When the Cleveland Browns and Phil Dawson parted way in the off-season, more than one pundit said it wasn’t a big deal because the new coaching staff was going to score touchdowns instead of kicking field goals.
How do those people feel now, as the team fell to 0-2 with a 14-6 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens.
The Browns’ new offense, coached by Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner, looks a lot like the one that performed last season. They’ve scored 16 points combined in the two contests, scoring just one touchdown, and getting three field goals from Billy Cundiff.
Much of the optimism came from the thought that Cleveland had a solid offensive line, but the injuries to guards Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston have weakened that unit significantly, so much that Brandon Weeden has been sacked 11 times in the first two games.
The other thing killing the offense has been third down conversions. Through two games, the Browns are a pathetic 5 out of 29 in trying to stay on the field, a paltry 17.2%. That doesn’t get it done.
Cleveland came out with a big play, a 53-yard strike to TE Jordan Cameron on their first offensive play, getting them to the Ravens’ 7. But two Trent Richardson runs and a third down incompletion had the Browns settling for a field goal.
On their second possession, two consecutive penalties on third down, the first coming on a third and two situation, killed a drive. That cannot happen if you want to play winning football.
Two possessions later, two sacks stopped a drive that had accumulated three first downs.
Sacks, penalties, and the inability to run the football isn’t a formula for winning football. We’ve said for years that the common thread for the Browns in the last 14 years was they couldn’t run the ball, and they couldn’t stop the run.
Although once again, in a game they were trailing just 7-6 going into the fourth quarter, Trent Richardson didn’t carry the ball once in the final stanza. Not once. That’s a head scratcher for sure.
At least these Browns can stop the run. Ray Horton’s defense only allowed 99 yards on 36 attempts to Baltimore, an average of 2.8 yards per carry.
That just plays into our point, though. Just averaging less than three yards per attempt, Baltimore still attempted 36 runs. The Browns? They tried to run the ball just 20 times for the game, and two were runs by Weeden on aborted passing plays.
Until the Browns make a commitment to run the ball, they will continue to struggle moving the ball. They are putting too much of the offense on a quarterback who isn’t prepared to handle it.
Defensively, the Browns pitched a shoutout in the first half, but for the second straight week, the opponent made adjustments and moved the ball better after halftime.
Rookie first round pick Barkevious Mingo made his NFL debut and showed very well, getting a sack and pressuring Raven QB Joe Flacco a couple of other times. DE Desmond Bryant had a half sack (with Jabaal Sheard), giving him 2-1/2 on the season.
Buster Skrine was picked on once again, and was forced to make seven tackles, but opposing QBs are going to go after him because the alternative is Joe Haden.
You can’t argue about the defense though. They allowed just 14 points, and that should win games at the NFL level. In fact, that defensive performance would have won every single early game played on Sunday.
Chudzinski and Turner have to come out and run the football and stick with it even if Richardson isn’t getting five yards per carry. That should take some pressure off the line, making it easier to protect Weeden.
Until that happens, this football team is going to continue to struggle.