Passing The Test, In Smashing Fashion

Yesterday I wrote that the Browns’ game against New England would be an “acid test.” Today the Browns passed that test, and in smashing fashion.  They pulverized the Patriots, who came into the game with the best record in the NFL, 34-14.

There was a lot to like about this game.  Offensively, the Browns were aggressive and took the game to the Patriots.  The Browns’ offensive line was stellar.  On running plays they smashed the New England defensive line, and Peyton Hillis — a big back who can deliver a crushing blow at the point of impact, yet who is nimble enough to hurdle a tackler or get far downfield and catch the ball on the wheel route — blew through the Patriots for more than 180 yards and two touchdowns.  (Brady Quinn’s greatest contribution to the Browns was being traded for this guy!)  The line also provided good pass protection, and Colt McCoy played a careful, error-free game that featured a brilliant scrambling run for a touchdown.  On that play, Joshua Cribbs delivered a de-cleating, pancake block.  Cribbs also played a key role in the Browns’ other touchdown, where he handed off from the wildcat formation on a modified fumblerooski play that caught the Patriots totally off-guard.

On defense, the Browns forced key turnovers and also kept Tom Brady and his corps of receivers off their games.  The Browns’ ever-changing and inventive (some might say downright weird) defensive formations and schemes clearly bugged Brady.  Having to deal with no down lineman sets, then three-lineman sets, then corner blitzes, acted on Brady like a combination of itching powder and atomic balm in his jockstrap.  He seemed irritated and frustrated throughout the game.  The Patriots’ offense, one of the better offensive units in the NFL, was never able to get untracked.

Of course, this is just one win for the Browns, who are still only 3-5 — but it is a very satisfying win.  Let’s hope the Browns have found their stride.  Next up is the New York Jets, next Sunday.

Another Putrid Exhibition

I read UJ’s post on the woeful Browns, and I am forced to agree with him that they stink, big time.  I realize that the NFL season is 16 games long and only two games are in the record books, but I am seeing nothing that indicates that the Browns will be anything other than awful this year.  So, it is likely to be another year of egregious failure and painful embarrassment for long-suffering Cleveland sports fans.

I must grudgingly admit that I could not even watch yesterday’s game to the end.  After seeing the offense sputter dismally in the first two series of the second half, I decided that life was too short and switched it off.  I’m glad I did.  The Broncos may be a defensive powerhouse on the order of the 1985 Chicago Bears — but somehow I doubt it.  I think the Browns are just bad.  Watching their futile, pitiful thrashing on offense is an affront to any knowledgeable football fan.

I don’t think the Browns defense is horrible, just not very good.  They put up a fight at first, then get worn down by being on the field two-thirds of every game.  The Browns offense, though, appears to be so terrible that it may rewrite the record books. Defensive coordinators must rub their hands in glee when the Browns show up on the schedule.  The Browns offense seems to run two first-down plays — an unsuccessful pass or a two-yard run.  Their second down play typically is a three-yard pass, and on third and five either Brady Quinn gets sacked or he completes a pass for a two-yard gain.  There is no big-play threat, no stretching the field vertically, and not even an effort to consistently throw to a receiver who is past the first down marker.  The offense struggles to get into field goal range; an offensive touchdown is a pipe dream.  It is maddeningly frustrating to watch them and wonder how a team that has spent millions of dollars on talent and coaching can be so stunningly inept.

Still, I can’t quit.  A fan has to be a fan.  I admit that there was a certain freedom when the despised Art Modell took the team to Baltimore and there was a football-free interregnum in Cleveland.  But when the Browns returned as an expansion team and Russell started following them, I was sucked back in like Al Pacino in Godfather III.  Now, I’m stuck watching disastrously bad football, with no end in sight.

I keep hoping that one year the cosmic tumblers will fall the right way and years of gut-wrenching losses will be rectified as the Browns surprise everyone, finally make it to the Super Bowl, and win the big game.  If you were to quit before that glorious day occurred it wouldn’t be quite so sweet to enjoy.  Of course, that theory presumes that the Browns someday will be a winning team again . . . .

Bad Start

I watched the Browns lose to the Minnesota Vikings yesterday, and in many ways the game captured the futility of the Browns since they returned to the NFL. The Browns played a decent first half — particularly the defense — and led at halftime, 13-10. Even so, there were the normal danger signals. After the Browns got the ball on the Vikings 6-yard-line following a penalty, they could not punch the ball into the end zone and had to settle for three points. This has been a persistent problem for the Browns, who did not score an offensive touchdown in the last six games of last season. Other danger signs? A bad interception by Brady Quinn, apparently the result of a mix-up with Braylon Edwards, after the Browns were effectively moving the ball on the ground, and the usual assortment of ill-timed penalties.

The second half was a disaster from start to finish, marked by penalties, poor tackling, and almost comic ineptitude on offense. The defense, which had been stout during the first half, spent most of the half on the field, was worn down by repeated rushing attempts by Adrian Peterson, and finally gave up a long TD run by Peterson that put the game out of reach. In the meantime, the offense looked lost — relegated to two-yard runs and dink-and-dump passes without any meaningful effort to stretch the field. Brady Quinn had one of those embarrassing plays where he lost control of the ball as he got ready to throw and looked like Garo Yepremian during the Miami-Redskins Super Bowl. As the defense gave up scores, the offense never responded until the game was effectively over. The only positive was that the Browns ended their string of games without an offensive touchdown by scoring with a few seconds remaining in the game.

As usual, the Browns lost their home opener, and the season is off to a bad start. The Vikings are supposed to be one of the best teams in the NFL, so maybe the Browns aren’t as bad as they looked in the second half. Time will tell, but so far the signs aren’t very encouraging.