One of the key ingredients in establishing a winning franchise in any sport is the ability to produce playmakers. Those players who make clutch plays when needed. Those players who step and consistently say, “Follow me.”
The Browns have none. You can’t name one player on this 53-man roster who comes even close to qualifying for the title of playmaker. No one comes even close. They haven’t had one for a long, long time. And that’s why they continually bottom feed in the National Football League.
Scan the rosters of those teams that annually have winning programs and you’ll find at least a modicum of playmakers. No need to be specific with names here. There are too many to delineate.
There are times during football games when just one play can make the difference between winning and losing. Such a play – actually a series in this case – played a large part in the Browns’ 14-6 loss in Baltimore Sunday.
After pretty much controlling the Ravens’ offense in the first half, the Cleveland defense, getting little or no help from the offense, needed to maintain its superiority. And failed. Not once. Or twice. But three times.
In the Ravens’ opening second-half drive, the Browns thrice forced a third and long situation. And all three times, the Ravens converted.
It was a momentum changer. With an 80-yard scoring drive, the Ravens took over the game emotionally even though they led by just a point. It regenerated the Baltimore defense, which wasn’t playing that badly to begin with, and ultimately sealed the Browns’ fate.
The Browns needed to make just one play. One stinking play to produce a punt. Whether it was a sack, an interception, an incompletion or making Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco do something uncharacteristic. Anything.
If nothing else, those three conversions emboldened Flacco and his offense, which, in turn, emboldened the Baltimore defense, which choked off any chance the Browns had at winning the game.
So on the one hand, there’s no way the Browns would have been in the game – it was a one-score game until the end – had it not been for the defense. On the other, it could have been a much different result had the defense come up with that one big play.
The offense, after just two games, is a lost cause in the playmaking category. The line is a shambles. It can’t run block. It can’t pass block with any degree of effectiveness. Whoever is under center is going to absorb a lot of punishment when dropping back to pass this season.
And the running game is laughable. Running between the tackles has become an exercise in futility and frustration. It’s almost like running into a brick wall. Over and over and over again.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner is a smart man. His reputation as an offensive guru preceded his arrival in Cleveland. Based on what we’ve seen in the first eight quarters of the season, it’s taking a huge hit.
This week, the offense welcomes Josh Gordon back after serving his two-week suspension. Who knows? That might make a difference. It will help, however, only if Gordon can do something no one else seems capable of.
Make a play.
~ This is Greg Little’s third season with the Browns. And the way it has started, it could very well be his last.
There is no excuse for Little to be dropping passes, especially those that wind up not just in the vicinity of his hands, but directly in them. Last season, the wide receiver appeared to have solved his catching problem with some clutch grabs, including a few that were thrown badly and required extra effort to catch.
This season, he has reverted to the form of his rookie campaign, when he led the NFL in drops. He has been targeted 22 times in two games and produced eight catches for 59 yards. One has to wonder (a) why he is in the starting lineup and (b) why he is targeted so much.
He’s got the size and the hands. His concentration – or lack thereof – appears to be his biggest problem. And that, unfortunately, is something that might be extremely difficult to correct. If it’s between the ears, good luck.
~ You’ll have to excuse Weeden if he thinks he’s the team token piñata. He has been sacked 11 times, knocked down 20 or so times and hurried another 35 times in two games. His popularity among opposing pass rushers has reached news heights. Or is it depths?
If he’s still vertical by midseason – and we don’t know yet whether his injured thumb will prevent him from playing Sunday in Minnesota – it will be somewhat of a miracle. His mobility in the pocket and recognition of opposing defenses is mindful of Tim Couch.
~ Based on what we saw in his limited play against the Ravens, Barkevious Mingo could be the spark the Browns need on defense. His quickness and speed off the edge is what prompted the Browns to make him the surprise sixth pick in the college draft in April.
He embarrassed Baltimore offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie on his first play and dropped Flacco, caused a holding penalty on a punt that gave the Browns better field position and hurried Flacco on one other occasion.
It’s obvious the Browns are going to be careful with Mingo from a health standpoint, given the severity of the lung injury he suffered early in the exhibition season. They do not want any setbacks. But I’d sure like to see a lot more of the outside linebacker in obvious passing situations as the season unfolds.
~ Notebook: It seems that just about every time Jordan Cameron gets his hands on the ball, good things happen. So why not target the tight end more often than 20 times in the first two games? Like maybe every play, considering the success he has (14 catches in 20 targets for 193 yards and the lone touchdown of the season). . . . The main reason the Browns signed linebacker Paul Kruger was his reputation for finding, sacking and making life generally miserable for opposing quarterbacks. Thus far, that has not happened. Kruger has just seven tackles and one sack while playing full-time. Fact is, he’s a situational pass rusher and shouldn’t be a three-down guy. . . . The Browns have quietly become quite solid against the run in the first two games, limiting the opposition to just 119 rushing yards. But the secondary has been torched for 452 yards. Flipping that coin, the Browns have rushed for an embarrassing 112 yards and passed for 438 more. . . . Flacco was 7-for-8 on third down in the second half. That’s what a playmaker does.