Offense offensive once again
Let’s see now. What went right for the Browns Sunday in the home finale against the Baltimore Ravens? Nothing.
Okay, what went wrong? Just about everything you can imagine.
The Browns, at least on offense, played their worst game of the season and that takes some doing by a team that is winless in 14 games this season, 15 straight overall, 1-29 in the last 30 games and the lowest scoring team in the National Football League.
The offense new Browns General Manager John Dorsey saw in last Sunday’s loss to Green Bay did not show up against the Ravens. That one was somewhat of an aberration.
The real one, the one that has underwhelmed most of the season, showed up against the Ravens and once again revealed the numerous blemishes that have prevented any progress.
It’s the same thing with this crew week after week after week. The results do not change. The only things that change are the final numbers on the scoreboard at the end of those games.
The only thing the Ravens lost Sunday en route to an overwhelming 27-10 victory over the NFL’s most hapless team by a long shot was a challenge by coach John Harbaugh of a completed pass to Duke Johnson Jr. midway through the final quarter.
Just about everything else went their way. None of it was luck. It was all earned.
The Baltimore defense, which had five takeaways in the first meeting of the season in week two, created four more Sunday, converting them into 14 points. The Cleveland defense had zero takeaways, raising their turnover ratio to -25.
The Baltimore offense was steady and mistake-free, taking advantage of Browns’ defensive mistakes like a blown coverage on a 33-yard scoring pass from Joe Flacco to Benjamin Watson and no one near Flacco when he scored from two yards on a quarterback draw.
Watson’s touchdown, the 10th scoring pass caught by a tight end against the Browns this season, arrived late in the second quarter, three plays after Johnson lost a fumble near midfield, and gave the visitors a 17-7 lead.
Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer, who was picked off thrice and fumbled the ball away in the first game, produced two more interceptions – both poorly thrown passes – and a strip-sack that turned into the Ravens’ final touchdown in the third quarter, their sixth on defense this season.
Then there is Ravens punter Sam Koch, who was an effective field position weapon, dropping two punts at the Cleveland 4 and generally keeping the Browns pinned deep in their own territory at the beginning of drives. All but two of the Browns’’ possessions began at or inside their 25-yard line.
The Cleveland offense, at its best, was one nice possession away from being totally awful. With the exception of a five-play, 96-yard scoring drive, all on the ground, in the second quarter, it was achingly missing in action.
The defense, which eventually wore down because the offense couldn’t stay on the field, was exhausted after spending nearly 37 minutes on the field because it couldn’t get off, although it experienced a brief moment of glory.
Back-to-back possessions created the only two highlights of the afternoon for Browns fans early in the second quarter. The sparse crowd – it looked as though the stadium was a little more than half-filled – just didn’t realize it at the time.
The defense fashioned its best goal-line stand of the season, turning away four attempts to score from the 4 as the Ravens were determined to take a 10-0 lead. Terrific plays by James Burgess Jr. and Caleb Brantley blunted the final two runs by Alex Collins.
That’s when the offense, which produced negative five yards on 11 plays in the opening quarter, took the cue and unfurled its stunning, how-in-the-world-did-that-happen touchdown drive to take the Browns’ only lead of the game, Johnson romping the final 12 yards shortly after Isaiah Crowell bolted 59 yards on the first play.
That, for all practical purposes, was the Cleveland offense for the day. Not much else worked. To be brutally honest, nothing else worked.
Kizer proved once again he is not a starting caliber NFL quarterback, making mistake after mistake, many of which fans have seen before. He is learning nothing from his past mistakes.
It has become obvious he and coach Hue Jackson are clearly not on the same page, let alone the same playbook. Whether it’s Jackson stubbornly not catering more favorably to Kizer’s talents or the rookie just not competent enough to handle the coach’s offense, it just isn’t working.
Several times, his receivers had to be contortionists in order to make acrobatic catches in an effort to bail him out. His passes were all over the place, several of which were well off target. As it was, he threw for just 146 yards.
Josh Gordon was targeted 11 times and caught five balls for only 47 yards, but had to be a contortionist to grab a few others that were in the vicinity of his hands. He’s too good and too valuable to be saddled with a quarterback like Kizer.
As Jackson trotted off the field after exchanging a congratulatory handshake with Harbaugh, he had to wonder whether this would be the last time he helms the Browns in front of the home folks.
There are plenty of fans who no doubt wonder the same and won’t be unhappy if his tenure as the worst coach in Cleveland Browns history comes to an end before next season in spite of what owner Jimmy Haslam III says.
With two games left, both on the road, Haslam’s patience will be severely tested, especially if the Browns become only the second team in the long history of the NFL to lose every game in a 16-game season, joining the 2008 Detroit Lions.
That one definitely bears watching.