Sunday, November 6, 2016

The losing carousel spins on and on and . . . 


Slightly less than eight minutes remained in the Browns-Dallas Cowboys game Sunday at the Factory of Sadness when Curt Menefee told most of the large Fox Sports audience they would not being watching this game anymore.

“With the Cowboys in firm control of this game, we are going to a more competitive contest,” he said and then most of the audience, not those watching in Dallas and Cleveland, were sent to the New York Giants-Philadelphia Eagles game.

Firm control was putting it mildly and generously. The Cowboys held an extremely comfortable 35-10 lead at the time, scoring with ridiculous ease and playing their strongest game on defense this season.

It can be assumed the poobahs at Fox did not think one football team toying with another was entertaining fare with the mystery of which team was going to win solved as early as the first quarter.

Those lucky people mercifully switched to the Giants-Eagles came didn’t miss much because the Browns’ offense never touched the ball again after Britton Colquitt’s fifth punt of the game. The Cowboys nickel-and-dimed their way for 37 yards following the punt. It took them 13 plays and the entire seven minutes and 48 seconds.

The Browns had no business being on the same field as the Cowboys, who rang up their seventh straight victory, in the process sending the winless Browns to their ninth straight loss this season and 12th in a row overall.

This crew matched the 1975 team that opened the season by losing the first nine in a row with No. 10 lurking in a Thursday night date with the Ravens in Baltimore on national television.

This is a game the NFL Network cannot switch from unfortunately, subjecting those who dare to watch with some really bad football at least by one of the teams. Guess which one. On second thought, never mind.

It will be interesting to see how the network sells that one between now and Thursday. There is the distinct likelihood the game will draw the lowest rating this season. How do you sell a winless team more than halfway through the season? It’s a challenging and yet impossible task.

It was the same old story Sunday with the Cleveland defense. Couldn’t stop the run (168 yards, led by Ezekiel Elliott’s 92 yards and two touchdowns); and couldn’t stop the pass (quarterback Dak Prescott threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns).

The two rookies made the Cleveland defense look so benign, one has to wonder whether it will ever start playing improved football. Granted the Cowboys have an elite offense, but this one was an unfair fight.

The Dallas offensive line had its way with the Browns’ front seven all afternoon. To give you some idea of how much time that line spent beyond the line of scrimmage on run plays, consider the following statistics:

The only members of the Browns’ defensive line who recorded tackles were Jamie Meder, Danny Shelton and Xavier Cooper, who totaled seven with two assists on 42 rushing plays. Linebackers Demario Davis, Christian Kirksey and newcomer Jamie Collins totaled 27 with 16 assists.

All of which means whoever carried the ball for the Cowboys was not challenged until well beyond the line of scrimmage. Just about everything the Cowboys offense tried worked. They controlled the ball for nearly 40 minutes, running 70 plays to Cleveland’s 44.

Veteran tight end Jason Witten ran virtually free (when he wasn’t blocking) for most of the afternoon. Cleveland defenders had no clue where to find him until the damage was done. He finished with eight receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown.

The only compliment that impotent offense can boast of is no turnovers. But when six of the eight possessions gain only 98 net yards and end up with no points on the board and the defense can’t get off the field on third down, that translates as trouble.

The only two times the offense clicked was the opening drive that produced a field goal and a seven-play, 80-yarder that resulted in a Terrelle Pryor touchdown late in the second quarter.

Three second-half possessions produced only 33 net yards, with the Cleveland 32-yard line the deepest penetration. When the Cowboys took a 28-10 lead on the first possession of the second half, Elliott stiff-arming his way the final eight yards, coach Hue Jackson was all but forced to throw the ball to get back into the game.

Of the 14 second-half plays, 11 called for Cody Kessler, who threw for 203 yards, to drop back and throw. He completed five for 36 yards, but was sacked three times – he was dropped four times overall – by a Dallas front seven who totally disdained the run by that point in the game. It removed only 7:36 from the clock.

It’s nine games now into what is likely to be the most forgettable season this once-proud franchise has ever had and there is no improvement whatsoever. The offense sputters in every game. The lack of consistency is disturbing, especially when you consider the head coach to be an offensive guru.

Just when you think there’s at least a glimpse of hope, something like the second half of the Cowboys’ game happens. This is clearly a team that needs all kinds of help when coming out of the locker room for the second half.

The offense has played 19 quarters of football in the second halves of games (one overtime) and scored 51 points. In nine third quarters, they have put up an embarrassing 15 points. It gets worse.

Including the scoreless second half of the Dallas game, that offense has been shut out now in 10 of those 19 quarters, or more than half the time. It’s not so much a case anymore of opposing defenses being better. It’s more about how bad the offense is. One for nine on third down says it all.

And the defense shares massive culpability on this mess of a season. At one point Sunday, the Cowboys successfully converted third down on six of eight occasions.

The offense can’t stay on the field. The defense can’t get off it. It is one gigantic mess that shows zero signs of improving. .

At one point in the second half of the Dallas loss, television cameras peered into the suite of Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III. He was sitting next to Browns legend Jim Brown, neither man showing anything resembling emotion. In fact, they looked glum. That’s because they were watching a train wreck.

The new front office, the one responsible for that train wreck, has some fancy spin doctoring to perform to its constituency in Browns Nation. Young and inexperienced doesn’t cut it anymore.

With seven games left and the likelihood of a winless season becoming a reality, someone needs to step forward and offer up an explanation as to why this bad football team is getting worse.

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