, the Ravens' matched the Browns' offer and thus kept him as a complement to Jamal Lewis, who is not nearly the running back he was a year or two ago.

But not only did the Ravens control the ground game by a 150-70 margin, the Browns allowed inexperienced quarterback Anthony Wright to have his best game ever for the Ravens, completing 23 of 31 for 213 yards and one touchdown.

All in all, it was probably the worst game yet for the Browns in the 2005 season. In reality, last week's game against the Bears would have been just as bad if not for the two big pass plays which saved the day. This week, there no miracles.

The Browns have now pretty much played eight straight quarters of below-average football following their bye week. Obviously, the improvement which had been anticipated during the time off has not showed up on the field.

In fact, it appears that Crennel's analysis of the team being "average" might have been an over-statement. Right now, they probably are a notch below that level in virtually every aspect of the game.

 


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