Monday, November 17, 2014

Monday leftovers

The Browns need to hire a psychologist to find out just what makes this team tick. It has turned into a team with a split personality right before our very eyes.

It has reached the point in the 2014 season where you never know which team is going to show up and play a game of football on any given Sunday (or Thursday night).

Will it be the team that raced out of the gate in the first five games with some very impressive offensive numbers that opened up the eyes of the rest of the National Football League?

Or will it be the team that pretty much mailed it in the next three games against the dregs of the league and escaped with a pair of victories?

Then again, maybe it will be the team that went down to Cincinnati on four days’ rest and humiliated the Bengals in front of a national television audience with their best performance of the year.

And just when a lot of fans began to believe that team was the real Cleveland Browns, they come out and lay a gigantic egg Sunday in front of the home folks against a team with a rookie running back and a quarterback making his professional debut as a starter.

What in the world is going on here? Just when you think the Browns have finally figured out how to win games – and winning six of the first nine certainly qualifies for that label– they resurrect the old expansion days with a pitiful display against the Houston Texans.

Hire that psychologist now. Pay him whatever he demands. There are still six games left in the season. All is not lost.

Someone has to figure out what makes this team tick because the coaching staff certainly can’t.

Sunday’s loss to the Texans in submissive fashion is solid proof the Browns arrived at the ballpark ready to play a game of checkers. Or chess. Or badminton. Football was not uppermost in their minds.

Defensive end Desmond Bryant as much as admitted it after the game. “I don’t think we were really prepared the way we should have been,” he said. What a damning indictment on the coaching staff.

“We may have been sitting back a little bit, kind of catching more than we were delivering.”

Added linebacker Paul Kruger, “Our overall mentality was just not where it needed to be.”

Don’t need to read between the lines to understand what they mean. All afternoon, the defensive game plan clearly appeared to give Houston quarterback Ryan Mallett way too much respect.

Rarely did the Browns blitz. And when they did, it was never more than five men. The Houston offensive line had no problem blunting what little effort was put into making Mallett uncomfortable in the pocket.

It was as though the defensive coaching staff for the Browns invited a loss with its peculiar game plan and the Texans obliged.

Defense is all about aggression. And the head coach whose nickname supposedly is Blunt Force Trauma – he’s also the man who oversees the defense – left that aggression at home.

He either needs to apologize to Browns fans that expected a lot more from the defense this season or at the very least explain why they have been forced to watch something entirely different.

Some fans think the latest loss was as bad as the one down in Jacksonville several weeks ago. Uh, no. Not even close. The Jaguars stink. Houston is a pretty good team with quarterback problems that just might have been solved in Cleveland.
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Speaking of quarterback problems, let’s take a detailed look at the body of work for Brian Hoyer this season. See if you can spot where the problem lies.

This will be broken down into seven categories (team and individual) based on how he played in the first five games of the season and then again in the second group of five games. The only commonality is that the Browns were 3-2 in both periods.

In the first five games, the Browns scored 134 points (all but seven by the offense) , an average of 26.8 a game. They accumulated 111 first downs (22.2 a game), 1,224 yards (244.8 a game) and converted 22 of 61 third downs (36.1%). Individually, Hoyer completed 90 of 149 passes (60.4%), threw seven touchdowns passes and was picked off only once.

In the next five games, the Browns scored 82 points (16.4 per), accumulated 92 first downs (18.4), compiled 1,318 yards (263.6) and converted 21 of 74 third downs (28.4%). Hoyer threw 176 passes and completed 91 (51.7%), tossed four scoring passes and was intercepted four times.

Found the problem yet?

Virtually the same cast for the first 10 games on offense (with the exception of Alex Mack, who was injured in game five, and Jordan Cameron, who has missed the last three) and the numbers are significantly worse in the second group of five games.

The Cleveland offense has scored 52 fewer points, recorded 19 fewer first downs and saw the third-down conversion rate, which wasn’t anything to proud of to begin with, dip 7.7%.

Individually, Hoyer threw 27 more passes and completed only one more, threw three fewer scoring passes and four times as many interceptions and saw his completion percentage drop nearly 10%.

So if you’re wondering why the Cleveland offense in the last five games in no way resembles what we saw in the first five games, you’ve now got your answer. Start pointing fingers of blame in the direction of the quarterback. These statistics do not lie.

They tell a tale that is not going to get any better. The main reason the Browns knocked off the Bengals a couple of weeks ago is the running game, which was largely responsible for the offense’s success in the first five outings then disappeared for three games, Rip Van Winkled.

It fell back asleep against Houston, leaving Hoyer all alone to try and save the game. He is not capable of carrying a team by himself. Those numbers above more than prove that.
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Mallett, who had problems with touch at the collegiate level, appears to have solved that problem. His 2-yard fade to defensive end J. J. Watt in the left corner of the end zone produced the game’s first touchdown and was a thing of beauty.

When Watt entered the game, the Texans all but announced over the public address system what they were going to do and the Browns still couldn’t stop it. Mallett made a great throw, dropping the ball perfectly into Watt’s waiting arms despite solid coverage by Cleveland linebacker Chris Kirksey.

It was like lobbing a hand grenade into a small bunker and squarely hitting the target. Hoyer doesn’t make that throw.

Despite his size (6-5, 290), Watt showed the grace and athleticism of a wide receiver, managing to make the catch and keep his feet in bounds.
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Hoyer on the loss: “We were just outplayed. We just realized we’re not there yet. We’ve got to get better.” Not certain where “there” is. If “there” is the playoffs or playoff worthy or playoff-bound, then yes, the Browns aren’t “there” yet.

Offensive tackle Joe Thomas, ever the optimist, on the loss: “We’re 6-4, so the season is not over. . . . We’re still in control of our own destiny.” Not if you and your teammates continue to play as you all did against Houston.
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Notebook: Rookie Houston running back Alfred Blue, who bruised the Cleveland defense for 156 yards, couldn’t contain his glee after the game. “It was fun out there,” he said. “It was really like playing in the backyard.” Embarrassing stuff. . . . Kind of the opposite of what Cincinnati rookie running back Jeremy Hill said after the loss to Cleveland. Remember this? “They’re not that good . . . They’re probably worse than I thought.”  . . . This is how bad the Cleveland offense was at the beginning of the second half: In their first 18 plays, they gained 18 yards. . . . Now that they’ve knocked off the Browns, let’s see if the Texans can go back home and do the same to the invading Bengals Sunday. . . . Lost in the postmortem: Marlon Moore’s 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that was wiped out by a holding penalty on tight end Ryan Taylor, who wasn’t on the roster a week ago. It’s nothing more than a footnote.


  1. Great analysis ! I like the commentary, too.


  2. Thanx, Tim. Much appreciated. I'm afraid the Browns are heading in the wrong direction and don't have enough brakes to stop.

    Posting lengthy News & Views tomorrow. Subjects are Josh Gordon, Ben Tate and Karlos Dansby.

    1. Defense, defense, defense: Nose tackles that get pushed off the ball, defensive ends that can't play containment, linebackers that cover the wrong gaps. Been a problem all year long, but nothing changes???

  3. That's on the coaching. Duh. Maybe, just maybe, the talent on that side of the ball is overrated.