Rearview Mirror: The Wait-and-See Browns

Jacksonville-at-Cleveland“Same old Browns.”

That’s what I heard from many fans after Sunday’s shellacking by the then-winless Jacksonville Jaguars. I’m not sure I agree, but I completely get it. After the Week 3 23-21 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, I was feeling the same way.

Over the past seven seasons, the Browns have had moments where maybe you could believe they had turned a corner. Remember 2010 in the Eric Mangini era when they had back-to-back wins against New England and New Orleans? Only to see the team fall apart after that and watch another head coach sent out the door?

What about 2012, then under Pat Shurmur, when the Browns stomped the Kansas City Chiefs 30-7 for their third straight win, including a win over the Steelers during that mini-streak, putting them in playoff contention? We were impressed because the team had issues, but maybe Shurmur was motivating these guys! As bad as the season had been before that short win streak, the team had been playing awful, holding a record of 2-7, but they hadn’t quit.

Then they played the Washington Redskins and got crushed 38-21 and another sub-.500 season was assured. Also, another coach was fired.

Since 2007, we have gotten our hopes up for the Browns, only to see those hopes dashed. Is it any fault of the fans that watching their team get beat by the Jaguars, a game where the offense played like they had been assembled in the parking lot right before kickoff, brought up flashbacks of previous letdowns? The answer is “no”.

And are they right? That I don’t know. I certainly can’t say that they’re wrong. But let’s take a deep breath and take a rational look at this for a second

Sunday was the perfect storm for the Browns to lose. Allow me to explain.

steelersbrownsfootballThe Browns lost Alex Mack, one of the best centers in the game, out for the year with a broken leg. Talk about “next man up” all you want, but that’s a big loss. It sent the line into disarray. Now, add to that the fact that Jacksonville’s biggest strength is their defensive line. See what I’m getting at? Nobody enjoys talking about line play, yet we all know that the games are won and lost in the trenches. We all say it, then we all immediately start talking about the quarterback. It’s just the nature of a fan.

Let me add this about the Jaguars, and you can call me an apologist if you like, but facts are facts. They have a good receiving corp. They had injury issues with that group and they hadn’t all been together until the game before when they lost to the Tennessee Titans.

Add to that rookie quarterback Blake Bortles, who got his first NFL start in Week 3. Rumors have it that the Browns considered drafting him and that they had him rated the best quarterback in the 2014 NFL Draft. In his five starts this season, he has had a QB Rating of better than 80 in three of them. As a matter of fact, his worst outing of the year was in that win last week, where he had a rating of 40.3. He didn’t need to be great because Jacksonville was able to run all over the Browns, something that every team this year has been able to do.

Here are the number of yards that the Browns have surrendered on the ground so far this season: 127, 174, 160, 149, 138, and 185. Is it any surprise that the Browns rank dead last against the run, giving up an average of 155.5 yards per game? The pass defense appears to be improving, but that run defense is awful.

But I don’t blame this loss on the defense. And I’m not tipping my hat to the Jags. This loss hangs on the Browns’ offense.

Quarterback Brian Hoyer looked worse than he’s looked all season. He completed less than 40% of his passes. He threw an interception and fumbled a ball away. (I hated that call, by the way. I accept that it was called correctly, but I don’t like it. Period. If the ball travels downfield completely from the quarterback’s hand, it should be a forward pass.) His QB Rating was 46.3.

But look at the running game, too. The offense rushed for 69 yards, their fewest on the season.

No ground game, no pass game for the first time all year in the week after Alex Mack is lost for the season. Coincidence? Blame this on Browns’ karma if you want, but I’m not buying it. I think this team was greatly affected by the loss of their All-Pro center. The question is: Can they recover from it?

Can the Browns patch their line back together? Can they come up with new schemes to make up for the changes? Or are we going to watch the offense get killed every week from now on because of the loss?

cleveland-browns-fans-paper-bagsThere’s a certain group of Browns fans that just hate everything the team does. They’ve had their hearts broken and they act like bitterly-scorned lovers. That’s their right, I can say nothing about it. But I can also say to that group of fans that your view is as distorted as the fans who see everything rosey. You’re just on the opposite side of the same spectrum.

Those fans want to cross their arms and say that everyone has injuries and that the good teams find a way. Both of those things are true. But how good was/is this team? I mean, we would all love to see 8-8. 8-8! Finishing at .500 would be a joy! What makes you guys expect the team to just rebound from such a significant loss in their interior line?

I don’t know what is going to happen to this team now that Mack is gone. I can’t say they can recover. This is the best offensive line they’ve had in a while, but remember that the right side of that line had issues the past couple of seasons and they were just able to fix it. Now because guys have to be shifted around, it’s probably going to have problems again.

I’m willing to give it a chance, but I am not the most optimistic. But not because there’s some crazy curse. Or because God hates Cleveland. Or because this is “the same old Browns.” Maybe, judging strictly on the bottom line, they will be because they will probably have yet another losing season. But the losses in the past were a lack of talent, both on the field and on the sidelines, even with everybody healthy.

Any team that would lose a Joe Thomas or an Alex Mack is going to have a hard time replacing them, that’s just the way it is. But I also think it’s up to the coaching staff to find a way to not just fall apart.

I’m sorry that the Browns are now running the risk of not even being a fun team anymore. Remember, I am a fan of them, too. But we don’t know that just yet. I’m not going to write them off just yet. I said after the Steelers win that they could lose one of next three games. And they have. Now, how do they rebound?

Next up is the Oakland Raiders. Another “easy” game, another winless team. They almost got their first win against the San Diego Chargers, who are currently the darlings of the AFC. I’ll be previewing this game in a couple of days, so I am not going to get into that now.

Browns fans, I hate to say it, but there’s a solid chance your team may not win that one, either. We just have to wait and see.

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