By Adam Dobrowolski
Cold, Hard Football Facts Browns Beat Writer
Remember how it was oh so slightly possible for the Browns to squeak their way in the playoff picture? Well, that chance is all but gone after losing arguably the easiest of their final five divisional games. With a 23-20 loss in Cincinnati, the Browns drop to 4-7 and can officially start thinking about preparing for 2012.
Still, there's plenty to learn from this game. Put down the deep-fried turkey leftovers and start taking notes, children.
1. This loss goes to the defense.
For a change, the Browns actually offensively put themselves in position to win the game. Cleveland scored 20 points for the first time since Week 2. In fact, the Browns hadn't scored more than 17 points for five consecutive games, so this was in some ways a breaking out party for the Browns offense (sadly). With Cleveland building a 20-10 lead with 3:50 left to go in the third quarter, it looked like the Browns could win the game their seventh-ranked Defensive Passer Rating
However, that win was never sealed. The Bengals immediately responded with a five-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took only two minutes and 28 seconds of the clock. After a Colt McCoy interception on the next drive, Cincinnati drove 32 yards for the game-tying field goal. For a defense that looks so strong against the pass, it's unacceptable to blow a 10-point lead within eight minutes. However, the Browns did just that.
Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton finished the day completing 21 of 31 passes (67.74%) for 270 yards (8.71 YPA) and one touchdown (105.58 passer rating). The Browns owned a 77.50 Defensive Passer Rating coming into the game. Bottom line, it was a bad time for the Browns to play a poor game against the pass. If they play to their normal success, Cleveland seals a huge divisional win on the road and earns a chance to stay in the playoff talk.
2. Obviously, part of this can be explained by Andy Dalton.
Dalton isn't your average rookie quarterback. Remember, Dalton tied the league record with 15 touchdown passes in his first 10 games. He seemingly broke the record, but a touchdown pass to Jermaine Gresham was inexplicably taken away by bogus usage of a bogus rule. Meanwhile, he already made three fourth-quarter comebacks, including one to give the Buffalo Bills their first loss and one to earn a monster road win at the Tennessee Titans.
As our Scott Kacsmar will soon detail, Dalton's four fourth-quarter comebacks and four game-winning drives
are a true rarity by rookie quarterbacks. Vince Young, who led a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime in 41.9% of his career wins, scored four fourth-quarter comebacks and five game-winning drives as a rookie. Young originally set the gold standard as a rookie, so Dalton may blaze a new path.
Clearly, not all the blame goes to Cleveland. However, don't say that to Browns fans, as Cleveland falls to 4-7 and needs three more losses for the 10th double-digit-loss season in 13 years since reincarnation.
3. The Browns continue to stink against the AFC North.
Since the AFC North was created during realignment in 2002, the Browns own a 14-42 record against the division. Worse yet, the Browns started off with a 7-11 record from 2002-2004. Therefore, the Browns are 7-31 since 2005 against the AFC North, with three wins of those wins coming in 2007. If the Browns get swept by the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, as they already were by the Bengals, the Browns will average one win per season against the division since 2005.
It's no wonder Cleveland's last playoff season was 2002. But please, for the fan's sake, can the franchise please not make us all wish for the days of Butch Davis?
4. Jordan Norwood made an argument to be the offensive playmaker.
Sure, it's no tall feat to become the offensive playmaker of the Browns. They only made four plays of at least 40 yards through 11 games. They only ran for at least 20 yards four times through 11 games. However, if there's anybody that can step up to the plate to make the big play, it may be Norwood.
Last week, Norwood's lone catch went for 51 yards. Norwood made a nifty move to get by two Jacksonville Jaguars defenders after making a catch on a slant pass. This week, the two longest plays from Cleveland's offense came courtesy of Norwood. He caught a bomb wide open for a 36-yard gain, and that catch becomes a 60-yard touchdown reception with a better throw. Nevertheless, he and McCoy made up for it with a 24-yard touchdown reception three plays later.
The Browns are hurting for big plays, as they came into this game ranked 28th in Real Passing Yards per Attempt
, only to post a lowly 4.12 average yesterday. It's time Norwood becomes a bigger part of the offense.
5. Peyton Hillis shouldn't be the starting running back in 2012.
Hills finally made his way back to the starting lineup yesterday, after missing five games with a hamstring injury and embarassing himself a few times off the field. However, his return wasn't too successful. He totaled 65 yards on 19 carries, which averages to only 3.42 yards per carry. On the season, he barely beats that total out with 3.49 yards per carry.
Hillis just isn't the answer as the starter. Sure, he ran for over 1100 yards last year, but he averaged 4.36 yards per carry. That's a respectable per-carry clip, but certainly not good enough to warrant video game cover status. The Browns would be best suited to find a lead back who can make plays while making Hillis the sledgehammer who compliments the primetime runner. Of course, that's if Hillis doesn't demand the big bucks again. If that's the case, the Browns should give Hillis his walking papers. He may be the biggest disappointment in a mediocre and disappointing offense.