The worst is yet to come
It is going to be a long season for the Browns. A very long season. A very, very, very long season.
That much can be gleaned following Sunday’s 27-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders in front of the home crowd.
In three games thus far, we have learned the Browns still can’t stop the run, still can’t produce a running game that can sustain the passing game and still cannot make a play when a play is needed.
And that was against the three easiest teams on this season’s schedule. From here on out, it is going to get much, much tougher with five of the next seven games, including the next two, in hostile territory, three against AFC North opponents.
Heading into next Sunday’s game in San Diego, the next 13 games will be played against teams that did not have a losing record last season. Picking again in the top five in next year’s college draft looks more and more like a certainty.
Sunday’s loss serves as a microcosm of what eventually will go wrong this season unless the Browns can make one of the most miraculous comebacks in National Football League history.
If it wasn’t a rouging the kicker penalty that extended a drive that eventually wound up in an Oakland touchdown, or a Travis Benjamin muffed punt late in the fourth quarter that prolonged a Raiders possession when the Browns desperately needed the football, it was the defense’s inability to get not only a stop following a Cleveland touchdown that made it 20-10, but allowing a ridiculously easy retaliating touchdown.
It was also the Browns settling for a field goal after achieving a first and goal at the Oakland 1 late in the second quarter. Not to mention a quarterback who had miserable timing problems with his receivers for the better part of three quarters. It was a confluence of just enough bad karma to lose a football game.
Those who believe every cup is half full correctly point out the Browns are 1-2 at this point and woke up just long enough to make the Raiders loss interesting at the end. But the sad fact is this team has serious problems on offense, serious problems on defense and has no idea how to play clutch football.
There isn’t one take-charge guy on either side of the ball. That one guy who steps up and makes a play when it counts. That one guy who can be depended on to come through time and again. That man does not wear Seal Brown and Orange.
Their too-little, too-late comeback against the Raiders might serve as a springboard for next Sunday, but it doesn’t make up for the club’s inability to play smart football. Or tough-when- they-need-to-be football.
Their physical and emotional makeup just isn’t there on a sustained basis. They tackle as though they expect the opposition to go down immediately. Arm tackling and shoulder tackling just doesn’t cut it. This team does not know how to fundamentally wrap up a ball carrier. Their tackling is embarrassing.
Running back Latavius Murray, who compiled 109 yards in 26 attempts in Oakland’s first two games, ran for 139 yards in 26 carries Sunday, about 100 of them, it seemed, gained after contact. For the third straight game, the vaunted Cleveland run defense surrendered more than 150 yards.
The pass rush, coming off a seven-sack game, made life comfortable for Oakland quarterback Derek Carr, whose uniform was as dry, clean and unwrinkled after the game as it was before. Replicating their opening-game pass rush fiasco against the New York Jets, the Browns recorded zero sacks and zero quarterback hits.
Carr was free to pick and choose as he carved up the Cleveland secondary for 314 yards and two touchdowns, one each to Seth Roberts and Andre Holmes. He shredded the secondary, hooking up with rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper for 134 yards. A Cooper fumble in the fourth quarter led to the second Cleveland touchdown, but by then, it was way too late.
The Oakland defense, which entered the game hemorrhaging 450 yards a game and compiling zero sacks in two games, sacked Browns quarterback Josh McCown five times and dropped him another seven times as the Cleveland offense went into pass-only mode midway through the third quarter after falling behind, 20-3.
After the Raiders pumped the lead back to 27-13 and the crowd chanting for Johnny Manziel to replace an ineffective McCown, the Browns made a belated comeback when the Raiders went into prevent mode. And of course, all that does usually is prevent winning. Not on this day, though.
McCown, throwing almost exclusively in the second half, actually put the Browns in a position to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. They ran the ball on only three of their 42 snaps in the final 30 minutes
McCown drove his club to the Oakland 35 in the final minute before future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson stepped in front of a wide-open Benjamin at the Oakland 10 with 38 seconds left and stole not only the ball, but the hearts of Cleveland fans as the sadness returned suddenly.
This one was clearly won in the trenches. Most coaches implore their linemen on both sides of the ball to win the individual battles, Win the battles and you’ll win the game, they say. That was never more evident than what the fans witnessed Sunday.
The Raiders, who normally pass 70% of the time, ran the ball on 30 of its 62 plays. Why the switch? All you have to do is look at the statistics. The Browns cannot stop the run. The offensive line pushed the Cleveland defense around most of the afternoon and won just about every important battle.
The Browns’ offensive line? Well, besides the five sacks and seven hits on McCown, the big boys upfront opened enough holes for Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr. to rack up 39 yards.
It all added up to the Raiders’ first victory in the Eastern Time Zone since December 2009 and snapped an 11-game losing streak on the road.
Only in Cleveland.