Browns end season the way it began
A year after giving up 41 points (31 in the first half) and 418 yards of offense in the season finale, the Browns fought hard before falling, 13-9, to a Pittsburgh team that was fighting for playoff positioning.
“At this point, guys really don’t like to hear progress,” wide receiver Josh Cribbs said after the game. “It is almost like, enough of the moral victories, just get the win. We play hard; the fight in us is so strong. We say this week in and week out, we beat this team up today, but they came out with a victory.”
The Browns were undone, again, by their inability to get in the end zone. Seneca Wallace continued to make a strong case to not be the starting quarterback as he completed just 16-0f-41 passes and had his usual bad interception.
In addition, Wallace came up short on the Browns three scoring drives, going 0-for-2 on a drive to Pittsburgh’s 8-yard-line, 0-for-3 on a drive to the 27-yard-line and 0-for 2 from the 24 with a seven-yard sack.
The Browns were also just 4-of-14 on third down, the third week in a row the offense has struggled with Wallace at quarterback (they were 5-of-13 vs. Baltimore and 5-of-14 vs. Arizona).
“There are always going to be people that doubt me and say that ‘you can’t play this, you can’t play quarterback, and you are too short’,” Wallace said after the game. “You guys saw the last three games; all I want is to get a legit opportunity. That’s all you can ask for, at the end of the day you get a fair opportunity. I can’t worry about this and that. The only thing I can control is what I can control. Going out there and competing every time I get a chance, regardless of the circumstances.”
In Wallace’s three starts the Browns were 0-3, helping to confirm two important points:
- While he’s not Don Strock, Wallace is a capable back-up; he’s clearly not Spergon Wynn out there.
- The offensive problems go far beyond just the quarterback. While it would be nice to say Colt McCoy is 100 percent of the problem, that’s just not the case.
The one good thing we can say about the team is they didn’t quit down the stretch of another tough season. In their last four games, against teams playing for playoff spots, the Browns lost twice to Pittsburgh (by 11 and 4 points), to Baltimore (6 points) and to Arizona (3 points). Throw in the Oakland game (7 points), St. Louis (1 point) and Cincinnati (3 points) and the team was in more games than many fans want to give them credit for.
“I think that we are definitely a lot better than our record shows,” linebacker Chris Gocong said. “There were so many games in which we were so close and they were decided by a handful of points and if only a couple of plays had gone the other way we definitely could have turned it around.”
The defense also finished off a solid year, continuing the rebuilt that general manager Tom Heckert started with the 2010 draft. After giving up 375 points in 2009, the Browns have gotten younger (and cleaned out the ex-Jets) and the result is they only gave up 307 points this year.
In addition, their yards per game dropped to 332 (compared to 350 in 2010 and 389 in 2011) and they only committed five more penalties on defense than last year.
“I feel like we got better every week,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “Our defense would come in and tried to limit big plays, our linebackers would get better each week, our defense started understanding and playing better together.”
The Browns need to continue to tighten up the run defense, they were 30th this year giving up and average of 147 yards per game, but, again, it’s not like they were a block of granite against the run the past two years, giving up 129 yards a game in 2010 and 144 per game in 2011.
And defensive rankings may be over-rated anyway, as New England (13-3) was 31st in overall defense this year and Green Bay (15-1) was 32nd.
So the 2011 season is in the books for the Browns. They now prepare for the draft, where the Browns will have the No. 4 pick in the first round and three of the top 37 picks overall. As we learned in 2009, a poor draft can set the franchise back considerably, so it’s vital that Heckert gets this one right.
Plus the players and coaches will have a full off-season to try and build on whatever good they can find from the 4-12 season.
“We just need an off-season together,” Haden said. “We had a whole different coaching staff, offense and defense come in and we got through a season now. I think everyone is a lot more comfortable and when we come in next year with the off-season everyone already knows the plan, so we can do a lot more tweaking instead of teaching.”
(Photo by Cleveland Browns.com)