"Groundhog Day" Opens In Cleveland For Another Season
By Steven King
For the Cleveland Browns in the expansion era, it has been a constant reshowing of the movie “Groundhog Day”.
Time after time, they’ve struggled over and over again to get it right; it’s been the same thing – even the same game – all season every year since they returned to the NFL in 1999: the defense does more than enough to contribute to a victory, but the offense cancels that out – and then some – by not doing nearly enough.
That was evident once again in Sunday’s 23-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins at FirstEnergy Stadium. It was their ninth straight season-opening defeat and the 14th in their last 15 tries.
Behind RE Desmond Bryant’s two sacks, the Browns got to Miami QB Ryan Tannehill four times, including three in the first half. They also allowed just 20 yards rushing, tied for the second-fewest in team history. It’s also the fourth-fewest rushing yards ever gained by Miami. More importantly, Cleveland surrendered only six points in the first half and 13 through three quarters.
The defense finally wore down in the fourth quarter after spending a lot of time on the field on a warm, humid day. That kind of performance should put a team into good position to win, but, just like it hasn’t happened previously in the expansion era, it didn’t happen Sunday because the offense was horrible.
Leading the way in that regard was QB Brandon Weeden, who did absolutely nothing to prove to management, his coaches and teammates and the fans that he is the club’s franchise quarterback. On the contrary, he did plenty to prove otherwise.
He attempted way too many passes (53) and in a league where a 60-percent completion percentage is pretty much the norm for quarterbacks, he completed less than half (49 percent). The fact he threw for 289 yards was the most misleading statistic of the day in the NFL, because he passed for just one touchdown and was intercepted three times. To make matters worse, all three picks came in the first 21:55 of the game.
Those interceptions occurred because:
1) Weeden was off-target on some of his passes, trying to throw the ball too hard when a softer touch and a more accurate throw was required;
2) His receivers dropped some balls they got their hands on and should have caught. WR Greg Little was as guilty as anyone;
3) The line and, RT Mitchell Schwartz in particular, did not protect well. Schwartz was eaten alive by Dolphins RE Cameron Wake, who had 2.5 sacks, two tackles for a loss and six quarterback hits. Weeden rarely reacts well when his pocket is threatened and he continued to struggle with it on Sunday, throwing before he was ready and before his receivers were ready.
Yes, the Browns were without their deep-passing threat in WR Josh Gordon, who is serving an NFL-imposed two-game suspension to start the season. That hurt. But the Browns needed to throw long more than once, that coming when Weeden’s pass to WR Travis Benjamin was intercepted at the Miami 1 on the opening series of the game.
Being able to disregard the long passes over their heads, the Dolphins crowded the box and made it extremely difficult for Weeden to throw the short and intermediate routes. That strategy also neutralized RB Trent Richardson. With no place to go, he rushed for 47 yards on 13 carries and caught just two passes for 30 yards.
Wasn’t Richardson supposed to get plenty of touches in this new offense? The fact he didn’t get his hands on the ball much, and wasn’t able to do much when he did, were big reasons why the offense struggled so much overall.
New coach Rob Chudzinski and new coordinator Norv Turner are regarded as great offensive minds who really know how to coach quarterbacks. After Sunday’s debacle, we’ll get a chance to find out if all that is really true. If it is, then we should see improvement next Sunday when the club travels to meet the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in their first AFC North contest.
And if it isn’t, then it’s going to be a long season – the NFL version of “Groundhog Day”. As we’ve said before, backup quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer are not the answer.