Rich's Rant: 3-4 Anvil Edition

Is it time to admit that Romeo Crennel's favorite defensive scheme has failed in Cleveland? OBR columnist Rich Passan thinks so, and makes his case...

It is time for the Browns to take a look, a seriously long look, at whether their current defensive philosophy has become an anvil around their necks.

How else can one explain the nearly 500 yards that defense surrendered to the Dallas Cowboys in Sunday's once-again embarrassing loss in the season opener?

The 3-4 alignment is dedicated to stopping the run. Since converting to the 3-4 three years ago, the Browns have wound up either in or near the basement of the National Football League in preventing the opposition from churning out yardage.

The problem ostensibly was fixed in the offseason with the acquisition of defensive linemen Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams. Plugged some serious holes along the defensive front, the club reminded us.

Someone neglected to tell that to the Cowboys, whose infantry cavorted all over Cleveland Browns Stadium for 167 yards. If this is better, I'd hate to see what would be considered worse.

When your defense spends nearly 38 minutes on the field in a 60-minute game, shuts down the opposition only three times in 11 third-down situations and permits a quarterback to throw for 320 yards while barely touching him, you're in trouble. The huge Dallas offensive line swallowed Cleveland defenders.

Third down, no matter the distance, was advantage Cowboys. First and 28 also proved easy to convert. In two plays!

The ease with which the Cowboys offense operated was reminiscent in many ways of the first three seasons of Romeo Crennel's Charmin defense. It didn't work with Todd Grantham as the titular head of the defense. And if the Cowboys' game is any indication, Mel Tucker is nothing more than an extension of Crennel.

And that ain't working.

Yes, the Cowboys are among the elite of the NFL. But if the Browns are to stamp themselves a legitimate contenders for at least postseason play, the Cowboys are the kind of team to which they must stand up. They didn't come close Sunday.

Only the foolhardy expected the Browns to win this game. But at least they were expected to be competitive. Instead, they barely struggled to be representative.

The Cowboys' offense toyed almost all afternoon with the Browns, who seemed stuck in reverse. The only negative yardage play in 63 snaps for the Cowboys was a kneel down on the final play of the game.

The only blemish was the cleft that Robaire Smith, Willie McGinest and Kamerion Wimbley tried to plant in Tony Romo's chin midway through the third quarter.

The Browns showed little, if any, resistance in stopping Dallas on both sides of the ball. And the pass rush has become an oxymoron when referencing the Cleveland defense. It's not there. It's not even close.

Romo had time to pick his nose, his fingernails and his choice of girl friends before deciding on which receiver was going to see the football. Playing against predominantly soft coverage, one would think the Cowboys receivers drew straws in the huddle to make that determination. The Cowboys' scout team on defense no doubt gave Romo a tougher time last week than the Browns gave them Sunday. It was too easy.

There is no question the Cleveland defense needs to become more aggressive. If that means blitzing, so be it. Blitzing supposedly covers a lot of weakness. Well, guess what?

The Browns have glaring weakness when it comes to getting up close and personal with opposing quarterbacks.

As long as a quarterback has that much time to throw, even the mediocre ones look like Tom Brady. At one point in the fourth quarter, Romo had nearly 10 seconds to throw a pass midway through the second quarter. Ten seconds!! Shameful. Ironically, it was one of his eight incompletions.

It's too late to do anything about the 3-4 this season. But next season, serious consideration should be given to resurrecting the 4-3 alignment, which is designed to produce more pressure on the quarterback.

Some fans will point to the offense as one of the culprits in the loss. Wrong direction, even though at times, it was hard to figure out what planet Braylon Edwards was on.

Caught only two passes. Mishandled a certain 53-yard touchdown pass when he alligator-armed a Derek Anderson beauty late in the first quarter. Tag on a couple of dumb penalties and four dropped passes and you have his contribution. He's better than that.

Maybe those four weeks he missed with a foot injury dulled his sharpness. Same with Anderson, who chipped away only a few specks of rust after missing three weeks with his concussion but made a few nice throws. Unless he sneaked in and played some defense, he can't be faulted for what went on against the Cowboys.

No, the defenders get the majority of the blame for this one along with some highly questionable coaching by Crennel, whose mind-numbing decision to kick a field goal on fourth-and-3 from the Dallas 17 when down, 28-7, early in the fourth quarter must have stunned fans into abject silence.

It brought back memories of Bill Belichick's decision to kick a field goal on the final play of a 31-13 loss in San Diego in December 1995. What in the world was Crennel thinking?

The Cowboys had piled 421 yards and four touchdowns on seven possessions to that point.

What made him think 28-10 was better than trying for 28-14? The Browns needed a touchdown at the time, not a field goal. Anything less than six points should have been dismissed. There isn't one shred of evidence that can justify such a move. It showed a blatant lack of confidence in the offense. If I'm a member of that offense, I'm ticked off at my head coach.

But again, that's not what lost the game. It only added to the frustration. It was just a footnote reeking with ignorance.

Exactly a year ago at this time, the Browns embarrassed themselves in the home opener against Pittsburgh. Then came that second-week explosion against Cincinnati and the stunning 10-6 record. The season turned around in a flash.

This year, the second-week opponent isn't the Bengals. It's the Steelers at CBS on national television.

Will history repeat itself? Not if the Browns play the Steelers in the manner they played the Cowboys.

Just like last season, it looks once again as though it will be up to the offense to win games. If it can't, an 0-2 start lurks because the defense cannot be counted on to prevent it.


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