Winning with ridiculous ease
It was almost like watching a National Football League team playing against a Division III college football team Sunday afternoon.
It was an unfair fight from the very beginning in Denver. It started when Browns coach Pat Shurmur won the coin toss and chose to defer. Big mistake.
At least give the offense a chance to do something on the first drive rather than playing from behind all day. Give Peyton Manning an inch and he’ll take an entire football field.
Giving Manning and the Denver Broncos’ offense the football right out of the chute, especially at home, is asking for trouble and the veteran quarterback delivered an eight-play, 80-yard drive that took only two minutes and 50 seconds off the clock.
Huh? Ball game? How can that be?
Eight plays, 80 yards in less than three minutes? C’mon. That was way too easy. It was as though the Cleveland defense offered no resistance. Come to think of it, they didn’t.
But didn’t the Browns respond with a nice 14-play, 63-yard drive that led to a Phil Dawson field goal? Yeah, but those 63 yards took nearly eight minutes to negotiate and ultimately wound up as the club’s best shot all afternoon.
That opening drive was a merely sneak preview of what was to come in an afternoon filled once again with frustration for fans, who had hoped the Browns, now 5-10, would avoid racking up their fifth straight double-digit loss season and ninth in the last 10 seasons.
Manning was just getting started against a Cleveland defense hemorrhaging yards and touchdowns at a pace the last two weeks that kind of makes one wonder just how safe Dick Jauron’s job is for next season.
He responded with a 15-play drive for another 80 yards in a more pedestrian seven minutes to reestablish domination that basically told the Browns there was no way they would prevent the Broncos from winning their 10th straight game.
The Broncos put together two long drives and score two touchdowns.The Browns put together one long drive and escape with a field. Sound familiar? It should. Field goals don’t win games or even keep you competitive in the early going unless your defense decides to show up.
On this day, the Browns’ defense was AWOL. It couldn’t get off the field in the first half, mainly because Manning had most of the right answers, especially on third down.
The defense forced the future Hall of Famer into seven third-down situations in the first 30 minutes. He converted the first four and five of the first six as the Broncos owned the ball for nearly 17 minutes. He went on to convert eight of the first 10.
The Broncos put up only 14 first-half points, but that was mainly due to a brief period of ineffectiveness by Manning late in the second quarter, when safety Usama Young picked him off in the end zone in the final seconds of the half. It was his only mistake of the afternoon.
He wound up strafing the weakened Cleveland secondary for 339 yards and three touchdown passes in the 34-12 victory, which wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate. To put that in perspective, Manning entered the game with only two career touchdown passes against the Browns in five games.
In the last two weeks, the Browns’ defense has been hit with 72 points and 887 total yards. In the previous four games, that defense surrendered just 61 points. To make matters worse, the opposition had the ball for nearly 70 minutes (out of 120).
Manning toyed with the secondary all afternoon, getting little or no pressure from the Cleveland defensive line, which didn’t get close enough to him to say bless you if he sneezed. Allowing the presumptive NFL Most Valuable Player to freewheel in front of the home folks begged for disaster and he delivered.
Shortly after Manning guided the Broncos to a 21-6 lead with a 12-play, 91-yard, 6½-minute drive midway through the third quarter, Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio took the wraps off his vaunted pass rush. Turned ‘em loose is what he did.
When you’ve got pass rush specialists like Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, a 21-6 lead and a home crowd frothing for some quarterback meat, there is no other course of action. And they delivered big time with 3½ of the club’s six sacks.
That pass rush, blanked in the first half, concentrating instead on shutting down the Cleveland running game, pounded quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy, after knocking Weeden out of the game with a right shoulder injury, the entire second half.
Weeden went down when Miller came clean on a blitz on a second-and-10 at the Cleveland 20 late in the third quarter. Cleveland right tackle Mitchell Schwartz unwisely chose to take on the left defensive end’s inside rush and left his quarterback vulnerable on the outside.
The extremely quick and mobile Miller arrived at Weeden just he finished his short drop back from the shotgun. The rookie had no chance as Miller drove his right shoulder into the turf, ending his afternoon. It then was McCoy’s turn to take a pounding. It began on the very next play when Denver defensive end Derek Wolfe got him.
From that point on, McCoy shifted into scramble mode, but did manage to squeeze out a touchdown pass to Greg Little against a Denver prevent defense midway through the fourth quarter.
Just one more game to go now against the Steelers next Sunday in Pittsburgh. And then the fun will begin.
Heads certainly will roll, faces definitely will change and a new culture will descend on 76 Lou Groza Blvd. in Berea in the next month or two, if not sooner. And just like that, the 2012 season will take its place as nothing more than just another forgettable Cleveland Browns season. The sooner forgotten, the better.
Nothing wrong with that.