If the Cleveland Browns want to succeed, they must be a very good defensive team.
Unfortunately, today they weren’t and they lost yet another season opener, getting pounded by the New York Jets, 31-10 at Met Life Stadium.
To be sure, people will point to the five turnovers by the Browns as the reason they lost, and they certainly didn’t help the cause, but we will point to several things that didn’t put Jim O’Neil’s defense in a good light.
In the first half, the Browns dominated play yet trailed going into the locker room 14-10.
In baseball, announcers and managers talk about response runs. After you score, the pitcher has to shut down the opposition.
The Cleveland defense failed to do this in the first half.
After the Browns took the lead in the second quarter on a touchdown pass from Johnny Manziel to Travis Benjamin. It only took the Jets six plays and 80 seconds to tie the game.
Of course, it didn’t help that the defense forced a turnover (it turned out to be the only one for Cleveland) when Tashaun Gipson picked off QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, but was stripped of the ball by WR Brandon Marshall (more on him later).
Two plays later, the Jets tied the game. The interception and resulting fumble was probably the turning point of the game.
After trading punts, the Browns took the lead on a Travis Coons’ field goal, but once again the Jets marched right down the field in nine plays, moving 72 yards in 2:20 to take the lead going into the half.
It doesn’t help your defensive play when the unit’s best player, All-Pro cornerback Joe Haden gets abused by the player he is assigned to shut down. Marshall caught six throws for 62 yards and a TD, but he also extended several drives with third down conversions.
The defense allowed seven third down conversions out of 13 opportunities.
Haden will play better because he’s been excellent in the past, but today simply wasn’t his day.
As we mentioned before, the turnovers didn’t help and was a big reason the Browns didn’t have the lead going into halftime.
Starting QB Josh McCown led a masterful opening drive, moving the Browns 82 yards from their own 9, to the Jets 9, before a penalty on John Greco put Cleveland in first and goal from the NY 14.
On third down, McCown escaped pressure and ran up the middle. Instead of sliding and putting his team in position for a short field goal, he tried to hurdle a defender and fumbled the ball away. He also suffered a concussion putting the ball in the hands of Manziel.
Then came the Gipson fumble later in the half.
So, instead of being up 10-0 with the ball and momentum, because everything was running according to game plan, it was tied at seven.
Two other problems for Mike Pettine to address. First, the running game, save for the quarterbacks, was non-existent. The Browns ran for 104 yards, with Manziel and McCown accounting for 58 of those yards. The longest run by any running back was eight yards.
The other issue was NO sacks of Ryan Fitzpatrick by the Browns’ defense. The Jets also ran for 154 yards, and not being able to stop the run doesn’t allow a defense to get after the passer.
This was the biggest weakness of the team last season, and to be fair, the Browns did a solid job in the first half vs. the run. But they couldn’t get pressure on Fitzpatrick and that has to change.
Regardless, the Browns come home next Sunday for Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans, who won big against Tampa Bay.
They need to eliminate mistakes, and the defense has to play better, much better.
If they don’t show a very good defense, those 3-13 predictions may just come true.