It could have been a lot worse
The Browns went into the chamber of National Football League horrors Sunday and actually played a decent football game. Relatively speaking, that is.
Unfortunately, they played it against the hottest team in the NFL in the Seattle Seahawks – with all due respect to the undefeated Carolina Panthers – and did not totally embarrass themselves.
Cleveland coach Mike Pettine apparently meant every word he said early in the week when discussing the game.
“We’re going to go up there and cut it loose,” he declared. “We’re going to have a great deal of respect for them, but we’re not going to be intimidated by them. We’re going to travel there and play a good football game.”
Playing against a team that had won four straight games and six of its last seven and plays in a venue that usually devours visitors on an annual basis normally does not usually engender bravado. But the players and coaching staff backed up their head coach to a certain extent. At least on offense.
Against many other less worthy opponents, the Browns might have had a chance to win this one. The 30-13 final in no way suggests they were by far the inferior team. There was no doubt, though, the Seahawks were the better team, but they did not exactly steamroll past the Browns.
They owned just a 10-point lead (20-10) entering the fourth quarter against a team many expected to fold and mail it in. The fact the Browns had at least a statistical chance at that point was surprising.
From an offensive standpoint, it looked as though coordinator John DeFilippo opened up the entire playbook in an effort to confuse a very good Seattle defense that has been getting better and stronger by the game.
The Browns ran several misdirection plays, a few reverses, a couple of fake reverses and a variety of screens that kept the aggressive Seattle defense off balance. DeFilippo even called Terrelle Pryor’s number once on a direct snap that lost a yard. But they were never able to come up with a big play to sustain subsequent drives.
The offense, which gouged out only 230 yards, rarely stopped itself, although it put up only a pair of Travis Coons field goals after Johnny Manziel masterfully crafted a 15-play, 80-yard drive to open the game, connecting on a seven-yard scoring play with Gary Barnidge.
It was the first time this season a team had scored a touchdown against the Seahawks on an opening drive and, as it turned out, was Cleveland’s best possession of the afternoon. It represented 31% of the Browns’ 52 plays.
Perhaps fittingly, Pettine did not boast about his disappointing defense when he spoke so optimistically about this game. That side of the ball, while not intimidated by the Seattle offense, didn’t come even close to cutting it loose.
So when the Seahawks countered the Browns' opening drive with a 16-play, 69-yard scoring drive of their own, it signaled the beginning of yet another afternoon when the Cleveland defense had all kinds of problems getting off the field. So much so that Seattle punter Jon Ryan had to punt just once.
The Seattle offense owned the ball for 34½ minutes, thanks mainly to the Cleveland defense’s inability to make a play, and scored on five of seven full possessions
Before Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson called it an afternoon late in the fourth quarter after throwing three more touchdown passes (that’s 19 in the last five games with no interceptions), two to Doug Baldwin (that’s 10 in the last four games) and one to Tyler Lockett (that’s five in the last five games), he faced 12 third downs and converted nine.
No matter the distance, Wilson had just about every correct answer. Third and short, third and medium, third and long, made no difference. Manziel & Co. was tethered frustratingly to the sideline.
Where the Browns ever so maddeningly continue to have problems is stopping the run. The Seahawks piled up 183 yards on the ground Sunday with three running backs (minus Wilson’s 46 yards) accounting for 137 of them.
It’s a malady that has plagued this team year in and year out and shows no appreciable signs of disappearing. Even more embarrassingly, those yards were churned out by the likes of Christine Michael, Bryce Brown and Derrick Coleman, a.k.a, Moe, Larry and Curly.
With no Marshawn Lynch (sports hernia surgery) and no Thomas Rawls (broken ankle), the Seahawks were down to bare bones in the running back department. And the Browns made them look like Pro Bowlers.
The Seahawks had already cut Michael once earlier this season and Brown was signed for the third time. It seemed as though they could plug just about anyone into that slot and do well, especially against the porous Cleveland defense.
Manziel, meanwhile, seemed flummoxed by the sophisticated Seattle pass defense. He completed 19 of 31 passes for just 161 yards and the touchdown and seemed nervous in the pocket.
He was sacked only three times, twice on blitzes, but the strong coverage in the secondary by the Seahawks often forced him to vacate the pocket. Strangely, he chose not to run in the first half, but took off twice in the second half for 17 yards.
Part of what makes Manziel effective is his ability to use his feet when in trouble Wilson does it all the time.
The Cleveland quarterback received no help from the running game, which produced just 77 net yards from the running backs. It was due mainly to an offensive line that had problems blocking (surprise!) and a Seattle defense that walked a safety up into the box on what seemed like every play and dared Manziel to throw.
When an offense is basically one dimensional, especially against a very good team such as Seattle, winning becomes virtually impossible despite encouraging words from the coach.
The good news is the 2015 season is just a couple of weeks away from coming mercifully to an end. The bad news is the Browns those two weekends face the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers, teams almost as hot as Seattle.