Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Browns stagger into the bye week

If a team ever needed a bye week, it’s the Cleveland Browns.

Looking like an expansion team, the Browns bumbled their way through a 31-13 loss to Tennessee on Sunday in a game that really wasn’t that close.

“This was a team loss,” said coach Pat Shurmur. “There’s a lot of things we need to get better at, and it starts with me. We just didn’t play extremely well. That’s my responsibility.”

The offense and the defense both had their worst days of the season and, when you are a team that is still lacking in talent at several positions, when that happens, well, you’re going to be on the wrong side of a 31-13 game.

“You see what happens when you let big plays happen,” Shurmur said. “The game changes on any team that plays and we let the score get out of hand, which makes it difficult. Then you’re fighting, scratching and clawing and you can’t do that.”

And while we know the second-half play calling was dictated in large part by the score, if there is anything we are certain of, it is this: the Browns are going to loss any game where Colt McCoy has to throw 61 passes.

“We’re growing every week,” McCoy said. “We are four weeks into it. We understand that we’ve got a lot of room for improvement (and) a long ways to go. We’ll go back and look at some things that consistency-wise we can play better. We can get guys open. They can get some yards after the catch. It’s one of those things that week to week, you’re kind of building your team. We’ve got to do a better job.”

The Titans turned in two big plays – an 80-yard touchdown reception by tight end Jared Cook, where Cook ran away from Scott Fujita in coverage and ran through what can be charitably described as a weak tackle attempt by Usama Young (Usama must have been in class the day they taught tackling in practice at Kent State); and an 97-yard interception return by Jordan Babineaux, where Babineaux ran almost the entire length of the field without ever coming close to being touched by a Browns player.

And let’s not forget about the Titans scoring with 33 seconds left before halftime, thanks to a 57-yard completion to Nate Washington where Tennessee executed a perfect pick play to get Washington open.

Somehow the Browns never seem to have those plays in their playbook, do they?

The offense was an out-of-synch mess all day, with odd personnel packages and a series of dump-off passes over the middle.

After the Titans had taken a 14-6 lead on Cook’s long touchdown in the second quarter, the Browns got the ball with 14 minutes to go. From that point until there was 6:45 on the clock in the third quarter, Cleveland managed to run 22 plays for 87 and three total first downs.

The coaches must have fallen in love with Montario Hardesty after his game against the Dolphins last week, forgetting that he is basically a rookie with one good NFL game under his belt.

How else to explain them only handing Peyton Hillis the ball 10 times on the game (only twice in the second half)? Or giving the ball to Armond Smith on a fourth-and-1 at the Titans’ 41 in the second quarter? Need we say that Smith did not make the first down?

Or that Hardesty had almost as many drops (4) as receptions (5)?

What’s going on around here?

“That is something for the coaches to decide,” Hillis said after the game. “I have no control over that; it needs to be handled by the coaches. I’m fine, I feel healthy and my body feels great. I’m just going to try and make the most of the opportunities and get in when I can.

“I’ve always found myself to be a rhythm guy. The game plan and what the coaches have decided, that’s what they want to go with. Being a player you have to follow the coaches’ orders and do what they tell you to do. You have to respect them.”

The defense wasn’t any better as the front four, which had totaled 11 sacks in the first three games, got no pressure on Hasselbeck, who completed 10-of-20 passes for 220 yards. The Browns didn’t record a sack and Ahyta Rubin had the only quarterback pressure.

Once again, for what seems like forever, the Browns struggled to cover the tight end. In addition to Cook’s touchdown, a wide-open Craig Stevens also caught a touchdown pass.

“It was just us,” said T.J. Ward. “We were missing tackles and we were not on our men like we should have been. We take complete responsibility for that. That’s not the Browns that we’ve been. We know that we can play much better than that. I don’t think the effort was there completely, but it just looked like, including myself, I am not just putting it off on the rest of my teammates, but we didn’t play how we should have played.”

Taking the micro view, this loss was bad, real bad. Any positives the Browns had built up in starting 2-1, be they real or perceived, were pretty much flushed down the toilet against the Titans.

But if you take the macro view, this loss, heading into the bye week, may end up doing the team some good. This team still has a long road ahead of it. Sunday’s loss should give the players plenty to work on and provide the coaches with ample learning opportunities to fill up everyone’s time during the bye week.

“We still have a long way to go,” Fujita said. “We still have a lot of room to grow. You have to go back to the film and find out where you are falling short. Defensively we gave up too many big plays today. We have to look at that closely, look at where we fell short and move forward.”

“There is a lot to work on,” McCoy said. “A lot of things we can improve on, a lot of things as a team that we can improve on. The bye week is good. Obviously, you would like to win going into your bye week because the taste of losing is not that good. We’ve got a lot to work on and we’ll get better.”

Will the lessons be learned? We’ll find out Oct. 16 in Oakland.

(Photo by The Associated Press)

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