Here’s my big takeaway from the Bengals game: Either I don’t understand the definition of “rebuilding”– or pretty much everyone connected to the Browns doesn’t.
The Browns used 36 players Sunday– 18 on both offense and defense. Let’s begin with a chart of the offensive players– presented in descending order of snaps played– listing the players, their position, how they were acquired and how many snaps they played. It’s a pretty bone-chilling list:
|Spencer Drango||LG||24||#5, 2016||54|
|Cam Erving||C||24||#1, 2015||54|
|Joe Thomas||LT||32||#1, 2007||54|
|Corey Coleman||WR||22||#1, 2016||46|
|Duke Johnson||RB||23||#3, 2015||24|
|Randall Telfer||TE||24||#6, 2015||18|
|Rashard Higgins||WR||22||#5, 2016||6|
|Seth DeValve||TE||23||#4, 2016||4|
|Ricardo Louis||WR||22||#4, 2016||1|
The first conclusion I’d draw from that list: The only players I’d want on my team are the five oldest guys. Joe Thomas is 32, Gary Barnidge is 31, Andrew Hawkins in 30, Terrelle Pryor is 27 and Austin Pastor is 26. Saying I’d want Hawkins as a starter is pressing it. But as a third down receiver– doing the job Brian Brennan used to do– I think he has enough left to to the job.
Point #2: None of them will be around by the time the Browns get any good– if they ever do. Pryor’s contract is up at the end of the year and he’ll walk. A receiver can only be as good as his quarterback– with the Browns, he’s stuck at “sort of OK.” The Browns can keep him if they franchise him– but his performance doesn’t suggest he’s worth $15 million. He catches a couple of long balls a game, but is mostly absent.
Pasztor’s contract will be up at the end of the year. The Broqwns have played worse right tackles, but it’s hard to imagine the front office outbidding 31 other teams for his services. Hawkins has another year left, but his performance has slipped, and that probably isn’t just the quarterbacking. He’ll almost certainly be released at the end of the year.
Thomas will retire after the 2018 season– two years from now. Barnidge’s contract will be up then too.
Point #3: It’s hard to identify a young player who’s made progress. The best player not named above is Isaish Crowell. He has 718 yards (a career high), is averaging 4.6 yards a carry and could maybe get to 1,000 if he has three more hundred-yard games (he had one Sunday, his third). But he’s also had six games where he gained less than 30 yards– and his best rushing average in those games was 2.64 yards (11 carries for 29 yards against the Jets.
There’s no real rhyme or reason for when he plays well. He had a huge game against Baltimore (18-133) this year, but he’s gained 169 yards on 44 carries in the other five. He’s averaged 5.0 yards or more against the Bengals in three games and 3.3 in there others. Sometimes he breaks runs, usually he doesn’t. We’re three seasons in on him– he’ll be a restricted free agent at the end of the year– and nobody knows if he can be the lead back. I’d prefer to look elsewhere.
Duke Johnson hasn’t made any progress. He looks like a third-down back.
In the thrid tier, you have three guys. You can make legitimate excuses for Corey Coleman— he’s a rookie, he’s battled injuries, he’s had rotten quarterbacks. But he also looks like a fringe player– fast, but can’t run anything but deep patterns, hands ordinary, not durable and seems to hate cold weather. Spencer Drango hasn’t been an eyesore; it’s been a while since I thought Cam Erving hurt the Browns.
That’s 10 of the 18 players,. Two other guys played every snap. They’re both 26, both injury prone and neither likely to stick around. Jonathan Cooper got dumped by both Arizona and New England. he’s a formed #1 pick who could be a good player if he stays healthy– but his contract is also up at the end of the year. If he plays well, a good team will probably sign him.
Robert Griffin’s will almost double if they keep him– so unless he plays a lot better in games 14-16, they probably won’t.
The six players remaining are at the bottom of the chart. They played a total of 41 snaps. The best player is Randall Telfer– a blocking tight end who has never stayed healthy.
Point #4: Most of the players are castoffs. It’s a bare minimum, but 51.5% of the snaps went to players who weren’t drafted by the Browns. 28.5% of the snaps went to players acquired on waivers, or off a practice squad. Another 22.6% went to veteran free agents– who couldn’t find anyplace better to play than Cleveland.
Crowell, who got 5.4% of the snaps, was an undrafted free agent. If you wanted to be mean, you could say nobody wanted him.
Last but not least: Factoring in injuries doesn’t improve things. Drango is playing because Joel Bitonio is hurt. That’s draft pick for draft pick. Cooper is replacing 31-year-old John Greco, whose contract is up at the end of 2017. He makes the picture look a bit rosier. And Cody Kessler has more of a future than Griffin, but not much. He played just enough to show that he was an awful #3 pick– a player that we shouldn’t have trusted Hue Jackson to draft.
Where have the Browns gotten better? Not anywhere I can see. And since the average age of the team (based on playing time in the Bengals game) was 26.1, there’s no reason for optimism.
The picture on defense is a little more promising:
- Average age is half a year younger (25.5 years old), which means the unit is ten years younger.
