I presume that nobody needs a detailed analysis of what happened Sunday, so let me break it into 10 points.
1. Facing a team that had not won a single game by more than seven points, the Browns lost 27-13. Had kicker Robbie Gould hit an extra point, they would have won by 15 points– my definition of a blowout.
2.The Browns outgained the Giants 343 yards to 298, but 104 yards came (as usual) after the Browns feel behind by two touchdowns. The Giants sat on their lead in the fourth quarter, running 9 times and throwing only 5 times.
3. Cleveland gained 58 yards on 21 carries. Running the ball helped keep the game close, by preventing the Giants from crashing the pocket on every play. But you can’t put together a long drive when you gain only 2.9 yards per rush.
4. The Browns failed to stop the Giants’ running game. New York was averaging an anemic 3.4 yards per carry coming into the game. The media keeps writing about Danny Shelton, Christian Kirksey, Jamie Collins, Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Ed Reynolds as being the foundation of a good defense– rather than a bunch of guys– so you would think they would have clamped down.
Nope– the Giants gained 104 yards rushing on 27 carries; 3.9 per rush.
5. As usual, Ray Horton’s defense didn’t produce any big plays. They did tackle two runners behind the line of scrimmage; the Giants stuffed only one. It’s the only “negative play” category the Browns won:
- New York got seven sacks; the Browns only one.To make matters worse, New York was coming in (according to the injury reports) weak on both the offensive and defensive lines.
- Neither team had an interception, but the Giants forced three fumbles– the Browns none (not by the defense)..
6. As usual, Chris Tabor’s kicking teams provided no help. They were credited with a turnover, but it came on a muffed punt– an entirely unforced error by a return man squinting into the sun. They returned three punts for a total of five yards, while allowing the opponent three long runbacks (two shortened by Giant penalties away from the returner).
The failure of the kicking teams is why we can know that the Browns have no idea what they’re doing. Contrary to what Doug Lesmerises claims in the humor column at the link (it’s a howler and I’m going to tear it apart), a team can rebuild very, very quickly. It should take one year to transform your kicking teams from worst to first– the players who make it work are role players.
There are always a dozen speedy receivers who can’t catch passes, but can run kicks back. Defenders who can’t diagnose an offensive play– but can follow instructions written on a whiteboard– grow on trees, and can provide great coverage.
The offense is terrible, but it rarely gets any help from the defense and never gets anything from the kicking game.
7. Josh McCown provided an offensive spark that Cody Kessler had not been able to provide. He threw five passes of 20+ yards, one of them for a touchdown.
8. McCown offset that value with mistakes. He was sacked seven times, fumbling twice. One was returned for a touchdown. For 15 years, coaches have been telling McCown to throw the ball away when the pocket collapses. He has never been able to follow that instruction.
9. The fumble was not entirely Alvin Bailey’s fault. McCown’s apologists have defended that fumble by committing the logical fallacy sportswriters use most: “If this happened after that, that caused it.” John Greco had a season-ending injury, and then the sack and fumble happened “only eight plays” later. Here’s an alternate way of looking at it:
- Greco was injured with 4:02 remaining in the third quarter. The touchdown occurred with 11:08 in the fourth quarter– two possessions and 7:54 of game time later..
- After Greco’s injury, the Browns called one more run (on the very next play), and then never run again. The fumble occurred on their seventh consecutive pass attempt. Bailey is terrible, but by that point, the Giants were blitzing on every play. And, as I said, McCown didn’t sense the pressure coming and didn’t throw the ball away or cover up.
This is why many people I know call McCown “a dumb football player.” A quarterback has to process information immediately. When the pocket collapses, he must do one of three things without hesitation: bolt from the pocket, fire the ball or take the sack and protect the ball. McCown has never been able to do it.
10. Hue Jackson stopped running the ball when the Browns were trailing 13-6. I doubt Isaiah Crowell or Duke Johnson would have broken a big run, but giving up on the run when you trail by one score voids the “time was running out” excuse. Plus, as usually happens, it didn’t work: they were outscored 14-7.
I have one positive finding to report. When the Browns signed Cody Parkey, many people criticized them for not signing “Former Pro Bowler Robbie Gould.” I pointed out the decision was debatable either way. Parkey had just missed three field goals to cost the Browns the Miami game. But he had also made the Pro Browl, and was much younger (Gould is 35).
Gould kicked so poorly on Sunday that it looks like the Browns made the right move. He missed his third extra point in five games; the miss let the Browns pull within seven points when they scored a touchdown. His kickoffs were short. Also, the Giants (who tried 12 field goals in their first five games) have tried only two with Gould– they’re going for it on fourth down often. It sounds like a vote of no-confidence.
Of course, if Gould had been kicking in Miami, the Browns might already have their first– and very likely, their only– win of 2016. Which brings us to the topic on everyone’s minds.
We’re now at the bye week, and no rational observer should be able to see more than one win in the remaining four,. Looking at the schedule in reverse order:
Pittsburgh (Game 16, away): It’s not just that we’ve seen the Steelers crush the Browns in the last game of the season pretty much every year. It’s that Pittsburgh is likely to be tied with Baltimore for the AFC North title– or need to win to make the playoffs, or secure home field or something. They’ll be going at full speed and the Browns will be phoning it in. The only chance they have is if Ben Roethlisberger (the overwhelming majority of their offense) is hurt.
San Diego (Game 15, home): People keep discussing the Chargers as if they’re a girl’s field hockey team. They’re 5-6, a game below .500. They’ve beaten Atlanta, Denver and Texas– all of whom have winning records– and Tennessee is now 6-6. They’re scoring 12.1 more points per game the Browns and allowing 2.8 less.
The game will be in Cleveland, in winter, which should cramp the Chargers’ style. But they have RB Melvin Gordon. He isn’t having a great year (908 yards, but only 3.9 a carry), but Cleveland’s run defense usually adds at least half a yard a carry to anyone’s average. That should be enough.
Buffalo (Game 14, away): They have a winning record. They’re averaging 5.3 yards per rush. Their defense is second in the NFL in sacks. Any questions?
Cincinnati (Game 13, home): This is the only winnable game.They’re 3-7-1, with three losses and a tie in the last four weeks and the Eagles this Sunday. They have an OK defense (22.3 points, 17th in the NFL), but a terrible offense (19.3 points, 27th). The offense definitely won’t have RB Giovanni Bernard (on IR) and might not have (hamstring injury) A.J. Green. They’ll be playing on the road.
Robert Griffin will be starting; in his only prior game against the Bengals (many injuries ago) he did well, but lost 38-31. These Bengals aren’t nearly as good as the 2012 team… but Griffin won’t have the benefit of playing with RB Alfred Morris– and he will have the distinct handicap of Alvin Bailey playing guard.
Also, the bye week can provide a chance for a team to regroup. But if it comes late in the season, it can serve as a reminder (to free agents of veterans who know they make too much money) that they need to worry about their careers. LB Jamie Collins, WR Terrelle Pryor, RT Austin Pasztor, CB Jamar Taylor and LB Corey Lemonier will all be unrestricted free agents; Joe Haden, Joe Thomas and Tramon Williams aren’t likely to be on the team next year. Presumably their primary goal will be to stay healthy
I can see the Browns winning, but I have seen games they could win all year long. They haven’t done it yet, and I’m not betting they will.