Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Third-down blues

There is no question that the most pivotal down in any series is third down. Convert a majority of them and chances are you’re going to win a lot of games. Don’t and you become the Cleveland Browns.

Any wonder the Browns are 0-2 at this juncture? Try 1-for-14 on third down in the opening-game loss to Miami and 4-for-15 in the loss to the Ravens in Baltimore last Sunday. That’s mighty ugly territory.

Conversely, the Cleveland defense has faced third down on 32 occasions in the two games and shut down the opposition just 16 times. A chain-moving stat like that almost guarantees a tired defense in the second half. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen so far.

An exhaustive (slight exaggeration) perusal of the offensive statistics in the two games reveals one gigantic problem: The Browns are awful on first and second down on that side of the ball. With very few exceptions, there has not been anything remotely resembling a manageable third down yet this season.

The five conversions’ distances were four, two, four, three and four yards. Eighteen of the 29 attempts were eight yards or more, 13 of which were double digits. Four attempts wound up with a Brandon Weeden sack.

Favorite target on third down is (surprise!) Davone Bess, who caught four of the five conversions. Greg Little caught (yes he did) the other, a four-yarder on third and 3 in the Ravens game.

The Browns’ average distance to go on third down thus far is 8.93 yards. That unbelievably is the average. Breaking that down, it was 10.22 yards in the Miami game and 7.13 yards in the Baltimore game. Some would call that progress.

Is it any wonder Spencer Lanning has punted 13 times this season? He’s on a pace to boot the ball an astounding 104 times by the end of the season finale in Pittsburgh. That, of course, is if his right leg doesn’t fall off by then.

Remarkably, that’s 10 punts shy of the National Football League record for most punts in a season, held jointly by Chad Stanley of the 4-12 Houston Texans in 2002 and Bob Parsons of the 6-10 Chicago Bears in 1981.

Now comes my favorite stat: Three of the third-down attempts resulted in delay-of- game penalties. All you can do is shake your head and wonder just what you, as fans, did to deserve this kind of football.

When the offensive coaches break down game tape, or whatever they use these days, the above numbers have to leap out at them. They have to be embarrassed by what has transpired.

Yes, it’s still early in the season, early enough to use the word “correctable” regarding these mistakes and safely mollify those who still believe this team has the talent to mount a comeback.

Sometimes, however, the numbers do not lie. This sure looks like one of those times.

THIS JUST IN: Brian Hoyer will start at quarterback for the Browns Sunday in Minnesota. Wise move, Rob Chudzinski, no matter what happens. Who whispered the loudest in your ear, Joe Banner or Mike Lombardi? Or was it a team effort?

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