It doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to figure out the Browns’ biggest and most aggravating problem this season. It’s this simple: They can’t keep the opposition from scoring.
Coach Hue Jackson had to talk Ray Horton into coming back to Cleveland to be his defensive coordinator. After the first eight games of the season, he wouldn’t be blamed if he had a second thought or three about that decision.
The following statistics do not lie. In fact, they tell a grim story of just how pitifully and pathetically the very offensive Cleveland defense has performed in the first half of the season.
In the most important category, points allowed, their best effort was 25 points against the Baltimore Ravens in the second game. Yes, their best effort. And that was after the Cleveland offense scored the first 20 points of the game, which as it turned out was its only points of the game.
This ragged defense has allowed 30 or more points in five of the other seven games. The other two saw yields of 28 and 29 points. No matter the opponent, the Cleveland goal line has been assaulted with disturbing regularity.
The averages: 22.5 first downs, 61% of those achieved through the air; 421.5 yards overall, including 289 yards in the aerial game (on 63% pass completions); 144 yards on the ground (4.8 yards a rush); 47% success rate for the opposition on third downs; and 66 plays a game.
A couple of more telling stats for this miserable defense: 29 touchdowns, including a staggering 19 through the air; and a withering 32 minutes and 19 seconds on the field. When the opposition converts third downs at a 47% clip, you’re not getting the ball to your offense enough.
So where is the problem? Everywhere, it seems. From a poor pass rush to the inability to stop the run to a secondary that has all kinds of problems in coverage. No matter what Horton does, it doesn’t work. He has been given mostly young talent and mistakes are being made on a weekly basis.
He needs some older, wiser heads in the game. When you start a game with three and sometimes four rookies and a couple of second-year men in the lineup, you’re asking for trouble.
Maybe that’s why the club traded a future third-round compensatory draft pick to New England Monday for outside linebacker Jamie Collins, a move that provides immediate improvement at that position.
Rookie Emmanuel Ogbah has shown marginal improvement on a weekly basis after getting off to a slow start, but fellow rookie Joe Schobert has been a major disappointment, contributing very little. So have newcomers Cam Johnson and Corey Lemonier.
Collins is a much better edge rusher and most likely will move in immediately on the strong side opposite Ogbah. His stay in Cleveland, though, might be brief. The four-year veteran, who led the Patriots in tackles last season and was voted to the Pro Bowl, is in the last year of his contract and seeking big money.
Going from a Super Bowl contender to the only winless team in the National Football League has got to be jolt for the 6-3, 250-pounder. It will be interesting to see just how far the Browns will go to keep him once he enters the free-agent market in the offseason.
New England coach/emperor Bill Belichick reportedly became fed up with Collins because (a) he free-lanced way too much in the disciplined New England defense and (b) wasn’t worth the money he sought. Belichick has made similar moves in the past with disgruntled veterans.
Fitting right in should not be a problem for Collins. Scheming for a newcomer on defense is much easier than one on offense, where rhythm and timing is much more important. Defense requires aggression, of which Collins has plenty.
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What in the world is wrong with Gary Barnidge? The tight end, who put up career-year numbers year last season and went to the Pro Bowl, has been exceedingly quiet thus far this season.
Last season, Barnidge caught 79 passes for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns. Along the way, he made enough circus catches to become a weekly regular on ESPN’s Top 10 plays of the day. This season, he has 33 grabs for 403 yards and no visits to the end zone.
So what’s the difference? Factor in he has been targeted by five different quarterbacks (six if you include Terrelle Pryor) this season and doesn’t know from game to game who will be on the throwing end.
Last season, Barnidge caught passes from only two quarterbacks, Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel. That makes a huge difference if you have some consistency with the guy responsible for making you look good. He has not had that opportunity this season.
That could change with the return of McCown last Sunday and the expected return of Robert Griffin III within the next month. Barnidge won’t achieve those Pro Bowl numbers, of course, but his second-half performance should make what he did in the first eight games look like an aberration.
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Perusing some more scoring stats gives one a better insight as to why the Browns are threatening a team record for futility Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys at home. They are clearly a better first-half team.
They have compiled a respectable 109 total points in that time thus far and allowed 117 and taken three leads and a tie into the dressing room in eight games. It’s the second halves that have destroyed them. They have been outscored, 115-51, in the final 30 minutes.
For whatever reason, the team that emerges from that dressing room in the second half in no way resembles the one that entered that room after the first 30 minutes. Maybe it’s making the wrong adjustments. Maybe it’s not making adjustments at all. The third quarter is the worst with five shutouts in eight games
The defense has shut out the opposing team in just three quarters this season. Three quarters out of 33 (one overtime game). The offense has been shut out in 14 quarters, eight in the second half of games.
Their best quarter offensively is the second with 66 points. Their worst? Not even close. The third quarter with only 13 points, indicating they are not nearly ready to play a game of football. Blame for that falls squarely on the head coach and his coaching staff.
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Maybe Jackson and Horton should take one whole day a week as they prepare for the next opponent to teach the defense how to tackle. You now, like bringing down whoever is carrying the ball before he does more damage.
That display of tackling in the New York Jets loss Sunday should never be shown to anyone who wants to learn how to play fundamental football. That should be a primer for how not to tackle. Football is not a contact sport. Dancing is contact sport. Football is a collision sport. It’s about time the Browns practiced it.
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Considering how deferential the Browns were to the Jets’ strong run defense last Sunday (they called only 18 runs), we can look forward to much the same this Sunday against the Cowboys, who surrender only 93 yards a game on the ground.
And the porous Cleveland run defense, which gives up 145 yards a game, can look forward to a Dallas offense that averages 165 yards on the ground behind arguably the best offensive line in the NFL.
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And finally . . . In the last four games, Browns running backs Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr. have carried the ball 59 times and gained 175 yards. Enough said. . . . Inside linebacker Christian Kirksey, who played mostly outside last season, has adapted nicely to his new position. He is the runaway leader in tackles with 72 and solo tackles with 48 and seems to arrive at the point of attack with an attitude. . . . Pryor, who schooled Darrelle Revis with six catches for 108 yards in the first half of the Jets loss, was schooled by the veteran cornerback in the final 30 minutes with no catches and only three targets. . . . The Browns owned the ball for 17:31 in the first half and just 8:48 in the second half, half of which was used on the final drive. . . . The Browns are just 1-18 in their last 19 games and 3-26 in their last 29 with victories over Tennessee, Baltimore and San Francisco. The last victory was against the 49ers last Dec. 13. . . . McCown threw to 10 different receivers in the Jets loss. . . . Rookie defensive end Carl Nassib played sparingly, but recorded three knockdowns of Ryan Fitzpatrick passes. . . . Only seven penalties were stepped off Sunday, two against the (sarcasm alert) highly disciplined (end sarcasm alert) Browns. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. watch: Four carries for 29 yards, six receptions for 87 yards. Ten touches, 116 yards.