Nothing new here
The way the Browns played the game of football Sunday in Philadelphia, they would have been better off forfeiting the game instead of settling for a 29-10 loss against the Eagles.
It was an exercise in futility almost from the time they exited the buses that carried them to the stadium. Practically nothing worked on both sides of the ball. It sort of looked disturbingly similar to the way they played during the exhibition season.
It was almost as though no one told them this one was for real. This one was one of the 16 that counted. If that message was, indeed, delivered, it was ignored.
The only difference between this game and the four exhibition games was the regulars played the entire game instead of sparingly. Which means this, Browns Nation, is what you can expect the rest of the way.
If the Browns cannot beat one of the worst teams in the National Football League, does that theoretically makes them worse? Well, yeah. And you’ll probably get no argument from those who watched painfully on television and are honest with themselves.
Perhaps, some might argue, this was merely a case of the Browns being the Browns in an opening game. After all, they won only one season opener in the last 17 seasons since the return in 1999.
They tried. They really tried. You can’t fault their effort. Their execution maybe, but not their effort. They are just not that good. They can’t help themselves. This, it appears, is as good as it’s going to get.
With the exception of only a few performers (more on that Monday), their best was not good enough against a team that is not nearly as good as it undoubtedly believed after the game. If the Eagles use this game as the barometer for what lies ahead, they are in for an enormously rude surprise.
Carson Wentz’s NFL debut couldn’t have gone any smoother. The rookie Eagles quarterback, passed up by the Browns in the last college draft, threw for 278 yards – it would have been much closer to 300 if not for three dropped passes – and a pair of touchdowns and did not look like someone making his professional debut.
The Cleveland defense, just like the last several seasons, had trouble getting off the field. The Eagles had 23 first downs (to Cleveland’s 14), owned the ball for nearly 40 minutes and did not turn it over. Numbers like that generally add up to a victory.
The Browns’ pass rush, non-existent in the first and fourth quarters, picked up steam in the middle two quarters and dropped Wentz twice. And the run defense? Typically poor, allowing 133 yards.
And any time your offense runs 50 plays, that’s a red flag. The again, when it comes to the Browns, it’s the byproduct of an offensive line that is just a notch or two above awful. It has problems opening running lanes for running backs and offers little, if any, protection for the quarterback.
Robert Griffin III was smacked around like a piñata most of the afternoon. On his 30 dropbacks, The Third was sacked three times, knocked down on six other occasions and hurried nine times. That, too, is on the offensive line.
He was also intercepted once on a poor throw behind rookie receiver Corey Coleman in the second quarter, but was also victimized by four dropped passes, two by the reliable Gary Barnidge. Not that they would have made a difference, but those have to be caught.
It would appear, at least based on what we’ve seen from Hue Jackson’s offense thus far, that the Cleveland attack consists of chucking the ball as far as possible in hopes of someone making a great play, and running up the middle.
The Third racked up 102 of his 190 throwing yards against the Eagles on two bombs. Terrelle Pryor made a sensational catch on a 44-yarder that gave the Browns a first-and-goal at the Philadelphia 9 en route to their only touchdown of the day, a two-yard run by Isaiah Crowell in the second quarter.
And on the first play of the second half, The Third hooked up with Coleman on a 58-yarder that was underthrown and poorly defended by three members of the Eagles’ secondary. Outside of that, the Cleveland offense stuttered and sputtered.
It ran four or fewer plays on 10 of 13 possessions and gift-wrapped two points for the Eagles on an awful shotgun snap by center Cameron Erving deep in Cleveland territory that bounced out of the end zone for a safety early in the third quarter.
Add to that two highly questionable coaching decisions – OK, they were boneheaded – by Jackson that led to 10 more Philadelphia points.
The coach called for a fake punt on a fourth-and-5 at the Cleveland 41 on the second play of the second quarter. Not the Philadelphia 41. The CLEVELAND 41. It fooled no one.
Duke Johnson Jr. took the direct snap with punter Britton Colquitt lined up on the line of scrimmage and was hit almost immediately by linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill. It led to a Caleb Sturgis field goal.
Then with 3:41 left in the game and trailing, 22-10, Jackson gambled again, this time on fourth-and-3 at the Cleveland 15. The Third, who had taken a ferocious hit to his left shoulder on an 11-yard scramble on the previous play, overthrew Andrew Hawkins in the left flat. The Eagles were in the end zone four plays later.
The Third was the Browns’ leading ground gainer until the final minute when, with the game clearly in hand, the Eagles’ defense went prevent and allowed Crowell to ramble for 40 of his 62 yards on three straight plays to close out the game.
But Wentz, rightly so, was the story of this game. Elevated to the starting position following the trade of Sam Bradford to Minnesota, he showed the poise of a veteran rather than someone making his initial NFL start.
Was he great? No. Very good? Not quite. Solid? Getting closer. Impressive? Ding, ding, ding. Then again, keep in mind against whom he was making his debut. Veteran Cleveland cornerbacks Joe Haden and Tramon Williams, each burned by a Wentz scoring pass, had to be impressed.
Then late in the fourth quarter, Wentz victimized Haden again by squeezing a pass to wide receiver Jordan Matthews into an extremely tight window on a third-and-5 near midfield to extend a drive. It might have been his best throw of the afternoon.
There is a bottom line here with the Browns even though they have played only 60 minutes of meaningful football. It’s as simple as this: If they can’t compete with a poor team like the Eagles, let alone knock them off, the 2016 season will seem like a never-ending nightmare.
After the game, Coleman summed up the afternoon this way: “We have stuff to work on. That’s it.” No kidding.
Said Jackson, “I saw a team that was sporadic to start. Then I saw a team that was fighting.” Fighting, he will find out soon enough, does not translate into winning. Fighting doesn’t count for much if you don’t have the talent to back it up and this team does not.