Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Browns do what many expected. Many still freak out.

browns lose jaguars 1The Cleveland Browns did what many fans expected on Sunday in dropping what should (could?) have been a winnable game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

But just because it was not unexpected, doesn’t mean it was any easier it witness.

Taking a small-picture view of the game, the numbers show that the game was even uglier that it looked on our TV screen. According to ESPN Stats & Information:

  • The Browns failed to gain more than 1 yard on 65 percent of their plays (48 of 74).
  • The Browns were just four-of-20 on third down. Those 16 missed conversions? Only the most in the NFL this season.
  • The Browns allowed 185 rushing yards to Jacksonville, the worst rushing team in the league entering the game. Denard Robinson, a converted quarterback, had 127 of those yards.
  • The Browns averaged just 2.3 yards per carry, bringing back memories of 2013.
  • Quarterback Brian Hoyer had his worst game as a Brown, finishing just 16-of-41 with an interception, three sacks, a lost fumble and a quarterback rating of 46.3.

Had enough? We know we have.

The lazy view says that the Browns lost the game when they failed on a fourth-down conversion from the Jacksonville 33-yard line with just a little more than three minutes to go in the first half. The Browns were leading, 6-0, at the time and many who criticized the decision argued that the Browns should have kicked a field goal and “go up by two scores.”

There are several fallacies with that argument:

  • First off, as solid as he has been as a kicker, there is no guarantee that Billy Cundiff would have made the field goal. If Cundiff had missed and the Jaguars took over near midfield, would it have still been the “right call?”
  • It is also laughable to think that “going up by two scores” with more than a half of football to be played has any kind of validity. (It is as silly as thinking the Browns are making a mistake when they defer after winning the coin toss.)
  • In the previous six drives up to that point, the Browns had forced the Jaguars to punt four times and intercepted Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles twice. Unless the NFL passed a rule saying a defense must give up a touchdown following a failed conversion, it was not unrealistic to think the Browns could hold the Jaguars to, at worst, a field goal on the subsequent drive. There was certainly no reason that the defense had to allow the Jaguars to go 76 yards in just three plays for a touchdown.

So what do the Browns do now?

“It’s a bad game. It’s gonna happen, and it happened,” running back Ben Tate said. “You just wipe your hands off and move on to Oakland.”

Tate’s right, for the most part. No matter how poorly they played, it still only counts as one loss. Sure, 4-2 would be nicer than 3-3, but this team is still a work in progress.

Having said that, the big-picture view is a little more disconcerting.

The absence of Alex Mack at center was evident almost from the start of the game, as John Greco struggled and Paul McQuistan was routinely overwhelmed by the Jaguars fast and aggressive front line.

“I think everybody needs to step up and that wasn’t the case (on Sunday),” head coach Mike Pettine said. “Our guys across the board – I don’t know what the individual grades were – but I think it’s safe to say that none of those guys played their best game or, in a clear fashion, stepped up. It’s difficult. You just don’t replace (Mack). There were some issues up front. They did a good job movement on the front. They were rolling off, penetrating. That’s the best defensive front that we’ve played, and it showed up.”

The simple solution here is to move Greco back to right guard and find another center so that there is only one change on the offensive line. But if it was that easy, the Browns would have done it prior to the Jacksonville game. Hopefully Nick McDonald – who has started just two games at center (which is still one more than Greco) – can get up to speed sooner rather than later and see if he can help get the offensive line back in shape.

The recent play of Hoyer, while not alarming, is a bit unsettling. After completing a season-high 76 percent of his passes against the Ravens, Hoyer’s completion percentage has dropped in three consecutive games.

“If it becomes a couple more games, still a trend like that, that’s something to look at, but to me, we just looked at his effectiveness and the offense (on Sunday),” Pettine said. “Sometimes, the completion percentage will be affected, whether you’re trying to throw the ball away or take some more shots downfield where your percentage isn’t going to be as high, but you don’t need to hit as many. That’s not something that, to me, is a concern today.”

Pettine could be right and Sunday’s game could have just been one of those days … but if it wasn’t, the Browns could be in trouble.

Finally, while the defense didn’t play all that poorly – Jacksonville’s last two touchdowns were the result of mistakes by the Browns offense – the rush defense continues to be a problem.

This is the first real adversity that Pettine, Hoyer and the team have faced this year and how they respond over the next few weeks will tell us a lot about the team. If the Browns can get their act back together against Oakland and Tampa Bay, they hit the season’s midway point at 5-3, which sets them up to potentially post the team’s first winning record since 2007.

For a franchise that has won five or fewer games every year since then, that’s actually not a bad thing.

And if they don’t? Well, maybe we shouldn’t be expecting anything else.

(Photo courtesy of The Associated Press)

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