Browns Review, Game #8 (Arizona)

Since it’s a short week, I’m not taking questions.

1. When you lose 34-20, there should be no doubt about which side of the ball is responsible. Not with this team, though.

The defense delivered its usual wretched performance: 34 points, 493 yards. But it did produce four turnovers… which the offense converted into a whopping seven points.

To be fair, one turnover was a good long hike away (the Cleveland 34). Anytime you need to go more than 50 yards to get into the end zone, the value of a turnover is muted. And another gave the Browns the ball on their own 8 with 1:32 left.

But the other two put the ball on the Arizona 9 (they scored) and the Arizona 28 (nothing). That’s pretty pathetic.

Meanwhile Cleveland offense turned the ball over twice– and Arizona did score after both, getting 10 points. But the touchdown came after an 80-yard drive, so the defense shares responsibility. And the field goal required going 38 yards.

I’d blame the defense, because Arizona could have had 48 points. Carson Palmer missed wide-open receivers on both the second and fourth drives; Arizona ended up punting both times.

2. The problem with the defense is the same thing it’s always been: no pass rush. In a typical season, a team that gets 40 sacks will finish in the middle of the pack:

  • In 2014, teams with 40 sacks tied for 13th-15th.
  • In 2013, teams with 40 sacks tied for 16th-17th
  • In 2012, a team with 40 sacks would have placed 9th.
  • In 2011, 40 sacks would have tied for 14th.
  • In 2010, teams with 40 sacks tied for 8-9.

Since 1999, the Browns have had 40 sacks only four times: 2000 (42), 2001 (43), 2009 (40) and 2013 (40). By comparison:

  • Baltimore has been over 40 eight times: 40, 42, 45, 47, 48. 49. 49 and 60.
  • Pittsburgh has been over 40 seven times: 41, 47, 47, 48. 50, 51 and 55.
  • Cincinnati has been over 40 four times: 43, 45, 48 and 51.

They’ve had a player with 10 sacks only three times:

  • Jamir Miller had 13 in 2001
  • Kamerion Wimbley had 11 in 2006
  • Paul Kruger had 11 in 2014

Baltimore has had 13, Pittsburgh 10 and the Bengals 3.

And I don’t give a furry rat’s butt about hits or hurries or whatever alibi the coaching staff gives the apologists to claim the Browns don’t suck. A hit or a hurry means the quarterback got the pass off. A sack means:

  • The pass was never thrown.
  • The opponent lost yardage.
  • There was a chance of a turnover (in 2014, there were 13 sacks that produced a lost fumble).

If you get pressure on Palmer, he can’t stand back there all day, waiting for Michael Floyd (4-8 for 106 yards and a score), Larry Fitzgerald (9-11 for 93 yards and a score) or J.J. Nelson (3-4 for 70 yards) to beat a defender. If he has to throw before he wants to– to check down– to throw it away– or pull it down and run– it sets the opposing offense back.

One of the biggest reasons the secondary seems so vulnerable– other than the repeated injuries to players close to the end of their careers, or the decision to let Buster Skrine go to the Jets– is the absolutely pathetic pass rush.

It’s not just that the Browns have 13 sacks (tied for 22-26), or that they’re 25th in sacks per pass attempt. It’s that 7 of the 13 came in the game against Tennessee– a 1-6 team playing a rookie in his second game.

The Chargers had 60% of their offensive line starters missing. The Browns had two sacks. Denver had 80% of their line either missing or playing out of position due to injuries. The Browns had none.

In addition to being unable to sack Bronco quarterback Frank N. Stein, the Browns whiffed against Derek Carr and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

It’s absolutely appalling that a journeyman like Desmond Bryant (who got the only sack, one of the three stuffs and three of the seven QB hits) is still far and away the best pass rusher on the team. And this after Future Former GM “Snapchat” Farmer wasted picks in each of the first three rounds of the 2015 draft (Danny Shelton, Nate Orchard and Xavier Cooper), hoping to improve it.

Not to mention that the defense has been gashed (150+ rushing yards) in six of the eight games (San Diego and Arizona) and is tied for #27-28 in yards per rush allowed.

3. If you’re bound and determined to ignore every single mistake he makes, then I guess Josh McCown is having a terrific year. If you want to look at evidence:

  • He’s fourth in the league in sacks (22) and seventh in yards lost (131)
  • His 9 fumbles lead the league by a wide margin (the #2 guy has 6)
  • He’s leading the league in fumbles lost (6) by a comfortable margin (Marcus Mariota has 4)

The quarterback rating formula doesn’t include sacks and fumbles lost– it doesn’t mean they don’t matter. If you simply reclassify the “interception” column as “turnovers”, and count in the fumbles lost, his TD-TO ratio is 11-10.

I didn’t use the stopwatch on all 37 of his pass attempts– I had to stop before I threw it into the wall. But he was into the 3 to 3.5 second range on every attempt I timed, and well over it on most. There were no passes where he delivered the ball sooner than expected– many where he threw after the window.

It is impossible to feel sorry for a guy who won’t throw until he is guaranteed to get hit.

