A fine line divides success and failure in the NFL. Subtle changes can create a rippling effect, and this has been the case with the Cleveland Browns. It could be a WR or TE not securing a block, or an offensive lineman taking a wrong or late angle in a blocking assignment, but the slightest variation can turn a positive play turn into a negative one in a split second.
Injuries have played a vital role in the early season demise of the Browns. Deficiencies along the offensive line directly relate to the inabilities of the offense, including the running game and QB. It's not not an excuse - it's reality. Couple the team's missing components with under-achievement, the lack of quality depth and a sense of waning confidence, and you get the precarious position the Browns find themselves in just three weeks into the 2008 season.
An example of how quickly the tides change can be witnessed when the Browns have the football. Here are some points to consider:
Pay attention to the offensive line - outside of LT Joe Thomas, the Browns offensive line play has been very inconsistent and lacking solid fundamentals. The line is being moved off the point easily. Some of the issues existed last season, but not to this extent, and the QB was getting the ball out. For this Cleveland offense, making plays in the passing game is best way for this offense to open up the opposing defense. Getting defenders out of the box to stop the run is critical. So far, however, the passing game has been a failure, which then creates problems in the running game and puts focus on the limitations of the offensive line talent and the team's current quarterback.
A passing game is only as good as the component parts in place. It's obvious that the offensive line has struggled and the QB hasn't fared well. What is not mentioned enough is the lack of experience and consistency at the wide receiver position. Braylon Edwards has come out of the gate slow while teams focus on him defensively. He is dropping passes at an alarming rate after missing the final three-plus weeks of camp. Free agent acquisition Donte Stallworth has been stalled by the dreaded 'mild' quad strain. While Syndric Steptoe and Steve Sanders are simply too inexperienced and not talented enough to expect them to make a difference, especially at a precarious time. This is why the two WR's are looked upon as depth/filler types and not the players you would expect to call upon as a first and second option. When your number-one WR is playing like a #3 and there is no depth after it, it's not a mystery why the offense has issues.
With an offensive line that is more versed on the technical aspects of the game not playing to their strength, things are going to go wrong quickly. Defenses are getting after the Browns, being extremely physical at the point and pushing this Cleveland offensive line around. Without OG's Eric Steinbach and Ryan Tucker in the line up, this group is very average, without an ability to execute in the running game and lacking agility in pass protection. Seth McKinney at LG and Rex Hadnot at RG are not playing well within the scheme, while C Hank Fraley has been questionable due to the lack of quality surrounding him.
The play-calling of offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski has become puzzling. Of course, it may not make a difference when the QB is struggling, the WR's are questionable and the offensive line is out of sorts. The real question and issue is what can Chudzinski do to change the landscape, when his pieces parts are not playing well and have not shown the ability to manage the basics of the scheme. Jump-starting the offense by repeated attempts to throw downfield has not been a success.
Continuous mental mistakes hamper the QB and this offense. Despite the issues along the offensive line and at WR, QB Derek Anderson has to perform at a higher level. Granted, the weapons have yet to come to the surface for this 2008 team, but the play and recognition skills of this QB have been poor. The body language of the QB and his supporting cast tells the story here. This once-confident and borderline cocky bunch has lost its luster and swagger. Getting that back is difficult, and the only way to do so is to make plays. Against the Bengals on Sunday, the opportunity exists to change the mindset against a team that has struggled as much as the Browns.
Opposing defenses continue to move players in and around the box and line of scrimmage. The consistent movement and attempts to disguise their intentions have been effective in confusing or leading the Cleveland offense into mistakes. The Cleveland offense must find a rhythm, identify and attack the defense. Quickness and correctness in defensive recognition, passing accuracy and play execution have been consistently off the mark. When the QB struggles, the entire offense struggles. The Cleveland offense has not been built to simply to go the ground game and be effective long-term.
To be successful in this game, a unit must execute. In the case of the 2008 Cleveland Browns, its all about execution so far... or the lack of./