Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Browns find no San Francisco treat

We knew going into the 2011 season that things could get rough for the Browns this year.

When you are rebuilding a franchise that is coming off consecutive 5-11 seasons, and has won only 14 games in the past three years under two different regimes, things aren’t going to get fixed over night.

If the Browns were a TV show, they would be Hoarders, and you have to clean out the dead cats, moldy food and collection of cheap tschotskes before you can start fixing anything else.

But we didn’t expect them to be quite this pathetic on offense.

Against the 49ers, the Browns tried once again to win the game the hard way – no need to score any points in the first or third quarter – and, just like in Oakland a few weeks ago, they came up short, falling to 3-4 on the season after a 20-10 loss to San Francisco.

For the seventh consecutive game (aka the entire season), the Browns were held without a touchdown in the first and third quarters. On the year, the Browns have been outscored 44-3 in the first quarter and 29-6 in the third quarter.

What the hell is going on around here?

“Our margin for error on offense is very small,” coach Pat Shurmur said after the game. “That’s not an excuse. That’s the reality. We have to hit on everything. We just do.

“We have to fight for every yard. We can’t make mistakes, and if we do make a mistake, we have to overcome it. We’ve struggled right now to overcome penalties.”

On the one hand, it should probably come as no surprise the Browns struggled on Sunday. They were down to their third-string running back after Montario Hardesty left with a calf injury, were without (by default) No. 1 wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, and are still playing an overmatched Tony Pashos at right tackle and Jason Pinkson (rookie fifth-round pick) and Shawn Lauvao (second year third-round pick) at guard.

And things are only getting worse now that Hardesty is going to be out for a while with a moderate tear of a medial gastroc in his right leg.

That’s not going to help the running game, which currently ranks 29th in yards per game (87.6), 30th in yards per carry (3.2) and last in touchdowns (two).

“I know Brownstown is really upset, but one thing they can be excited about is our effort,” Josh Cribbs said in published reports. “I hope back home they won’t get into a frenzy like the world’s going to end with this loss.”

It’s true, the team doesn’t give up. The Browns cut San Francisco’s lead to 17-10 with 6:17 left to play after Cribbs’ touchdown reception.

But after carrying the team all game, the defense finally wore down. On their first five possessions of the second half, the Browns defense forced the 49ers into four three-and-outs and five punts. But after Cribbs score, the 49ers had an 11 play, 67-yard drive that took up 4:21 and ended up in a field goal that sealed the loss.

But trying hard can only take you so far.

“I get tired of talking about never give up and fight to the end, but now it’s about winning,” Colt McCoy said in published reports. “We can talk all day about how we fight and fight and fight, and that’s good, that’s the character of this team. But we’ve got to start winning.”

It’s hard to see how the Browns can do that with the offense in its current state.

The Browns are already seeing eight- and nine-man fronts because the wide receivers don’t have the ability to win one-on-one battles. That lets the defense load up in the box and, when McCoy dumps the ball off to the backs or tight ends, there’s no room to run.

If you can’t score in the first quarter and the third quarter – and with the exception of the Indianapolis game, the Browns have shown they can really only score against a prevent defense – you’re not going to be winning many games.

Things don’t get any easier as the Browns head to Houston next week, and the Texans are averaging 25.7 points per game.

The way things are currently going, it may take the Browns the entire month of November to score that many points.

(Photo by The Associated Press)

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