It would not be genteel to say that McCown is a selfish player who cares less about his team than individual glory. But it would be accurate. He wasn’t healthy in the second half and should not have been playing. And he should have ruled himself out of the Bengals’ game.

4. Future Former Head Coach Mike Pettine acquired the nickname “Blunt Force Trauma” during his coaching career. The nickname takes on new meaning when watching McCown get blasted within an inch of his life– and then hearing Pettine channel Mike “I Am The Walrus” Holmgren at the pressers.

The player said he was fine? They always say that. You won’t pull the guy unless he taps out? Then you’re saying you won’t pull McCown unless he’s knocked out.

I understand why Pettine isn’t willing to play Johnny Relapse— the guy is trying to save his job, and he’s obviously decided that the kid can’t play. But then play Austin Davis– anyone who can pass the physical. This is where Snapchat could do his successor a service by telling the coach to play the #1 pick.

5. For the life of me, I can’t imagine why an undrafted free agent (Isaiah Crowell), a waiver pickup (Robert Turbin) and the team’s second consecutive underachieving #3 pick (Duke Johnson, averaging 3.2 yards per carry) haven’t catapulted the Cleveland running game into the elite.

I’m not overly impressed by Johnson’s receiving for two reasons. First, he wasn’t drafted to be a “receiving back.” Second, the success he’s having will be temporary. Travis Benjamin started the season hot (204 yards in the first two games) because nobody thought of him as a threat. He’s gained 397 yards in the last six games, because teams have figured out ways to shut him down. As people determine that Johnson is a threat who needs to be stopped, they’ll put obstacles in his way.

Given that fact of life, the continued production of Gary Barnidge is even more impressive. Teams are actively trying to stop him, but no one has succeeded yet.

6. Brian Hartline‘s ability to make sight adjustments to an off-target pass rivals Miley Cyrus’s ability to seem demure, Lincoln Chaffee’s charisma or Sandra Lee’s grasp of haute cuisine. If you don’t put the pass exactly where he was expecting it– and do that when he expects it– he won’t get it.

But at least he can get on the field. That’s a trick that Dwayne Bowe has yet to master.

7. You know your team is wretched when you put the entire roster on the trading block and nobody wants to buy. Why any team would want Meowkevious Mingo (given his performance level) or Kruger (who has $19.5 million left) or Alex Mack (when he’s made it clear that he intends to opt out of his contract at year’s end) is beyond me.

A team that even considers trading Joe Thomas should be contracted.

8. The reason Mack refused to waive his no-trade contract? It’s not in his best interests to go to another team in mid-season:

  • Another team would use a different offensive system (as opposed to Flippy’s Fabulous Football Formulary).
  • He’d have enormous trouble making the line calls in that new system.
  • Not knowing his new teammates, he’d have trouble working as a unit with them.

All of which would make his performance look less impressive and hurt his asking price once he opts out. He’d prefer to stay here, benefit from playing in a familiar situation and then get out of Dodge.

And why shouldn’t Mack do what’s in his best interests? He doesn’t owe the Browns anything. He’s 30 and has never had a winning season, had he gone to another team, he might have a Super Bowl ring. He signed with another team; Cleveland prevented him from leaving by matching the deal. Jacksonville has a better record than the Browns (2-5) and if they had Mack at center (as opposed to Stefan Wisniewski) they might be better at protecting Blake Bortles than they currently are.

9. I don’t normally pay attention to Hanford Dixon’s commentary, because he’s become a bitter old man. Nobody is as good as he and his teammates were, and he spends most of his time sniping at players.

But he was 100% right to blast Donte Whitner for getting himself injured. There was absolutely no reason for him to hammer Jaron Brown. Brown was in the grasp of Tramon Williams; all Whitner had to do was help wrap him up. Instead he tried to deliver a mega-hit and knocked himself out of the game.

But the best line uttered during the Fifth Quarter came from Sam the Sham. Speaking of the quarterback who is now 18-38 as a starter, he uttered the words, “In my eyes, Josh McCown is a winner.”

Spoken like a man who inherited a 9-5 team, added Clay Matthews, Ozzie Newsome, Lyle Alzado and Joe Delamielleure to it and still managed to go 47-50. Rutigliano thinks McCown is a winner because Sam was a loser.

10. Another reason the pass defense was so shoddy was that the Browns decided to play Johnson Bademosi over Pierre Desir after Joe Haden reinjured himself. That was a big surprise; I have no idea what Desir did to drop himself behind Bademosi (who got filleted).

By the way, we should assume that Haden will be getting himself injured more often. The more concussions you get, the more likely you are to get others.

It was no surprise that Craig Robertson played more snaps (56) than anyone but Williams (80), Karlos Dansby (79) and Tashaun Gipson (81). He was very rusty and got caught short a few times– but he showed more awareness than Chris Kirksey (28 snaps) did.

In the realm of moral victories, Shelton (37 snaps) saw more time than Jamie Meder (34) for the first time in weeks. He even managed to make 4 tackles– one of them a stuff.

While it’s inspiring to see the team’s #1 pick beat back the challenge from an undrafted free agent, it’s still disturbing that the best young player in the front seven is still Armonty Bryant.


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