It has been said, written and proffered by those much wiser than you and I that football games are won and lost in the trenches.
That relatively small piece of turf, artificial or otherwise, on a football field where the down and dirty meet around 150 times a game is the determining location for the final outcome. Win the line of scrimmage and chances are you most probably win the game. It’s as simple as that.
That, obviously, is lost on the coaching staff of the Browns, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. If the performance of the offensive line in Sunday’s 23-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins in the season opener is any indication of where this team is headed, gird yourselves. It’s going to be a long, bumpy road.
This is not a good line. It’s not even close. And a majority of the blame for that must be placed on those most responsible for what we saw against the Dolphins. Want names? Let’s start with Joe Banner, who seems more than willing to step up and take the heat.
While he was running the show in Philadelphia, the Eagles were known for having strength in the trenches. Rarely did a college draft go by and the Eagles pass on linemen. That was one of the main reasons they were so successful.
Then there’s Mike Lombardi, the personnel guru on whom Banner leans heavily. He knew there was a problem at the guard position for the Browns. And yet, he did nothing in the draft or free agency, unless you consider selecting Garrett Gilkey in the seventh round doing something.
Yes, it’s the responsibility of the coaches to coach those who make the final roster. But there is just so much the coaches can do if the talent level falls far short of expectations.
After the line’s awful performance against the Dolphins, particularly on the right side with unacceptable performances by Mitchell Schwartz and Oneil Cousins, one gets the impression this could eventually turn out to be the norm rather than a blip on the radar.
Cousins was downright awful at best. How he made the roster is a head scratcher. A tackle by trade, he had never played guard. And it showed. Schwartz, on the other hand, was dominated by All-Pro Cameron Wake. But he is good enough and smart enough to correct his mistakes.
Cousins is a lost cause. Did he cost the Browns the game? No, but he was a significant contributor. His performance makes one (OK, me) yearn for the quick return of Shawn Lauvao. And that’s not meant as a compliment for Lauvao, who had problems all last season. But he's better than Cousins.
“(Cousins) is the best we’ve got and Oneil will make the improvements and he will get better,” said coach Rob Chudzinski after the game Sunday. It sounds as the coach is trying to rationalize the situation. If Cousins is the best the Browns have, batten down the hatches and hide the children.
You can blame Brandon Weeden all you want for the mess against Miami. Sure, the quarterback had a terrible game. With any kind of help from his offensive line, though, the results might have been different. We’ll never know.
The argument can be made that it’s just one game. Maybe so, But when you play only 16, the importance of winning and losing takes on a whole new meaning. Unless the Browns make significant changes on the offensive line, the Dolphins game will seem like the norm.
~ If memory serves, Chudzinski, or was it Norv Turner, who said the goal for Trent Richardson was at least 300 carries this season. After his 13-carry game against the Dolphins, the burly running back is on pace for 208. It’s almost as though he’s not considered one of the most important pieces of the offensive puzzle.
Hard to believe, but the last time Richardson touched the football against Miami was the last play of the third quarter. It was his fifth – and last – carry of the half. The final 27 play calls of the game by Turner were passes, although the Browns trailed by only three (13-10) at one point.
Why is Richardson being shackled? Is there something wrong with him? Or are the coaches afraid he might get hurt if he’s on the field too often? Maybe that’s the case with only rookie Bobby Rainey behind him as the front office goes brain dead when it comes to running back depth.
There is no reason Richardson should get anything less than 18-20 chances per game to run from scrimmage. And he should get another five to six touches through the air. His underuse is inexcusable. If he’s too tired to play, go out and get some more running backs.
~ And then there’s tight end Jordan Cameron, the lone bright star on offense Sunday. Nine catches, 108 yards, a touchdown and no injuries. That last stat is important. As long as he’s able to stay on the field, this is the kind of production we can expect to see.
His injury-prone past, however, lurks around every corner as he plays the game hard. He had better stay healthy. He’s the only receiving threat at the position. Combine that with the uncertainty at wide receiver and you can see how vital it is he stays healthy.
~ Didn’t defensive coordinator Ray Horton promise a more aggressive, blitz-happy defense this season? If it was there against the Dolphins, I missed it.
There was relatively little blitzing – and if there was, it was ineffective – and it seemed as though the Browns played a loose zone on most third-down plays with Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill finding most of the holes in those zones.
The Cleveland offense, as bad as it was, still needed the defense to get the ball back. Failure to do so enabled the Dolphins to stretch the lead out to 10 points in the fourth quarter and kick it into desperation mode for the offensive coaching staff.
~ Final thoughts: We’ll see just how good the run defense is (only 20 yards against Miami) in the next two games. Up next, Ray Rice and the Baltimore Ravens, followed by Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings. . . . Blame Weeden for only one of his three interceptions. Two deflected off the hands of Greg Little and Cameron right to ex-Brown Dimitri Patterson. And at least four of his incompletions bounced off receivers’ hands. . . . Maybe it was expected, but Joe Haden nevertheless deserves credit for rendering Mike Wallace almost invisible with only two meaningless catches. . . . One for 14 on third down? Shame on you, Norv Turner.