At the beginning of the season, most Browns fans were excited at the prospects for the 2012 season mainly because of one very misleading statistic.
They saw the Browns were ranked second in the National Football League in pass defense last season and believed that would carry over into this season. Never mind that they were 4-12 and lost six games by seven points or fewer.
They just saw “ranked second” and that, added to an improved run defense this season, made a lot of people feel sanguine about this season even though the schedule was tougher.
Well, the Browns have played three games. Let’s take a look at the pass defense stats this season. Prepare to be surprised.
Last season, the Browns permitted 2,959 passing yards and just 16 touchdowns. Not bad for a 4-12 team, right?
This season, Michael Vick, Andy Dalton and Ryan Fitzpatrick have thrown 128 passes and completed 77, a 60% clip, for 821 yards (274 a game) and eight touchdowns (halfway to 2011’s total). Extrapolate those numbers and the Browns this season will give up nearly 4,400 yards through the air and 42 touchdowns.
In the first three games last season, the Browns faced Dalton and Bruce Gradkowski of Cincinnati, Indianapolis' Kerry Collins and Chad Henne of Miami. In winning two of those games, the Browns limited those quarterbacks to a .564 completion percentage, 206 yards a game and just four touchdowns.
Of course, this season’s pace will not be maintained, but the numbers will be significantly higher than last season. That’s because the Browns will face some high-powered quarterbacks.
Up next are Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Eli Manning of the New York Giants, neither of whom is considered shy when it comes to unloading the football. And their receivers might be even better than what the Browns have faced thus far.
Down the road lurk such flame throwers as Andrew Luck, Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger (twice), Philip Rivers, Dalton, Carson Palmer, Peyton Manning, Flacco again and, depending on whether he’s still standing, Washington’s Robert Griffin III in December. It is a schedule loaded with quarterbacks who, for the most part, live in the upper echelon.
It has been suggested here on many occasions that last season’s pass defense stats were skewed, if not bogus, because most teams chose to run the ball on the Browns because of their weak run defense. (FYI: The Browns have yet to give up a rushing touchdown this season.)
That reduced the pass totals in every category and thus presented an incorrect picture of just how mediocre the Cleveland pass defense was.
This season, apologists will point to the four-game suspension of cornerback Joe Haden, the club’s best defender in the secondary, and use it as a causal factor in the larger numbers. That has some validity, given the Browns have given up six scores through the air in the two games Haden has missed.
Still, one has to take into account that the Browns’ pass rush is mediocre at best, passive at worst. Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick could have played a couple of games of Sudoku in the pocket waiting for the Cleveland pass rush to arrive Sunday.
He won the prize for having the cleanest uniform of the day. It was an award he undoubtedly shared with his offensive line, which made the Cleveland defensive line seem like strangers in the Buffalo backfield.
It’s fairly safe to assume a No. 2 ranking on pass defense is clearly not going to be repeated.
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It sure was nice to see tight end Jordan Cameron get some reps against the Bills. But would he have been in there if Alex Smith had been healthy? Probably not.
But that doesn’t subtract from Cameron’s contribution of five catches for 45 yards. That’s only nine yards a pop, but it sure got the Bills’ attention, especially when Brandon Weeden overthrew him when he went deep in the second half.
Cameron has enough athleticism where the Browns could use him in deeper patterns, which include the deep seam route down the middle. It was a play that kept Evan Moore on the Cleveland roster for a few seasons.
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There must be something in the coaches’ manual of post-game quotes that implores them to say something nice about the losing coach after a game. Chan Gailey is the latest perfect example. Following the Bills’ thorough 24-14 dismantling of the Browns Sunday, Gailey pulled out the ultimate cliché when discussing the Browns.
“I called them relentless earlier in the week,” he told the assembled media. “and that’s what they are. They roll a bunch of good football players through that defense.” Harmless enough.
OK, here it comes. “I’m telling you,” Gailey continued, “they’ve got to be one of the better 0-3 teams (in the NFL).”
Yes, he said that. He really, truly said that.
Considering the only other 0-3 team in the NFL is the New Orleans Saints, that’s not saying very much. Unless you take into consideration the Saints have scored 83 points (to the Browns’ 57) and allowed 102 (to the Browns’ 75).
Other than that, sure, why not believe it. Imagine that. The Browns are right up (down?) there with the New Orleans Saints. They surely have to be one of the better 0-3 teams in the league. One really is. The other definitely is not. Guess which one.
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NOTEBOOK: Something is wrong with Joe Thomas. The perennial All-Pro offensive tackle is playing nowhere near that level in the first three games. He’s accrued a season’s worth of holding penalties and false starts in those games. Either he’s playing hurt or his dropoff has to concern the coaching staff. . . . Alex Mack, the other stalwart on an otherwise below-average offensive line, has encountered penalty flag problems lately. Could it be he’s trying to do too much because two distinctly bad guards flank him? . . . The Browns’ run defense was so bad against Buffalo, it allowed third-stringer Tashard Choice 91 yards rushing after C. J. Spiller went down with a shoulder injury. . . . The Bills entered the game allowing the opposition to convert third downs more than 50% of the time. The Browns were three for 11 on that down. . . . Now comes Baltimore and the New York Giants, who have a pretty good idea of what to do on the defensive side of the football.