Sunday was just another day at the office for the Browns, losing 26-24 to the Oakland Raiders. A loss is a loss, but when it comes down to a blocked field goal attempt in a game where the team did not play particularity well, but had a chance to win, the defeat is tough to swallow.
Inefficiency on the offensive side of the ball, a lack of ability to control the rushing attack on the defensive side of the ball, and a failed block as the clock ticked down to zero were the themes of the game.
Anderson's Inexperience is Showing
Let's make this perfectly clear: Derek Anderson is an inexperienced quarterback attempting to keep the team in games until the throne can be handed over to rookie Brady Quinn. Anderson is erratic and his inconsistency is completely inexcusable at the professional level, but he is a young guy in a tough position. Anderson's natural progression leads him to look downfield first and foremost, and the problem is he tends to see through the intermediate line of defense.
Anderson should be relied upon only to manage the game. Anderson is what he is... the third-year veteran getting his shot now who isn't to blame for his inability or inexperience. Look to the coaching staff and organization which put him in this position. Anderson can and should be faulted for his tendency to turn the ball over and miss open receivers in the passing game.
In leading the offense while the heir apparent watches from the bench, Anderson has played just well enough to keep the Browns close on the scoreboard. But, he has not played well enough to keep a potentially balanced Cleveland offense on the field, which would only improve the chances of a defense which is as sieve-like as they come at this level.
Sustaining the Rush
Simply, the major problems on the offensive side of the ball are the quarterback and a lack of a sustained rushing attack.
While the acclaim for Jamal Lewis after he rushed for over 200 yards against the defensively deficient Cincinnati Bengals was understandable, the rushing performances before and after the huge game were mediocre, at best.
The Browns objectives area pretty simple on offense: run the ball, move the chains, keep the clock moving.
The team's other skill players and offensive linemen such as Eric Steinbach and Joe Thomas have played well since the regular season opener. Center Hank Fraley, along with Seth McKinney and Kevin Shaffer have done well in pass protection.
The overall state of the Browns rushing game is questionable, however, as the line - notably along the right side - hasn't provided the push necessary for the ground game to become consistent.
The Big Play
Overall, the offense has been in the position to make plays and be competitive. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski has received some criticism for his play-calling against Oakland, but the players have to make plays. The offensive unit has been put in a position to make plays and excel.
In an average game, there are approximately 3-to-5 opportunities to make a big play, the game changing variety. Against the Raiders, the Browns missed on every big-play opportunity. The coordinator can only get the players in position to make the play, it is the players which need to step up and be accountable.
Right On Our Nose
Many coaches and players around the game believe the game is won and lost in the trenches. In recent seasons, this philosophy has held true in regards to the Cleveland Browns. Consistently ranked among the bottom ten in the league against the run, the Cleveland defense is on the verge of hitting an all-time low, following another lackluster performance against the previously offensively challenged Oakland Raiders.
Bluntly, the nose tackle position for the Browns is the blackest hole I have viewed in a long time. Ted Washington has been very slow, easily moved, and does not possess the ability to compete for any significant period of time. Still, he was by far the best of a poor-performing unit on Sunday. Ethan Kelley was ineffective after being given a chance to start at nose tackle against the Raiders. Shaun Smith, the free agent signed to back up Washington, has been a non-factor, for reasons unknown to many.
Starting defensive ends Robaire Smith and Orpheus Roye have not played poorly. While Roye has gotten off to a slow start due to knee surgery and missing camp, Smith has been steady. Along this line, depth remains a concern and the team must address the problems if they are going to be competitive.
Re-Examining the Linebackers
While the nose tackles have obviously struggled, the linebacking corps, widely considered to be a solid group, has not played well. Inside linebackers Andra Davis and D'Qwell Jackson have been non-factors, with both players being out of position on numerous occasions. The speedy Jackson and veteran Davis fail to make plays, and neither player displays the ability to shoot the gaps aggressively. Remember gap responsibility?
It should be noted that some of the gap responsibility issue should be pinned on the team's defensive linemen. Still, Jackson and Davis have been virtually useless in blitzing situations, with Davis being a step slow and Jackson's weight making him too easy for a blocker to move out of position.
The outside linebackers, considered a strength, have been inconsistent and a non-factor for the most part of the three games played thus far. Kamerion Wimbley provides the team with a legitimate pass rushing threat, at last, but on Sunday the Oakland Raiders ran right at Wimbley and Antwan Peek, gaining a significant amount of yardage off tackle.
Surprisingly, Chaun Thompson, the forgotten linebacker, made a couple of very nice plays against the run when in the game for Peek.
The Browns are counting heavily on Wimbley and Peek to generate a pass rush, but this oftentimes puts the defense in a precarious position, as the run support from the other linebackers and defensive backs has been suspect.
Backing Up in the Backfield
Believed to be the strength of the defense heading into the season, the defensive backs have struggled tremendously. While the lack of a pass rush, coupled with the inability to stop the run, has made defending the pass a tough task, this does not excuse the poor execution in the backfield. Throughout the Browns first three games, receivers have been running open in the Browns secondary.
This defensive unit looks nothing like the group which played the pass reasonably well in the 2006 season.
Simply put, the defensive backs are not getting the job done. The unit misses the experience and leadership of Brian Russell (free agent to Seattle), Brodney Pool has played relatively poorly in his three starts, Sean Jones has been inconsistent and sometimes looks like a player who would much rather let a receiver catch a ball so he can hit them rather than cover them. At corner, Leigh Bodden is playing at less that 100-percent and rookie Eric Wright is just that, a rookie.
If Bodden can get healthy, he is a solid cornerback. Nickel-back Daven Holly may get some additional reps with the first team as Wright struggles, while Jones and Pool are a step behind in coverage and support. It appears the Cleveland defensive backs are tentative, which may be a result of having to think through the recognition, rather then reacting.
The Browns could today be 2-1 or they could be 0-3, but in either case the team would still have plenty of work to do if they intent on competing in the AFC North Division. With general manager Phil Savage calling all the shots within the organization, maybe this week he can rouse Travis Wilson from the inactive list and or call a defensive lineman off the practice squad.
Then again, Babatunde Oshinowo is on the Chicago Bears practice squad, and he certainly couldn't be any worse than what we have at nose tackle in Cleveland today. Also, the fans and media couldn't be fed the line that it isn't a worth a look, since Oshinowo knows the defensive assignments for the positions in the Browns defensive scheme.
But, then, why be proactive? This is a front office which does not make many player moves during the season.