Does the Browns defense need to get better?
Of course it needs to get better.
Despite the fact the Browns have spent countless time working on it since training camp, the tackling leaves a lot – a lot -- to be desired.
There are not enough playmakers, especially at outside linebacker, a key spot in the 3-4 defense. Kamerion Wimbley is doing some good things, but he's still got a long ways to go.
And all of those long plays, both running and passing, have got to stop. They're back-breakers.
So, other than that, everything is just peachy-keen.
But if you want to look at the real reason – the only real reason – for the Browns' disappointing 0-2 start, then affix your eyes squarely on the offense.
For most of the 11 seasons in this expansion era, the Browns defense has done enough to keep the team overall competitive. It has held up its end of the bargain. And that's the case this year. The defense played well in the first half of both games, but after being put back out onto the field time and time and time again because of the inability of the offense to do even so much as string some first downs together to take time off the clock and give the defense a rest, the unit simply wears out eventually and starts getting gashed. It would happen to any defense and it is definitely happening to this one.
The defense, in fact, could be a complementary piece to a .500 team, but that will never have a chance of happening until the offense starts producing.
Remember, it's a football team, which means all parties have to contribute.
If you discount the throwaway score at the end of the opener, when the matter had already been settled and the Vikings were simply waiting for the game to end – and you have to discount that score – then the Browns offense has not gotten a touchdown – one that means anything – for eight straight regular-season games going back to last year.
Eight straight games?
It's been a little less than 10 months since the Browns scored an offensive TD. That's unfathomable.
But the Browns are not only failing to score TDs, but they're failing to score, period. Again, take away that last TD against Minnesota, and the Browns have scored just 19 points in two games. You're not going to beat anybody – you're going to have a hard time winning an intrasquad game – by averaging a paltry 9.5 points a contest.
Yes, 9½ points. Thank goodness for the Browns that kicker Phil Dawson shows up for work every day. They ought to summon a limousine and pay for him to get a police escort to and from games and practices for, without him, they would be sunk. He is 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts this year.
That's all well and good, but the Browns have to start getting TDs. Those kinds of scores add up a lot faster.
The NFL has done studies and come to the unmistakable conclusion that its fans want to see a lot of scoring, so every rule change over the last 30 years has been made to put more points on the board. Taking all that into consideration, when a team can't get many points, it has absolutely no chance to win.
That's why the Browns have lost eight straight games going back to 2008.
In that span, the Browns have scored, in order, six, six, nine, 10, zero, zero, 13 and 6. That's an average of 6.25 points a game.
The fact that in three of those games, the Browns gave up just 16, 10 and 14 points, meant nothing because the offense couldn't see those kinds of point totals with a telescope.
The Browns say that this is this year and that was last year, and that last year's numbers don't count. Maybe so. Maybe not. But the fact of the matter is that this looks a lot like the tail end of last year offensively. Until that changes, those comparisons will continue to be made, fair or not.
But for the sake of fairness, we'll look only at this year. In the opener, the Browns had a first-and-goal at the Minnesota 6 and had to settle for a field goal. Against the Broncos, the Browns recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff at the Denver 22 and again couldn't punch it in, having to call on Dawson once more.
That, in essence, was the turning point in Denver, and when's the last time you could say that about something that happened before some of the fans were even settled in their seats? What should have been a real momentum-builder for the Browns if they had scored a TD and maybe – just maybe – gotten their struggling offense jump-started, actually turned into such for the Broncos because they had dodged a bullet by allowing just three points instead of seven.
This is a franchise where 13 of the 15 players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame come from the offensive side of the ball, so that sequence of plays was especially hard to watch for Browns fans.
But, really, so much of this expansion era Browns offense has been hard to watch. Other than the playoff season of 2002 and the 2007 campaign, when the Browns finished 10-6 and just barely missed the playoffs, points have been as hard to come by as 70-degreee days in Cleveland in mid-January.
Take away those two years, and the Browns, in the 130 other games, have averaged 14.8 points.
It's no wonder that the Browns' record in those games is 35-95.
The Browns have to get this offense fixed, or the 2009 season, which looked to be a long one going in, will be even longer. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has to figure out what he wants this offense to be – more importantly, what it should be and has the capability to be – and construct an environment where those components have a chance to succeed.
It seems as if the Browns want to run a short, controlled passing game, but even if that's the case, then they have to stretch the field with a long pass three or four times a game – whether they're completed or not – to get the safeties out of the box and keep the cornerbacks from squatting on those hooks, square-outs and quick slants. As it is now, there is so much congestion in there that it's almost impossible to complete a short pass.
And while we're on that subject, where in the name of Brian Brennan is Mike Furrey? He has the best hands on the team – by far – and is excellent on finding the soft spots in zones in the short to intermediate routes and sitting down and making the catch. Yet the Browns don't throw to him, and sometimes don't have him on the field.
Also, why can't they design plays to get the ball to wide receiver Joshua Cribbs and running back Jerome Harrison on the run? Why don't they keep giving the ball to Jamal Lewis a third time after he gets back-to-back good runs? Forget about what the play chart says. Keep using the run – or the pass – until the defense proves it can stop it.
From a players' perspective, the offensive line, especially the right side, has to fire off the ball better in run blocking, the line also can't let just an average pass rusher turn into Lawrence Taylor, quarterback Brady Quinn has to quit missing the target and getting passes knocked down at the line, and the receivers can't keep fumbling pass receptions.
If nothing else, build an offense that suits the strengths of Quinn, for if the quarterback feels comfortable, then the 10 other players have a chance to do the same. And judging from what's been going on thus far, that would be a step in the right direction.
Correct the problems on offense and many of the other issues on the team, including the ones on defense, will correct themselves.
Fail to correct the problems on offense, though, and it will take the rest of the team – and the season – down with it.
The fact the next opponent is the Baltimore Ravens – at M&T Bank Stadium, before a loud raucous crowd – only serves to make the challenge just that much tougher.