Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday leftovers

If the Browns are entertaining any thoughts of playing competitive football in the next 10 games, the defense will have to carry the major load.

That’s because the offense, no matter who is under center, is not good enough to share that load. Certainly not the way they played against the Detroit Lions Sunday.

But if the defense repeats its Sunday performance against the Lions, all bets are off and the Browns are headed for another one of those double-digit loss seasons. They entered the game at 3-2 mainly because of that defense.

Falling apart as the defense did against Detroit portends for trouble. And not just this Sunday in Green Bay.  The only patsy left on the schedule are the Jacksonville Jaguars, but they don’t arrive until Dec. 1. That’s six games down the road.

The defense was stunningly awful in the second half against Detroit. It had numerous opportunities to shut down Matthew Stafford and failed time and again to do so.

The Lions were 5-for-6 on third down as they quickly overcame a 17-7 halftime deficit to take a 31-17 lead. Among them were a pair of third-and-6s and a third-and-7.

Good defenses – and it is assumed the Browns think they’ve played well enough to rate that adjective on that side of the ball – make plays. The Lions’ defense made those plays when they needed to in the final 30 minutes.

The Cleveland offense was oh-for-6 on third down in the second half before Brandon Weeden hooked up with Jordan Cameron on a third-and-10 during garbage time in the final minute. When the Lions needed a play, they got it. When the Browns needed a play, they whiffed. They found a way to lose this game.

Brian Hoyer is no longer around to put a charge into the Cleveland offense. And if Weeden continues to display the characteristics that hold him back from progressing to a status where his coach feels comfortable with him, then Rob Chudzinski has no choice but to take the clipboard away from Jason Campbell and stick him under center.

Suffice it to say the defense holds the key to how the Browns finish this season. Coordinator Ray Horton knows what it’s like to be in this position, having served as Arizona’s defensive coordinator last season with an offense that might be worse than the current one in Cleveland.

Horton needs to point out to his men the importance of this predicament, especially since the Cleveland offense will be facing some excellent defenses in the next five games. If the club's defense doesn’t match them, the road ahead becomes arduously long.

What looked promising as recently as the Buffalo victory in game five seems to have turned decidedly in the opposite direction. It’s a direction headed toward figurative disaster and yet another disappointing season.

Unless, of course, the offense stuns us all with some respectable play or, much more likely, the defense remembers how well it played in the first five games and regains that muscle memory.

The ever-optimistic (and idealistic) Chudzinski waxed philosophical after the Detroit loss. “It’s one game,” he said. “This is a long season. I expect it will improve.”

No it won’t.

~ Calvin Johnson didn’t play as much as he probably would have liked against the Browns Sunday, but his mere presence on the field seriously affected the manner in which the Browns defended the pass.

As it turned out, the National Football League’s best receiver was more of a decoy even though Matthew Stafford targeted him eight times. He caught only three (two of them for critical first downs on third down) for 25 yards and dropped two others, but helped open up the rest of the field for Kris Durham, Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria.

The 6-6 Durham was targeted 13 times and caught eight passes for 83 yards, most of them in the early stages when Johnson was a non-factor. But it was the production of Pettigrew and Fauria, the tight ends, that hurt the Browns the most.

Half of Pettigrew’s four grabs (in four targets) converted third downs. Fauria was pristine with three catches in three targets and three touchdowns. The undrafted rookie has been targeted nine times this season with seven receptions and five touchdowns.

~ There is no question the Browns need to get bigger in the secondary. They run out a relative bunch of midgets every game compared to the size of some of today’s receivers.

As good as he is, 5-11, 195-pound Joe Haden is no physical match for the 6-5, 240-pound Johnson. And 5-9, 185-pound Buster Skrine going up against the 6-6, 220-pound Durham is a joke.

For some reason, the Browns seems to like their secondary on the short side (relatively speaking). Pure athleticism is not going to work when you’re giving away five or six inches in height and 25 to 30 pounds in weight. It’s just not going to work.

A lot of other teams have recognized that fact and have moved in that direction. One of the main reasons the Seattle Seahawks are so good on pass defense is their large secondary of 6-3 Richard Sherman and 6-4 Brandon Browner at cornerback and 6-3 Kam Chancellor at strong safety.

If the Browns harbor any desire to get better on defense, they must address the secondary first and not accept anyone whose height begins with a 5.

~ As it stands right now, the Browns’ offense consists of Josh Gordon. That’s it.

For all practical purposes, there is no running game. Opponents know that and have begun to relentlessly attack the quarterback, which puts Weeden’s football life in jeopardy every time he takes the snap.

That, in turn, puts that much more pressure on an offensive line that has problems protecting its quarterback to begin with. Weeden does not have a quick release like Hoyer and has more difficulty pre-snap reading opposing defenses.

With the strange play calling of Norv Turner, the Browns have become predictable, which makes Gordon’s contributions that much more impressive. He has caught 25 passes for 429 yards in just four games since returning from a two-game suspension.

Even though frequently double-teamed, the second-year man knows how to get open and seems to be the only receiver Weeden trusts. Extrapolate his figures and Gordon is headed toward a 1,500-yard season in 14 games.

~ Notebook: For what it’s worth, referee Walt Anderson blew it when he disagreed with Chudzinski’s challenge and upheld the call on the field as an incomplete pass on what should have been a 26-yard sideline reception by Browns wideout Greg Little on a second-and-25 early in the fourth quarter. Little appeared to just barely get both feet in bounds, but apparently the replay was inconclusive. Had it been ruled a catch and Detroit coach Jim Schwartz challenged, he would have lost, too. . . .  On the Browns’ second series of the game, Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh deliberately lowered his head and buried the crown of his helmet in Weeden’s chest a split second after he delivered the pass. It should have been flagged. If you’re not going to call that, might as well get rid of the rule. . . . Special teams good/bad: Every one of Billy Cundiff’s kickoffs sailed out of the end zone and Spencer Lanning averaged 47.3 yards on his six punts. Now the bad. After his record-setting week against Buffalo, Travis Benjamin field three punts against the Lions for minus 10 yards. 

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