Sunday, November 21, 2010

Knock, knock; nobody home

That glad-hander named opportunity knocked furiously on the Browns' door all afternoon Sunday down in Jacksonville. In fact, it pounded on that door. Damn near blasted the thing off its hinges.

Unfortunately, no one answered.

The Jacksonville Jaguars, clearly feeling in the holiday mood a few days early, did everything they could to give away their game with the Browns. Need an interception? Here, how about four of them? And just because we feel like it, we'll throw in a couple of fumble recoveries. Have fun.

The Cleveland offense said, "Thank you very much," and proceeded to engage in a little holiday frolicking of its own. After considerable thought, the offense reconsidered and declined to take advantage of the Jags' generosity.

Rarely, if ever, will you find a football team at any level that turns six turnovers into a measly and embarrassing 10 points and loses the game. Yet, that's exactly what transpired in northern Florida as the Browns gift-wrapped a 24-20 Jaguars victory with an offensive display that had the distinct aroma of something Browns fans witnessed in 1999.

Frustrating does not even begin to describe the aftertaste of this one. Neither does disappointing. When a team eschews the extraordinary amount of generosity it received Sunday and does not take advantage, one has to wonder just how close the Browns are toward turning the corner. For a while, it looked as though that corner was in sight.

In what appeared to be a positive and hopeful look at the immediate future following four well-played games against the best teams in the National Football League, this has to be regarded as a gigantic step back in a direction no one wants to even contemplate.

If last Sunday's loss to the New York Jets was bitter, the latest setback almost defies description.

Incredibly, the Browns created five of their six turnovers in consecutive series in the second half. Five straight times, the Jaguars turned over the ball. In the NFL, that is considered suicidal. There was no luck involved. All five were legitimate and well earned.

Where the Jacksonville offense sputtered and stammered, the Cleveland defense capitalized. And when the Cleveland offense sputtered and stammered, the Jacksonville defense picked up their teammates. They made Colt McCoy look like what he is -- a rookie. They absolutely crushed the Browns' offensive line all afternoon and delivered a battering to McCoy that he hasn't experienced in a long time.

Each time the Jags belched a turnover, the defense stiffened. It's time to read 'em and weep.

Second quarter: Abram Elam, playing perhaps his best game as a Brown, picks off a Maurice Jones-Drew halfback option pass. The result: Three plays for minus-5 yards from the Cleveland 20 and a punt.

Third quarter: Elam rakes the ball out of Jones-Drew's arms, recovers and goes 18 yards for a touchdown.

Third quarter: T. J. Ward makes the first of his two interceptions against David Garrard. The result: Three plays for minus 4 yards from the Jags' 48 and a punt.

Third quarter: Joe Haden picks off Garrard. The result: Three plays for minus-1 yard from the Jacksonville 19 and a 38-yard Phil Dawson field goal.

Fourth quarter: Ray Ventrone forces a Garrard fumble and Chris Gocong recovers. The result: Three plays for minus-1 yard from the Cleveland 43 and a punt.

Fourth quarter: Ward makes his second interception off a deflection. The result: Three plays for 2 yards and a missed Dawson field goal from 51 yards.

Add it up and please pass the Pepto-Bismol. Not counting the Elam TD, the Browns' offense mustered minus-9 yards in 15 snaps with three punts, one successful field goal and a missed field goal following the other TOs. Awful.

Now that, by any standard, is considered exquisite transition defense by the Jags, who dropped McCoy six times, hit him eight other times and recorded numerous hurries. They bull-rushed almost all afternoon and took away his throwing lanes. At least four of the sacks were of the coverage variety.

It was almost as though the 16-play, 92-yard drive that consumed nearly 10 minutes and resulted in the first Cleveland touchdown was an aberration. What went right on that drive was never repeated.

The Browns never countered the fierce Jacksonville pass rush with quick-developing plays. No slants, no outs, very little misdirection. McCoy really had no chance.

The offense was so awful in the second half, Eric Mangini had to call time out at least once down the stretch to give his gassed defense a chance to catch its breath. That tired state helped contribute to Jones-Drew's remarkable 75-yard catch and run with a Garrard pass in the final minutes, during which three Browns flailed at him with arm tackles and missed. It led to the winning TD.

This latest loss should serve as a slap in the face for those players who might have taken this game too lightly. No one knows for certain, but they had to be feeling pretty good about themselves after how well they played during their difficult four-game stretch.

It'll be interesting to see how this humbling loss affects them as they prepare for next Sunday's game at home against Carolina. How they perform should give us a little more insight as to the personality of this team.


  1. I totally agree with you Rich. The offense should accept this slap in the face and get mad. I don't know if it has anything to do with the right side of the line. Wasn't the right side of the O-line working fine with Womack at right tackle? Why change it up? I don't understand that
    one at all.

  2. Womack was hurt. Couldn't play. That's why the far inferior John St. Clair was in there. But it wasn't just the right side yesterday. The entire line was getting beat up by the Jaguars' front seven. The only thing that saved this one from being a rout by Jax was the Jaguars' inability to hold onto the ball.

  3. I don't think what happens next week against Carolina will tell us much of anything. I guess if they lose it will tell us something, but Carolina is decidedly a lower division club. I didn't think the Browns had a shot to beat NY or Jac, but even I think they should paste Carolina. If they do, it tells us zero.

    Everything you need to know about the Browns, you have already seen. The KC, Tampa, Atlanta, and now Jacks games should tell you that this team is nowhere near as improved as people seem to believe. The Browns have simply gone from epically and historically awful to merely awful. Your expectations are far too low if you feel that is acceptable. How teams that had worse records than we did last year (TB, KC, St. Lou, Jacksonville), teams that we beat the crap out of ourselves last year, can leapfrog us like this is embarrassing.

    Stop judging the Browns against their pitiful past incarnations. Start judging them against the other teams in the league. Because using that metric, our improvement this season is pretty much non existent.

    Unless Mangini is minutes away from being fired, the game plans continue to be of the "don't lose the game" rather than "try to win the game" variety. What we saw yesterday were two very mediocre teams; one of which had a coach who kept trying to win the game, while the other had a coach desperate not to lose it.

    Mangani can game plan, but he sure can't coach on game day. We can beat all the Cincy's and Carolina we like and that will never change. We can add more and more talent each year and that will never change. We will always lose more games than we should thanks to poor game day coaching, and to a refusal to use your best talent (Evan Moore, anyone?).

  4. I'm not judging the Browns against their incarnations. Based on the way they played early in the season and the Jax game, I'm trying to figure out how they beat New Orleans and New England and looked good, for the most part, in doing so. You can throw in their performance against Pittsburgh, too.

    A lot of their problems stem from the fact that the coaching staff has a lot of trouble making adjustments at halftime. That and, as you so cogently mentioned, their inability to coach aggressively instead of coaching not to lose.

    For a brief period, I allowed myself to think that maybe Mangini was starting to come around. But he reverted to character in the Jax game and it'll be interesting to see where the Browns are at 4 p.m. on Dec. 19. That'll be after their four-game stretch against Carolina, Miami, Buffalo and Cincinnati.

    If the offense continues to struggle -- and with Delhomme or Wallace most likely back under center against Carolina, that is a distinct probability -- and the defense begins to fade, the countdown on Mangini's departure could very well commence.

    One can only hope.