There are certain things that Braylon Edwards does as well as any receiver in the NFL. He can contort his body in unreal positions in the air, in tight spaces, to bring in amazing catches. He is as tough as you'd like off the line to jam or re-route. He will make the deep catch and wind up on Football Night in America for one incredible play, but it takes the intrepid Cleveland observer to truly realize the one thing Edwards does better than anybody in the NFL.
Quite simply, there are receivers who drop the ball, and there is Braylon Edwards. Nobody does it better, Through 11 games, Edwards leads the NFL in drops with 16 – the next name on the list belongs to Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe, who has 11 in 11 games, No other receiver has double digits. This season, he has 40 catches for 661 yards and three touchdowns. Not incredible conventional numbers, and Football Outsiders thinks quite a bit less of him. Edwards ranks 74th in DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement, explained here) and 58th in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, explained here). His Catch Rate of 40 percent is among the league's worst, and his efficiency is just about non-existent. There are players who kill your drives and chances, no matter how NFL-Films-worthy they may be, and Edwards has been near the top of that list since the season began.
Against the Houston Texans last Sunday, Edwards caught five passes for 85 yards. However, 11 passes thrown to Edwards were either incomplete or intercepted. That's a scary number, and it's worth looking at each individual play to assess responsibility for each failed chance.
Brady Quinn's first recorded incompletion to Edwards came with 3:12 left in the first half at the Houston 19. Edwards put a little move on cornerback Jacques Reeves, but Reeves trailed him nicely downfield and to the end zone. Quinn's pass was a bit overthrown, but Reeves also had inside position on the ball, and Edwards was going to have a tough time catching anything that wasn't a lob right to him .
The next incompletion came with 2:30 left in the first half, Edwards ran a short crossing pattern from left to right underneath Houston's zone, got the ball right where he should have liked it from Quinn, and … just flat-out dropped the thing. When receivers are in motion, bringing in the ball, I usually attribute a drop to a tendency to look past the ball to the next move, but I didn't see his head turned upfield, Just a lack of focus.
The first interception of Quinn's NFL career came with 10:50 left in the third quarter from the Cleveland 42, when he threw to the right, and right into the hands of defensive end Anthony Weaver, who had trailed back about 10 yards on a zone blitz. Edwards was far behind the play, and I'd be more inclined to put this one on Quinn, who wouldn't be the first quarterback fooled by an end dropping into coverage.
With 3:46 left in the third quarter from the Houston 12, Quinn threw a quick out to Edwards, who had been out-positioned inside by Fred Bennett, and Bennett just grabbed the ball. While Edwards can out-muscle defenders, I also see too many examples in which he allows himself to be taken out of opportunities by defensive backs who are looking to "re-distribute" him. This was one of those cases, as was the first incompletion of the day, when Reeves got inside and took Edwards out of the play before the ball even got there.
The fourth quarter was Edwards' nightmare scenario; a full seven incompletions in his area, and all the passes thrown by Derek Anderson, who, of course, will take his old starting job back for the rest of the year.
On the Browns' first play of the fourth quarter, Edwards ran a deep comeback from the Cleveland 27, but Anderson underthrew the ball. Edwards, stuck between two Texans in coverage, couldn't get to the ball to make a play.
With second-and-20 from the Houston 44 and 10:09 left in the game, Anderson threw deep to Edwards who ran a post pattern from the left side. One Texans defender tried to jump for the ball a few yards in front of the receiver, but missed. Edwards had a clear linie to a pretty well-thrown ball and just dropped it. Again, concentration. He doesn't seem to look the ball all the way in – half the time, he seems surprised by its very presence.
One minute later, second-and-10 from the Houston 40. Anderson went deep left for Edwards, who found himself caught up in some illegal contact from cornerback Dunta Robinson as he was running downfield. That messed up the timing of the play, and Anderson overthrew after failing to adjust.
On the very next play, the Browns ran an empty backfield and Anderson threw a little three-yard inside slant. Threw it right to Edwards, who just dropped it. I can only think that since the Texans were playing him off, and there wasn't a defender within five yards of him when the ball hit his hands, Edwards was preoccupied with all that real estate in front of him, and what he was going to do with it. Edwards lined up on the left for the next play, another quick slant, and Anderson got the ball out hot and a little too quick.
The second-to-last incompletion of the day was a killer. The Browns had second-and-6 from the Houston 21, driving downfield and down by 10. Edwards ran a sideline pattern to the end zone, he had Reeves beat halfway down, he went up to get the ball, and he just dropped the damned thing for no good reason. He had the edge, had possession, had the touchdown – there was nowhere upfield to go! Inexplicable. On the net play, Anderson underthrew Edwards to the right side as Edwards tried to come back and take the ball in at the 3. On both of those last plays, the Texans played him press, single-coverage, and he couldn't get it done.
In reviewing this game, I had flashbacks to two other receivers I've watched a lot – Koren Robinson and Brandon Marshall. Like them, Edwards is a tall, appealing target with a world of raw physical ability. But also like them, he leans too much on that ability, and I don't see the work put in. He shares Marshall's proclivity for following big plays with boxy, unclear routes that don't help his quarterback at all, and he shares Robinson's ability to alternately excite and frustrate with big plays and dunderheaded drops. There are receivers who overcome these things – Terrell Owens is but one example – but the Braylon Edwards I saw in this game mirrors his own FO stats, and he personifies the Browns' overall season: more frustration than this much talent should ever produce.