- It has only one player over 30 (Tramon Williams), and he is one of the worst players on the unit.
- It has players who could start for a good team. Jamie Collins, Joe Haden (if he can ever get healthy) and Danny Shelton (if he develops consistency or can learn to rush the passer).
- Collins is the only player whose contract is up this year
- Two players drafted in 2016 showed promise.
But 54.9% of the snaps in the game went to players not drafted by the Browns– players discarded by at least one team: 24.7% of the snaps went to waiver pickups, 18.1% went to players acquired by trading draft picks and 12.1.% were veteran free agents. Here’s the chart:
|Christian Kirksey||LB||24||#3, 2014||71|
|Joe Haden||CB||27||#1, 2010||70|
|Emmanuel Ogbah||DE||23||#2, 2016||59|
|Danny Shelton||NT||23||#1, 2015||52|
|Carl Nassib||LB||23||#3, 2016||43|
|Ibraheim Campbell||SS||24||#4, 2015||28|
|Xavier Cooper||DT||25||#3, 2015||17|
The notion that the Browns are building for the future with players like Ed Reynolds, Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Jamar Taylor is ridiculous. They’re journeymen. Reynolds spent two years with the Eagles. He played six games and started three, playing 311 snaps. Taylor played 33 games, starting nine.
Cam Johnson is playing for his third NFL team; he’d played only 16 games in four previous seasons before this year– getting more snaps on kicking teams (255) than defense (147). There’s a reason for that– and it probably isn’t that Jim Harbaugh and Chuck Pagano are dummies.
Emmanuel Ogbah looks like he could be a player– he’s terrible on run defense, but at least he gets to the quarterback. Carl Nassib broke his hand and it’s obvious to me that he’s playing hurt (which has impaired his play to the point that Ray Horton just threw him under the bus). But everyone I haven’t mentioned is just a guy.
Collins is unlikely to re-sign unless he gets insanely overpaid. The front office will almost certainly cut or trade Haden unless he redoes his contract (they owe him him $39.3 million over the next three years). If that happens, there’s nothing to build on.
The Browns couldn’t even make progress with the kicking teams. The longest punt return is 18 yards; the longest kick return, 24. Both placekickers have been bad, they haven’t blocked a kick, and only reason teams haven’t run the ball back more is that opponents have been committing stupid penalties away from the ball. Here’s the good news: new punter Britton Colquitt (who’s 31) is three years younger than Andy Lee. Yee-hah
All of this is prologue (a very long one) to a point about the game. The Browns were facing a team that had gone 1-3-1 over the previous six weeks, to fall out of playoff contention. It had lost its best offensive player (WR A.J. Green) and one of its two running threats (Giovanni Bernard). It was playing on the road.
But Cincinnati scored touchdowns on their first two possessions. The Browns began the game by kicking the ball to teh Cincinnati 11, which they were able to return to the 27.
The Bengals then put together a six-play, 73-yard drive (that’s 12 yards per play).
After the Bengals scored, they kicked the ball into the end zone. Ricardo Louis tried to run the ball out and was tacklel on the 16. To make matters worse, the Browns committed an illegal block on the play, moving the ball back to their eight.
On the first play, the Browns ran the ball for six yards. They followed it with two passes in the direction of Corey Coleman– surrounding a false start penalty on Pryor in between. They punted from their own end zone and the Bengals took over inside Cleveland territory.
Maybe that field position benefited them; maybe it wasn’t necessary. The Bengals reached the end zone again on nine plays– averaging five yards per play.
And that, for all intents and purposes, was the game. The Bengals missed the extra point– and also a 36-yard field goal at the end of the half. But they scored another touchdown, and went into the locker room leading 20-0.
Other lowlights from the half included:
- The Browns trying to run another kickoff out of the end zone– getting tackled short of the 20.
- Committing another penalty on the play, to put the ball back on the six.
- Allowing a 24-yard punt return– making a net punt of 29 yards– to help set up the Bengals missed field goal.
- Getting suckered on a reverse that traveled 39 yards
- Griffin throwing the ball into triple coverage and getting intercepted.
After the game, everyone seemed to treat the beating as just one of those milestones that happens on the way to a Super Bowl win. Griffin, as he often does in postgame pressers, denied that he had made any mistakes– even on the mixup that required a timeout, Hue Jackson refused to mention any specifics, saying that everything was on him, without specifying what any of the things might be.
The Browns gave up 213 yards rushing and let Andy Dalton go 20-28 with two TD passes (granted for only 6.4 yards). They did get four sacks, but forced no turnovers and let the Bengals keep the ball for 71 plays and 34:53.
Yes, rebuilding teams often lose. But, if they are really rebuilding, one can point to at least a few good plays. One sees a player who went into the lineup a few games back make standout plays. One watches a unit begin to come together, showing signs of progress.
We saw none of that. Given two weeks to prepare, the Browns didn’t look any better in their 13th loss than they did in their first. Games like this aren’t moving the club toward the future– they’re simply piling up losses and cementing its reputation as the laughing stock of the NFL.