Saturday, November 19, 2011

Crossing fingers

Think the Browns’ 6-3 victory over Seattle a few weeks ago was a monstrosity and an insult to good offensive football? Well, get ready for what very well could be Part Deux, otherwise known as Sunday’s game between the Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars.

These teams have set offensive football back a few decades with their ineptitude this season. In 18 combined games, they have managed to score just 246 points. To put that in perspective, the Green Bay Packers have scored 320 points all by themselves in nine games; Houston has put up 273 points in 10 games; New England has scored 259 in nine games; and the Detroit Lions have scored 252 in nine outings.

The Browns and Jaguars have totaled 22 touchdowns this season. Think about that. In 72 combined quarters, these poor excuses for offensive football have managed to hit the end zone just 22 times.

And yet, these two very bad teams have each cobbled together a 3-6 record in spite of numerous and very serious flaws when they have the football in their possession. Of those six victories, the Jags own two over teams with winning records, knocking off Baltimore and Tennessee. The Browns? Zero.

You know it’s bad when the top offensive weapons on both teams are the placekickers. Josh Scobee of the Jags and the Browns’ Phil Dawson are having mirror-image seasons. Scobee has scored 47.8% of his team’s points, while Dawson (correcting an earlier stat) has accounted for 45.8% of the Browns’ scoring this season. Both are perfect from 50-plus yards.

Kind of makes you wonder just how bad is the coaching with embarrassing stats such as these. The Jaguars have assembled a 19-man coaching staff under head coach Jack Del Rio. Browns coach Pat Shurmur is working with a staff of 18 assistants.

What a waste of money.

Fingers of blame for the offensive problems definitely point in the direction of Shurmur and Dirk Koetter, who claim to be the offensive coordinators for their respective clubs. They are more like the very offensive offensive coordinators.

The Jags have scored as many as 20 points in only one game this season. And that was in a loss. The Browns, meanwhile, have scored more than 20 points just once in nine games. That was the 27-point “outburst” in the week 2 victory in Indianapolis.

We all know how well Shurmur’s west coast offense is not working. It hasn’t been working on a more spectacular basis at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Browns have scored just five touchdowns and 65 points in five home games and have not seen the end zone since scoring a garbage-time touchdown in the waning moments of the 31-13 loss to Tennessee on Oct. 2.

If you’re going to the game, don’t forget to bring along some No-Doz. You’re probably best off taking it just before the opening kickoff because what follows is almost certain to be sleep inducing.

I could throw more homely statistics at you, but that would be just piling on. By now, the message has been received.

OK, maybe just one more stat. Oddsmakers have pegged the over/under on this game at 34 and a half points, one of the lowest over/unders of the season. Maybe the lowest.

They got it wrong. It’s not low enough for teams that average 14.5 (Cleveland) and 12.5 points, respectively. Based on those numbers, betting the under would be a no-brainer. Only aberrant offensive football by these teams would fly in the face of those numbers.

The only offensive weapon (other than the kickers) either team has is the indefatigable Maurice Jones-Drew, who has gained 854 yards on the ground (78% of Jacksonville’s rushing yards) even though the opposition knows he’s going to carry the ball more than two-thirds of the time the Jags go infantry.

At 5-7 and 208 pounds, he is extremely hard to bring down because he keeps his pad level so low. He is virtually unstoppable even though opponents stack the line of scrimmage against the Jags, almost daring rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert to throw the ball. MJD’s 962 yards from scrimmage account for nearly 43% of Jacksonville’s offensive production.

Gabbert, like the Browns’ Colt McCoy, has struggled, completing just 47.9% of his passes after replacing Luke McCown in game 2 of the season. And yet, Jacksonville enters the game having won two of its last three games against Baltimore and Indianapolis.

That’s because Gabbert has kept mistakes at a minimum. As coaches like to say, he has “managed” the game very well, throwing for just 122 yards a game with only five interceptions all season to go along with his six TD passes. Unless the score gets out of hand, the Cleveland secondary will be more active in trying to stop the run than defending against the pass.

Jacksonville’s defense can be a game-changer. The Jaguars’ stunning 12-7 home victory over Baltimore on Monday night a few weeks ago showed the nation that a strong defense can stop a strong offense.

The Jaguars are tougher against the run than defending the pass, yielding 107 yards a game. Against the pass, they surrender nearly 190 yards a game. But they have shown they can get to opposing quarterbacks with 21 sacks. Defensive ends Matt Roth, Jerome Mincey and John Chick own 10 of them.

This game, of course, has all the trappings of a low-scoring affair. The Browns can’t score touchdowns at home. The Jags play poorly on the road, where they’re just 1-4, scoring just 57 points. And this will be their third straight game away from home.

If the Browns don’t win this game, then they’re in deeper trouble than we all thought. If they can’t beat the Jaguars, fans will ratchet up their anger and disgust and demand answers to some very tough questions.

With that in mind, and the fact that the easy part of the schedule concludes with this game, it becomes an imperative to finally call for a Cleveland victory. With fingers crossed, make it:

Browns 14, Jaguars 9

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