Thankful for the bye week
How bad are the 2016 Cleveland Browns? Let us count the ways.
First, though, it should be duly noted they lost yet again Sunday at home in front of a crowd that looked outnumbered by empty orange seats.
For the record, the New York Giants won, 27-13, dealing the winless Browns their 12th straight loss and 15th in a row overall as the visitors stretched their winning streak to six games.
Now then, how bad are the 2016 Cleveland Browns? Well, the above stat is a broad clue. Let’s begin.
Browns aging (it seems by the minute) quarterback Josh McCown was sacked nearly as many times (seven) as Britton Colquitt punted the football (eight).
Of the Browns’ 15 possessions, eight ended in punts, including the first four of the second half, another three in turnovers (all fumbles, two by McCown), two in field goals, one on downs and one in a touchdown. The Giants converted two of the turnovers into touchdowns.
For most of the second half, the three interior members of the offensive line were Cameron Erving at center and guards Spencer Drango and Alvin Bailey and the rookie Drango was the best of the bunch. Bailey, who took over at right guard when John Greco went down in the third quarter, is just plain bad and Erving isn’t far behind.
McCown dropped back to throw the prolate spheroid 50 times in those 15 possessions and tacked on 10 knockdowns and 11 hits to the aforementioned sacks. That’s 28 times the offensive line failed to protect its quarterback. For the optimist, that’s 22 times it did.
That’s also 23 sacks by the opposition in the last four games alone and 45 on the season by a line that either forgot how to pass block or is way too soft to make an appreciable difference. The expansion 1999 team surrendered a club record 60. The current team is on pace to equal that.
And when that line is not tying to protect its quarterback, it isn’t doing much more to help the running backs. Once again, the Browns checked in with less than 70 yards (58) for the fifth straight game as time and again the holes just weren’t there.
The Cleveland running game opened the season strong and actually led the National Football League in the first four weeks in spite of losing every game, compiling four straight 100-yard games (totaling nearly 600 yards) on the ground.
Since then, they have run for 481 yards, But that figure contains an outlier, the 180-yard effort in the week seven loss in Cincinnati, In that one, Kevin Hogan ran seven times for 104 yards and a touchdown on a variety of designed plays when injuries forced the desperate move to the rookie quarterback after fellow rookie Cody Kessler was injured..
Subtract that 180 and the Browns have racked up a paltry and embarrassing 301 yards on the ground in the other seven games, an average of 43 yards a game. That’s how bad the ground game has been and one of the myriad reasons the Browns are winless.
The offense put together only one successful drive all afternoon against the Giants and that’s because the visitors played extremely soft defense after taking a 20-6 lead when defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul grabbed one of McCown’s two fumbles and rumbled 43 yards for a touchdown with 11 minutes left in regulation.
It took five plays (all passes) for the Browns to drive 75 yards to pull within 20-13 in the next possession, McCown hooking up with rookie Corey Coleman for a 21-yard scoring strike with 8:17 left in regulation.
But the defense, which had played stubbornly up to that point, gave it right back six plays and 75 yards later with Odell Beckham Jr. scoring his second touchdown of the afternoon.
In a season when his team is seriously flirting with becoming only the second team in National Football League history to lose every game, Cleveland coach Hue Jackson seems to play every game as though it means something in the standings. It seems at times as though he loses confidence in his offense, the side of the ball that’s his baby.
Case in point. After Bobby Rainey muffed one of Colquitt’s punts at the New York 30 late in the opening quarter, the Browns squandered an opportunity to even the score at 7-7, advancing at one point to the New York 6 before settling for the first of Cody Parkey’s two field goals from 20 yards.
For some reason, it doesn’t occur to Jackson that the only thing he has to lose at this point of the season is another game. There’s nothing wrong with taking chances and gambling early in games. At 0-11, there’s enough criticism to go around anyway with the quarterback situation leading the way.
McCown epitomizes how bad the quarterbacking is on this team. He has been around long enough to know when to hold on to the ball, when to move either within in the pocket or slide outside it and when to throw the ball away. And he keeps making the same mistakes.
Yes, he threw for 322 yards, connecting with Terrelle Pryor for 131 of them, including a 54-yarder just two plays before Pierre-Paul quickly turned the game around. That’s the maddening inconsistency with McCown. One nice play followed closely by a disastrous play.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning was much more efficient with his 28 dropbacks twice finding Beckham for touchdowns. Beckham had a third score called back when the Giants were caught holding during his 59-yard punt return.
Despite all the losing, despite the frustrating way in which the Browns lose games, despite all the negativity that might show up in the clubhouse from time to time, there is one constant with this club: It tries. It really does.
You cannot really fault the effort level. The talent level for sure. Not the effort. This team is not nearly good enough to overcome mistakes. It plays up to its capabilities, which tells you an awful lot of just how inadequate those capabilities are.
This is a young team not yet good enough to correct and overcome mistakes. The back-to-the-drawing-board approach either doesn’t seem to work anymore or the players have given up on it at this point of the season.
Now everyone has a week off to think just about anything but football during the bye week. And in most cases, that might be the best approach as the worst season in Browns history, one that can't end soon enough, drones on.