The Cleveland Browns dropped their first game of the 2015 regular season on the road against the New York Jets by a score of 31-10. This past Sunday’s loss makes 11 consecutive openers the Browns have lost. Bringing my tradition over to Cleveland Sports Zone this season, here is the good, the bad and the ugly from the Browns first game of the season.
Admittedly, it’s a stretch to find anything good that came out of Sunday’s loss. However, in the name of optimism, the Browns (sort of) successful opening drive should be pointed out.
It’s true that this drive didn’t result in a score, so calling it successful is a bit of a reach, but some good things did happen here. The offense was able to march down the field 90 yards on a 17-play drive that took 9:59 off the clock in the opening quarter. Time of possession will be key for the Browns offense this season (a battle they actually won this past Sunday) if they want to have any sort of success, and drives like this are encouraging.
— NFL (@NFL) September 13, 2015
What made this drive even more encouraging is that it happened without much support from the running game, or at least from the running backs. Josh McCown handed the ball off six times on the opening drive (not counting a run play that was nullified because of a Jets penalty) and gained only 18 yards, with eight of those yards coming on one play. This means that the offense was able to move thanks to McCown throwing the ball (along with a couple of scrambles). Obviously the end result left much to be desired (McCown fumbling the ball into the end zone and sustaining a concussion on the play), but the fact that a McCown led offense was able to move the ball against a legitimate NFL defense without the support of a running game should be encouraging. After McCown left the game with a concussion, Johnny Manziel was thrust into action. The result was obviously what everyone expected, a 5-play, 55-yard drive that culminated in a 54-yard touchdown pass from Manziel to Travis Benjamin. While Manziel’s play (along with pretty much everyone else’s) deteriorated as the game went on, it should be noted that he never really had the deer in the headlights look that we saw out of him last season when asked to start. His 54-yard pass to Benjamin, while slightly underthrown, was on target and he looked confident throwing the ball in this series.
This could easily be summed up as “everything,” but there are a few notable things to point out here. Offensively, the line struggled against the Jets defensive front. The Jets do boast a talented defensive line, but this should be no excuse for what was expected to be an elite offensive line. While some of the pressure was self-inflicted by Manziel, he was under consistent pressure from the Jets front seven all afternoon.
More troubling, the offensive line failed to do much in terms of opening running lanes for Isaiah Crowell and company, who also failed to accomplish anything. Crowell, Duke Johnson and Shaun Draughn combined for 20 carries and 46 yards (2.3 yards per carry), while McCown and Manziel carried (scrambled) eight times for 58 yards. Manziel running the ball five times for 35 yards shouldn’t really come as a surprise, and isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, when he is your leading rusher that’s a cause for concern. It might’ve been unfair to expect the Browns running backs to rush for 100 yards against a stout Jets defense, but 46 combined yards is a failure from both the backs and the line.
Conversely, the Browns run defense was advertised as much improved. While an overreaction to the first game probably isn’t fair, it certainly wasn’t a good sign that the Jets were able to rush for 154 yards and two scores on 36 carries (almost 4.3 yards per carry). Chris Ivory led the way for the Jets with 91 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries (4.55 yards per carry).
The Browns defense was also unable to generate any consistent pass rush on Ryan Fitzpatrick. Paul Kruger was the lone Brown to hit Fitzpatrick, and it wasn’t even for a sack. The lack of a pass rush in the preseason could be written off as a preseason defense, however, coupled with this past Sunday’s performance and the lack of a dominate pass rusher on the roster, there is a justified cause for alarm here.
Despite poor play on both sides of the ball, the Browns also continued to dig themselves into a hole through penalties, as on the day the Browns were flagged 12 times for 109 yards. Repeated holding and false start penalties routinely caused the Browns to make things much more difficult on themselves. While part of this blame falls on the coaching staff for not fully preparing the players, several of these penalties can be chalked up to focus, or lack thereof.
Another killer for the Browns was another self-inflicted wound – turnovers.
The Browns turned the ball over five times on Sunday, including a turnover on a turnover. Tashaun Gipson undercut a throw downfield by Fitzpatrick to Brandon Marshall, however, when attempting to return the ball Marshall was able to strip the ball from Gipson, thus allowing the Jets to retain possession. They scored twelve seconds later. The Browns lost three additional fumbles (one from McCown and two from Manziel), while Manziel also had an interception.
Continuing the ugly, the Browns second half offense was a disaster. In five second half offensive drives, the Browns were only able to amass 102 yards while the drives ended in an interception, a punt, a fumble, a fumble and a turnover on downs respectively. The infuriating part here is that Cleveland was only down 14-10 at halftime and received the ball to start the third quarter.
This was an absolute mess from top to bottom for the Browns.
Despite a somewhat strong start and being in the game at halftime, they found a way to give away the game, and in some aspects simply just beat themselves. To the Jets credit, they took advantage of the Browns mistakes. Those who listened to The C-Town and Down Show on No Static Radio this past Wednesday heard me predict the Browns would lose and it would largely come down to the Jets having more playmakers. While this was partly proven true (Ivory – 2 TDs; Marshall – six catches, 62 yards, 1TD; Eric Decker – two catches, 37 yards, 1TD) the Browns will need to clean up the sloppy play moving forward.