Win or lose, the Cleveland Browns opened their 2012 with an ugly game against the Philadelphia Eagles. It's uglier, of course, because they lost 17-16, especially considering that they could have easily won had their offense played as well as their defense.
It's not surprising the offense struggled, considering all the inexperience at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. Further, the Eagles have an intimidating and effective defense, one that manhandled the Browns offensive line in much the same way it did in the third preseason game last month.
All of those factors combined to produce one of the saddest collection of offensive statistics a team even as beleaguered as the Browns has seen in quite some time.
In just 24:02 of possession, the Browns managed just 210 total yards (versus the Eagles' 456). Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden went 12-of-35 for 118 yards and threw four interceptions, good for a passer rating of a microscopic 5.1. Trent Richardson rushed 19 times for just 39 yards, an average of a measly 2.1 yards per carry.
With numbers like that, you'd expect a more lopsided defeat. However Cleveland's defense did nearly enough to compensate for its offense's struggles.
While time of possession clearly was the main reason why the Browns had 62 tackles to Philadelphia's 37, they were more successful in bringing quarterback pressure, hitting the quarterback 11 times and sacking him twice.
The Browns also made four interceptions—one returned for a touchdown by linebacker D'Qwell Jackson—and forced a fumble.
News flash: The Browns have a good defense. They were the No. 2 pass defense in the league last season, a fact the Eagles chose to ignore in asking Michael Vick to pass 56 times. The pressure on Vick was relentless. The Eagles only consistently moved the ball on the ground, the Cleveland D's one area of weakness.
But the running game was something Philadelphia didn't try until later in the game. The result was 150 rushing yards. That is almost identical to the 147 rushing yards the Browns surrendered per game last year.
But the Browns' ability to stymie Vick's passing for the most part gives them something to build on in the weeks ahead. It wasn't a flawless defensive performance, especially near the end, but the defense was on the field for just less than 36 minutes, which obviously leads to some exhaustion.
If the young offense can take this experience and learn from it, the Browns will be an altogether better team when they take on the Cincinnati Bengals next week. Considering what we saw in Week 1, that might be a lot to ask, but football teams rarely gain nothing from the mistakes they made the previous week.
The Browns may be an 0-1 team, but that's not simply the first step to being a 1-15 team like many seem to believe. The loss is, of course, a wake-up call, mainly for the offense. But the defense did keep the game close and force the Eagles to make many mistakes.
There's something there, it's just that Cleveland didn't find it in Week 1.