The Cleveland Browns lost a disappointing game this past Sunday to the Oakland Raiders by a score of 27-20. It wasn’t disappointing just because the final score was close, or because they had the ball and were moving down the field in the final minute of the fourth quarter in an attempt to tie the game before throwing an interception.
Those things were part of it, but the disappointment goes deeper than that. It was disappointing because the Cleveland Browns did absolutely nothing to build off of a win the previous week against the Tennessee Titans. It was disappointing because, once again, this football team looked like the same old Browns.
The debate rages on over the quarterback position, a debate that was further fueled by news that Cleveland has signed third string quarterback Austin Davis to a 2-year, $4.173 million contract extension good through 2017 (according to ESPN’s Field Yates).
Yet in a way, the Browns should be relieved that everyone is focusing on the quarterback position. While this is certainly not an area of strength, the Josh McCown vs. Johnny Manziel narrative (now being fueled by Davis speculation and the effect it may have) is hiding a much bigger issue, through three games the Cleveland Browns defense has been terrible.
Following the conclusion of the 2014 season, the Browns identified (to nobody’s surprise) that they needed to improve their run defense. This was done by signing free agent Randy Starks, drafting Danny Shelton, Xavier Cooper and Nate Orchard, combined with the thought that players are healthy and would better understand their role in the second year of Jim O’Neil’s defense. So far, none of this has helped or proven to be true.
While neither Manziel or McCown will find themselves in the Pro Bowl this season, the Browns passing offense currently ranks 14th in the league in passer rating at 89.9, is tied for 10th in passing touchdowns (5) and rank 20th in total passing yards (691) and passing yards per game (230). None of these numbers are eye popping, but none of them are horrible either, and while the completion percentage could be higher (currently ranked 28th with 56.3 percent) the perception that the quarterback position is the sole reason this team is struggling or is currently the biggest issue is far from the truth.
The Browns defense is tied for 27th in total yards allowed and yards allowed per game (1,187 and 395.7 yards respectively). The Browns passing defense (with a secondary dubbed as the “No Fly Zone”) is currently 14th in passing yards allowed (712) and average yards per game (237), tied for 19th in touchdowns allowed (6), tied for 26th in interceptions (1, which if you’ll recall was immediately fumbled by Tashaun Gipson) and 26th in opposing QB passer rating at 102.9.
And this isn’t even the worst part.
The Browns run defense is currently ranked last in the league in total yards allowed (475) and yards per game (158.3). They’re 31st in average yards per attempt (4.9), have allowed three rushing touchdowns and own the distinction of allowing the two longest runs by anyone this year – a 54-yard carry last week by Oakland’s Latavius Murray and a 44-yard run by Tennessee’s Dexter McCluster the week before. Pro Football Focus also ranks the Browns as last against the run this season.
Individually on defense, things aren’t all that great either. According to Pro Football Focus, Donte Whitner is tied for 2nd among all safeties in missed tackles with seven, while Tashaun “I Want Big Money” Gipson is not far behind with five of his own. Jordan Poyer also makes an appearance with three missed tackles in 60 snaps. Whitner is also 14th (among safeties that have been on the field for at least 25 percent of the team’s defensive snaps) in NFL QB Rating. This season, quarterbacks throwing into Whitner’s “coverage” have a rating of 126.1, which is 67th out of 77 players.
Don’t’ worry, it gets better.
In the same metric, Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden ranks 76th (out of 80) among cornerbacks who’ve taken at least 50 percent of the teams defense stats in QB Rating allowed. Passers have a QB Rating of 137 when throwing into Haden’s coverage this year. He’s also allowed 71.4 percent of the passes that have come into his coverage to be completed.
Switching over to the linebackers, while Karlos Dansby and Craig Robertson have been decent against the run this year, Kirksey is Pro Football Focus’ 45th ILB (among those with at least 25 percent of the team’s defensive snaps) against the run. The Browns outside linebackers have struggled mightily to set the edge against the run this year as well. To put into perspective just how bad things currently are, Armonty Bryant, who is considered a situational pass rusher, is (once again according to PFF) the Browns best OLB in run support. Paul Kruger is 40th and Barkevious Mingo is 45th out of 47 qualified OLBs. DEs Randy Starks, John Hughes and Desmond Bryant (27th, 38th and 42nd respectively out of 49) are also contributing to the problem.
The bottom line here, the Browns certainly aren’t getting great play from the quarterback position (nobody expected that) but that’s not necessarily the biggest reason they’re 1-2 either.
Coming into the season, the Cleveland Browns considered themselves to be a team built around running the ball and playing good defense. Neither has proven to be effective, but the defense is a flat out embarrassment that hasn’t been able to stop anybody. So what if the Browns struggle to score? With the defense playing the way they are it wouldn’t make a difference.