By Adam Dobrowolski
Cold, Hard Football Facts Browns beat man
As NFL history tells us, teams that face weak schedules are generally more likely to make the playoffs. With games against the AFC South, NFC West, Miami and Oakland on the table for the 2011 season, the Cleveland Browns came on the playoff radar without making major improvements in the off-season. Some expect Cleveland to do just what Tampa Bay and Kansas City did last season.
If only the Browns did in Week 1 what those surprising playoff teams do: win. Instead, they lost at home to Cincinnati, 27-17. It’s more disappointing that they held a lead heading into the fourth-quarter, only to see the offense fade into the air like a Replica LeBron ring
at a Peoria Chiefs game while the Bengals shot themselves into the lead.
Amid the disappointment, we learned five things Sunday about the Browns:
1. The offense can move the ball like a playoff team.
Before the Cleveland built a fourth-quarter lead, the Browns rolled over and played dead while Cincinnati built an early 13-0 lead. A putrid start on offense, beginning with a Colt McCoy minus-5-yard completion to himself, contributed to the deficit.
However, Cleveland pulled off a quick strike in two drives to grab a 14-13 lead before halftime. The offensive turnaround was impressive in Cleveland’s first five drives:
· First three drives:
10 plays for 18 yards, no points, one first down, two negative plays, no big plays, four penalties
· Next two drives:
13 plays for 147 yards, 14 points, five first downs, no negative plays, two big plays, no penalties
When struggling against inferior opponents, quality teams find a way to quickly get back into the game. By halftime, it seemed like Colt McCoy was making his first baby step towards the postseason.
2. The offense went M.I.A. in the second half.
With a lead against a Cincinnati Bengals team that finished 29th in Bendability
in 2010, the advantage clearly favored the Browns. However, the offense never regained form from those two touchdown drives. While the Browns moved the ball, they did so slowly and ineffectively. The drives in the second half before Cleveland gave up the lead:
· FIELD GOAL, 10 plays, 50 yards, 4:50
· PUNT, 6 plays, 8 yards, 2:14
· PUNT, 6 plays, 14 yards, 3:03
· PUNT, 7 plays, 23 yards, 4:21
It didn’t help that the Cleveland offense made six negative plays in those four drives, effectively killing the last three with a chance to put away the Browns. Meanwhile, the Browns failed to capitalize on a 2nd-and-goal from the Cincinnati three-yard line in the first drive. Given a more effective second half offense, and Cleveland easily puts this game away.
3. The offensive line and the lack of a true number one receiver hurt the offense’s ability to move the ball down the field.
As the Browns scrambled to comeback after backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski gave the Bengals a 20-17 lead, McCoy couldn’t do anything but throw quick passes and dump offs. Clearly, it didn’t work, as McCoy went 4-of-12 with an interception in the three drives after the Browns gave up the lead. The problems seemed to be the offensive line and a receiving corps that struggles to stretch the field.
Cleveland suffered eight negative plays in the game, so it’s not like the offensive line played well before the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the Browns only completed two passes of at least 20 yards. Head coach Pat Shurmur likes to run the West Coast Offense, but the offense needs at least some down field threats to keep opposing defenses honest. Mohamed Massaquoi may be the best downfield option, but he doesn't command attention like most number-one receivers do.
4. D’Qwell Jackson played well on an uninspired defense.
Cincinnati started the rookie Andy Dalton, which meant the Browns defense should have licked their chops all first half. Instead, the defense came up limp. Even though Dalton left the game in the second quarter after suffering a wrist injury, he played decent football: 10 of 15 (66.7%), 81 yards, 5.4 YPA, TD, 102.4 passer rating.
Meanwhile, the Browns should have been able to lockdown the running game against a one-sided offense, but they allowed Cedric Benson to bust through the bars en route to a 121-yard performance. Overall, Cleveland played pretty poor football, given the limitations of the Cincinnati offense.
On a good note, though, Jackson played disruptive and quality football at inside linebacker. He wrapped up a game-high 10 solo tackles, made two sacks and forced a fumble.
5. The Browns can quickly overcome the disappointment, thanks to the upcoming schedule.
If Cleveland can make a few improvements, the Browns won’t miss a beat in the early division and playoff races. The Dawg Pound can thank an early schedule that's easier than a drunk co-ed at a Kesha party.
Up next, the Browns travel to Indianapolis to face a Colts team that played downright awful without Peyton Manning. After that, Cleveland hosts Miami and Tennessee before a Week 5 bye. To be honest, 3-1 isn’t out of the question. However, the team needs to play much better in next few weeks after laying a season-opening egg.