Browns’ opening loss brings sense of deja vu
CLEVELAND — It was another Opening Day for the Cleveland Browns, another launching of another new era amidst much energy and optimism, and a new regime promising to be different from and better than the last.
It was only one game, but for most of the first NFL Sunday of 2013 the Browns were as bad as they’ve been in previous season openers — they’re now 1-14 in such games since 1999 — and previous seasons in general.
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The Dolphins beat the Browns in this one, 23-10, by winning at the line of scrimmage on both sides and finally creating a few big plays in the second half that neither team could early. Every yard was precious and style points were few, and the team with the better passing game and better playmakers on both sides took charge in the final quarter and a half.
It’s not really that the wheels came off for the Browns; it’s that there was very little traction from the start.
Besides tight end Jordan Cameron’s breakout game and the play defensive front seven (specifically the line), the only thing resembling good news is that it was only one game.
New head coach Rob Chudzinski and second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden were quick to point that out.
“We’ll learn from this and we’ll move on,” Chudzinski said. “There’s a lot of football left to be played this season.”
He’s right, and there’s time to get these issues corrected. There are, however a lot of issues. Among them…
Weeden does not resemble a franchise quarterback.
The rushing game amassed all of 47 yards.
The offensive line struggled to get push in the running game and to give Weeden the time he needs in the passing game; replacement right guard O’Neil Cousins, in particular, seemed to spend a lot of time in the backfield.
The young, unproven and thin secondary played like a young, unproven and thin secondary. Top cornerback Joe Haden held Dolphins big-money receiver Mike Wallace to one catch for 15 yards, but on the other side Brian Hartline started earning his big-money contract, burning the Browns for 114 yards on nine catches and a touchdown.
As soon as the Dolphins took a 13-7 lead on a 34-yard Hartline touchdown catch with 6:46 left in the third quarter, the game felt over. Just a couple possessions later, it was.
There’s another problem with those problems. They’re neither new nor surprising.
If the Browns are going to win any signifcant number of games this year, Trent Richardson is going to have to move the chains, keep the defense off the field and create opportunities for Weeden to take some shots down the field. The Browns ran 13 times Sunday; Weeden threw 53 passes. Weeden was sacked six times, threw at least that many passes that wouldn’t have been caught by a former receiver in the 13th row and was intercepted three times in the first half, once on a deep ball and twice on passes that hit his intended receiver’s hands.
Only the coaches and players involved would know exactly where to place the blame for the turnovers, but a 48.4 quarterback rating, which Weeden posted Sunday, generally does not happen by accident.
“We just have to get better as a unit,” Weeden said.
New defensive additions Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant were dominant in stretches, and the Browns held the Dolphins to 20 rushing yards Sunday, something that just doesn’t happen in the NFL. But nobody wins in the NFL without being able to attack via a vertical passing game and by defending the pass, and despite the stellar run defense the Browns defense looked gassed late in trying to keep up with Hartline and Brandon Gibson.
And then the Dolphins veteran defensive front ran past the Browns offensive line, often leaving Weeden to get smacked or throw the ball away. Often times, both happened. NFL defensive stats are unofficial, but in addition to the six sacks the stat sheet shows 16 quarterback hits and 10 pass deflections for the Dolphins.
“Too much pressure on the quarterback,” Chudzinski said. “That was an issue the whole day.”
The Browns unveiled new formations and new pass patterns and even after the Dolpihins figured out that Cameron was capable of making plays, he still was able to make a couple more. But with suspended wide receiver Josh Gordon watching from home and the Dolphins coming from what had to seem like every angle, the big plays didn’t come. The Browns dropped passes, too. Even their lone scoring drive was aided by a facemasking penalty on Dmitri Patterson, the former Brown who had two of the Dolphins interceptions.
On Richardson’s last 10 carries, he got 23 yards. In the second half, he got 5 carries for 14.
The Dolphins converted 8 of 16 third downs. The Browns converted 1 of 14.
One of 14. Just like the openers.
“This one’s over,” Weeden said. “We can’t do anything about it (now). Last I checked we’re guaranteed 15 more games.”
This was just one game — and still a new season, and an organizational new start — but it feels like deja vu because the Browns have a new coach and a new regime and two new coordinators and a core of players who would like to end all of this losing. But to believe it will end, it will have to look a whole lot different than it did for most of Sunday.
It was just one game. It looked too much like so many others.