Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday leftovers

It’s somewhat ironic the Browns’ defense, easily best unit of the afternoon, is taking some heat for the club’s 17-16 loss to Philadelphia Sunday afternoon.

It’s not substantial by any means, but when you look at the box score of the game, you can’t but notice the Cleveland defense surrendered 456 yards of offense to the Eagles. That’s a lot of real estate.

But when you break it down, and I mean really break it down, you also can’t help but notice that number could have been a lot worse if not for that defense. A whole lot worse.

The Eagles compiled 456 yards on offense and the best they could do was 17 points? Seventeen measly points in a game they were losing until the final minute? Misleading? No.  Let’s examine.

The Eagles ran 88 plays to the Browns’ 59. They owned the ball for 36 of the game’s 60 minutes? And that was whose fault? The defense? No way. The offense? Bingo.

Entering the fourth quarter, the stout Cleveland defense had allowed just 10 points and 312 yards of offense. The Cleveland offense, meanwhile, sputtered mightily and looked inept throughout the entire game.

The longest Cleveland drive of the day was six plays for 53 yards in the second quarter unless you count a seven-play drive for 19 yards in the third quarter. That’s it.

In 15 series, the offense racked up six three-and-outs, while two others were aborted by interceptions on the first play. The offense couldn’t stay on the field, which meant the defense couldn’t catch its breath. Brandon Weeden looked like a freshman quarterback making his first college start.

On the other hand, the first 13 Philadelphia drives resulted in five turnovers and six punts. Yeah, the defense hung four picks on Vick and recovered a LeSean McCoy fumble. Those turnovers results in 13 of the 16 points, but let’s knock off six because the lone Browns touchdown was scored by the defense.

So by the time the fourth quarter arrived, the Cleveland defense was gassed. Even though the coaching staff rotated defensive linemen all afternoon to keep them fresh, whatever pass rush the Browns had was spent.

The Browns owned the ball in the fourth quarter for just three minutes and 40 seconds, compared to Philly’s 11 minutes and 20 seconds. Maybe that’s why Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was able to drive his club 91 yards for the winning touchdown after D’Qwell Jackson gave the Browns a 16-10 lead with a pick 6 early in the fourth quarter.

There is no way this Cleveland defense can pick up the offense for an entire game. It is good, but not that good. Blame for this loss should be property awarded to the offense, which converted just two of 13 third-down opportunities.

Not much the defense can do when the offense tanks. Two, maybe three, minutes of rest and it’s back to work.

So these 456 yards that now go on the Cleveland defensive record can, for the first week at least, be considered one of the most deceiving statistics in the first week of the National Football League season.

The job defensive coordinator Dick Jauron did, considering some of the injuries he had to deal with, was outstanding.

Vick had no idea where the pressure was coming from. Jauron displayed a disciplined aggressiveness on defense I haven’t seen in a long time in Cleveland. His reputation as a conservative tactician took a hit. And that’s not a bad thing.

His blitzes came from all over the field, and his disguises in coverage in the secondary gave Vick fits all afternoon. Whether it was a combo or strict man-to-man or zone in the Cleveland defensive backfield, the Philly quarterback’s confusion was palpable.

And the play of young linebackers A.J. Fort and Craig Robertson was nothing short of sensational. Filling in for the injured Chris Gocong and idle Scott Fujita, the linebacking didn’t miss a beat.

Robertson checked in with a team-leading nine tackles, five solo, and an interception, while Fort contributed three solo tackles and a pick. Credit Jackson, who played one of his best games as a Brown, with making certain his young teammates were lined up correctly.

Based on this game, Robertson and Fort have a good shot at becoming fixtures. Both are active, quick and tackle well.

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It has become obvious that one of the problems the Browns face in the passing game is the inability of the wide receivers to gain any kind of separation from defenders. How often did we see any of them wide open against the Eagles? And the few times we did, Weeden badly overthrew them. . . . Also take into consideration that the ultra-conservative game plan of coordinator Brad Childress and ultra, ultra conservative play calling of coach Pat Shurmur were vital contributors. . . . If it was the Browns’ intent to take advantage of the Eagles’ wide-nine defense up front by running the ball, they were sadly let down by a soft offensive line. They didn’t take into consideration that the Eagles’ linebackers, especially DeMeco Ryans, fill holes quickly and tackle well.
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Other standouts Sunday include safeties T.J. Ward and Eric Hagg, whose blitzing off the edge was refreshing; cornerback Buster Skrine, who played well when Sheldon Brown went down early and, for a little guy, shows no fear in run support; rookie defensive lineman Billy Winn, whose aggressiveness at end and tackle bodes well for the future; and Reggie Hodges, who finally punted an entire game without having one blocked. . . . Surprise! No standouts on offense. 
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Most disappointing was the coaching of Shurmur and Childress, who have been around long enough to know better than to devise a game plan like that. At Monday’s news conference, Shurmur was asked what he’d tell those who call for Colt McCoy to replace Weeden. “I’d tell them Brandon Weeden is our starting quarterback and he’s going to get better.” Can’t argue that. Of course he’s going to get better. Any worse than the way he played Sunday is unfathomable.

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