Sunday, September 13, 2015

Please pass the oxygen

OK, Browns fans. Take a deep breath. A really long, deep breath.


After the season opener Sunday in the Meadowlands of New Jersey against the New York Jets, you are going to have to get used to taking very long, very deep breaths if that's an indication of what lies ahead.

The 31-10 drubbing the Jets hung on the Browns in no way was indicative of how easily this victory was achieved.

It wasn’t as though the Jets could do no wrong. It wasn’t as though they thoroughly dominated the game from beginning to end. Oh no. They had help. Lots and lots of help.

The Browns, who lost their 11th straight season opener, must have thought it was Christmas, sending five beautifully wrapped turnovers the Jets’ way. Not only did the Jets say thank you very much, they turned the gifts into 21 points.

The Browns lost the game in just about every conceivable way. Through the air. On the ground. They played about as well as they did in their four exhibition games. Someone forgot to send the memo that this one counted.

They were a step slow on defense, had practically no pass rush against a veteran quarterback who would much rather stay in the pocket and were roasted in the secondary on key plays by that same quarterback.

The run defense, which was supposed to be fixed with the drafting of nose tackle Danny Shelton, surrendered 154 yards. Granted a lot of them were gained in the second half when the outcome became clear. Why throw the ball when the opposition can’t stop you?

Jets All-Pro center Nick Mangold and guards Willie Colon and James Carpenter schooled Shelton, who played about half the snaps, all afternoon. The kid had only one solo tackle, rarely got past the line of scrimmage and was nothing more than a cipher along with his linemates.

The pass rush – what pass rush, you ask; good question – produced no sacks and just one hit on Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw scoring passes to Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker in recording his fourth victory against the Browns in five starts.

Marshall had no trouble catching passes against cornerback Joe Haden, who is supposed to be one of the best cover corners in the league.

The vaunted Cleveland defense got no help from the offense. Shocking! But it also couldn’t get off the field in key situations.

It’s easy to blame this disaster on the offense, which lost starting quarterback Josh McCown to a concussion late in the first quarter. McCown was attempting to score on a 14-yard scramble only to surrender the first of four fumbles, which was recovered by the Jets in the end zone.

McCown, who played just two series, and Johnny Manziel, who provided the Browns’ only touchdown with a 54-yard strike to Travis Benjamin early in the second quarter, scrambled all afternoon.

A lot of the blame should be shared by the offensive line. Yep, the same one many people consider one of the best in the National Football League. Not only did it fail to adequately protect the quarterbacks, it did no favor to the run game.

The Browns rushed for 104 yards against a strong defensive line, which dropped Manziel three times. But when your leading ball carriers are Manziel (35 yards) and McCown (23 yards), something is terribly wrong.

Duke Johnson Jr., Isaiah Crowell and Shaun Draughn combined for 46 yards infantry style. If Mike Pettine and his offensive coaches don’t point fingers of guilt squarely at the offensive line this week and come down hard, it really is going to be a long season.

If this is the kind of offense fans can look forward to this season, hang on. The key to the success of coordinator John DeFilippo’s brand of offense is running the ball successfully. If the ground game is stopped, so is the Cleveland offense.

We saw a lot of that against the Jets, who crowded the line of scrimmage and practically dared McCown and Manziel to throw the ball. It won’t take long for the rest of the NFL to discover that little secret.

The only time the Browns attempted to the stretch the field was on Benjamin’s touchdown grab that gave the Browns a 7-0 lead. Other than that, the Cleveland offense played giveaway. The Jets started three of their drives in Cleveland territory.

Give any team a short field and bad things happen. Even the Browns capitalized, beginning a late second-quarter drive at the Jets’ 35 that led to a Travis Coons field goal (ending the Cleveland scoring for the afternoon).

The Jets, who won only four games last season, were clearly the better team in just about every phase of the game. The only exception, on second thought, was the superb punting of the Browns’’ Andy Lee, who averaged 60½ yards on two boots.

The Jets capitalized on just about every Cleveland mistake, of which there were too many. The Browns embarrassingly couldn’t take advantage even after creating their only turnover of the afternoon.

On the New York drive following Benjamin’s touchdown, Cleveland free safety Tashaun Gipson swiped a Fitzpatrick pass deep in Browns territory, monetarily shifting the momentum.

However, the alert Marshall, for whom the pass was intended, ripped the ball out of Gipson’s hands when he started to return the theft and the Jets recovered at their 9-yard line. Two plays later, they were on the board with the first of Chris Ivory’s two scores and the romp, although no one knew it at the time, was underway.

It’s so easy to blame this one of Manziel, who is an easy target. He actually looked decent some of the time. No, this one belongs totally to the entire team (except Lee) and the coaching staff. Twelve penalties for 109 yards also suggest lack of discipline. That’s on the coaches.

It was somewhat surprising the Jets controlled the line of scrimmage, especially on offense. They did nothing fancy. Just straight in-your-face, smashmouth football and the Browns were either not ready for it or don’t have the horses to handle it.

The hardest part to accept is the Jets were one of only three teams on this season’s schedule that had a losing record last season. The future does not portend many happy moments.

So don’t forget to take a deep breath. A really long, deep breath.

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