Saturday, November 12, 2011

Going down

We’ll know soon enough just how fast that elevator is traveling to the bottom of the National Football League barrel for the Browns.

The next two Sundays, they face two of the worst teams in the NFL in St. Louis (Sunday) and Jacksonville (a week from Sunday) with both games at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Normally, there is a home-field advantage for most NFL teams. But there is nothing normal about this edition of the Browns, whose victories this season are against teams with a combined record of 3-22.

From the soap opera that is Peyton Hillis to the stunning ineptitude of the offense all season to the sudden collapse of a defense that has been on the field way too long to the obvious overmatched and game-after-game outcoached head coach, normal is not the word to describe what has transpired this season with the Browns.

And now with two teams with a combined record of 3-13 heading to the lakefront, we will get a much better reading on just what kind of a team the fans are forced to put up with on a weekly basis.

Based on how well the Browns play against poor teams, one would think the St. Louis and Jacksonville games have an excellent shot at winding up in the win column. A fait accompli, so to speak. A slam dunk.

If – and right now, that’s a massive if – the Browns should somehow knock off the Rams and Jaguars, they would wind up with perhaps the most deceiving 5-5 record in the history of the NFL.

Is there any question that the professional football team that represents the city of Cleveland is playing not just bad football right now, but uninspired football, dumb football and inexcusably sloppy football?

We are halfway through the season and the Browns are regressing. Yes, injuries have robbed them of several key performers, but the lack of depth on this team is palpably noticeable.

You know it’s bad when the Browns’ placekicker has scored about 40% of the team’s points this season. You know it’s bad when the quarterback gets bounced around like a piñata on a weekly basis. You know it’s bad when the team’s biggest threat is a return specialist.

In the Rams, the Browns face a similarly inept team on offense with one main exception. The Browns have no one even remotely close to matching the talents of running back Steven Jackson, who enters the game with 579 yards rushing (that’s just 78 yards less than the Browns have as a team) and four touchdowns. And with the Cleveland run defense collapsing faster than a tower of playing cards, there’s no telling what kind of numbers Jackson will put up.

After that, it’s an uphill struggle. The Rams’ offense has averaged a measly one touchdown a game in their eight games. They have converted just 28% of their third downs. Their offensive line has surrendered 31 sacks. Their two best pass receivers are hobbled by injuries and probably won’t play Sunday.

In Sam Bradford, they have a quarterback experiencing the same second-year woes that Colt McCoy has encountered. In six games – he missed a couple of games with a high ankle sprain – he has just three TD passes, three interceptions, a completion percentage of only .544 and he’s been sacked 25 times.

Defensively, as hard as it is to believe, the Rams against the run are worse than the Browns, giving up 154 yards a game. No team in the NFL is worse. Only one problem. The Browns have run out of quality running backs and most likely will make the Rams look good.

The Rams’ pass rush, however, is a tad better than the Browns’ statistically, racking up 20 sacks. But the big weakness in on the back end with the secondary picking off just six passes.

The Browns enter the Rams game having lost four of their last five games. Their only victory was that very forgettable and super homely win over Seattle a few weeks ago in a game that set the sport back a generation.

They have handed their heads handed to them in each of those four losses. Getting beat up physically and psychologically in their last two games by San Francisco and Houston has jolted the fans back to reality.

One can only hope the Rams and Jaguars provide the Browns with the opportunity to reverse course and smooth out what thus far has been a very rough ride for rookie head coach Pat Shurmur.

Unfortunately, that will not be the case as the Rams experience the euphoria of victory for the second time this season. And they’ll do it on the ground with Jackson pounding his way to three touchdowns.

The Browns, meanwhile, will continue to struggle on offense as the offensive line continues to break down. The only time they'll see the end zone will be when safety Mike Davis scores on a pick six in the first half.

Other than that, it will be the Phil Dawson show once again as he connects on three more field goals of more than 50 yards as the Cleveland offense scuffles all afternoon. Make it:

Rams 21, Browns 16

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