The Cleveland Browns’ loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday was a giant pile of mental mistakes, blunders and poor execution. If the Browns had been competitive and lost, it would be one thing, but from the moment the Bengals scored their first touchdown, the Browns never had a chance.
Instead of showcasing that they were ready for prime time, they showed the NFL world that they still have a long way to go.
The worst part was that the Browns essentially defeated themselves. You cannot make dozens of mental errors on the road and expect to win in the NFL. It just doesn’t happen.
The loss was not crippling but certainly a step backward. The Browns still have a very real shot at the playoffs if they can catch the inconsistent New York Jets in the wild-card race, but they will need to play much better down the stretch.
Before we look ahead, however, lets look back at the Browns’ 41-20 loss to the Bengals Sunday.
The opportunity was right there in front of them. All the Browns had to do was win, and they would be in the driver’s seat for the AFC North crown and their first trip to the playoffs since 2001.
Like a bumbling sheriff in a comedy, however, they shot themselves in the foot over and over again.
I don’t know much in this world, but I do know that committing four turnovers, allowing two defensive/ special teams touchdowns and converting just 22 percent of your third downs is exactly how you get blown out on the road.
After a red-hot 13-0 start, the wheels fell off the wagon. The Cincinnati Bengals’ 31 unanswered points in the second quarter all but sealed the victory for their squad and gave them the reins to the division.
During quarterback Jason Campbell’s first two starts, he was poised, attacked defenses downfield and did not commit a turnover. Unfortunately, everything averages out at some point.
In the past, Campbell had been criticized for using the checkdown pass too often, and that habit reared its ugly head again Sunday. Of his 56 passes, 27 were aimed at running backs or tight ends.
He also threw three interceptions. During his career, Campbell has had a 3-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. It was only a matter of time before he threw a pick. Five touchdowns with no interceptions was just too far off the norm.
He had also never had a quarterback rating of more than 84.6 in a season. In his first two starts, his rating was above 100 each time. On Sunday, it was 44.3.
The law of averages will get you every time.
The offensive line had played so well the last few weeks that it was quite surprising to see it take a step backward. On Sunday, it allowed Campbell to be hit nine times, gave up four sacks and had him under duress all afternoon.
The Bengals sent blitzes from every direction and had the Browns offensive line’s heads spinning. Guard John Greco and tackle Mitchell Schwartz both had tough games.
They also did not open up any holes for the run game after the first quarter. From the start of the second quarter until the end of the game, the Browns had just 40 rushing yards on 13 attempts.
This is the same old story with this group. It has failed to open holes for the run game all season long, but as of late, it had been much better against the pass.
Let’s hope this was just a hiccup and not a sign of things to come.
Jordan Cameron is being schemed out of games left and right lately. While he has 629 receiving yards and six touchdowns on the season, most of that damage was done in the first four games.
Over the last six games, he is averaging just 45 yards per game and has one touchdown.
Teams are using extra defensive backs to shadow Cameron and not allow him to exploit favorable matchups with linebackers or safeties. When he does have a good matchup, the deep safety always picks up his route before anyone else’s.
To be truly elite, you have to be able to beat double-teams and create opportunities for yourself. That is the next step in Cameron’s evolution.
The third-down woes continued on Sunday, as the Browns converted just four of 18 third-down attempts. They came into the game ranked 22nd in the NFL and converting just 46 percent of their third downs.
Head coach Rob Chudzinski said before the bye week that third downs would be a point of emphasis, but apparently they didn’t figure much out.
The Browns converted exactly one third down in each quarter. That is not going to help you sustain drives and put points on the board.
While the run game has been an issue all year, Campbell’s inability to get passes to his receivers downfield on third downs was a bigger problem Sunday.
The offensive line could not give Campbell enough time to allow routes to develop, and that caused him to opt for throws to tight ends or running backs. It was a mess.
The knock on Joe Haden before this year was that he never came up with interceptions. Sure, he is a dominant cornerback, but when was he going to start creating turnovers for his team?
Apparently, that “when” was Sunday.
Haden had two interceptions and returned one of them for a touchdown. He almost single-handedly gave the Browns a 13-0 lead in the first quarter.
He also held wide receiver A.J. Green to just seven yards on two receptions. Green was leading the league in receiving yards entering the game.
Haden’s skills have flourished this season under defensive coordinator Ray Horton, and teams are now starting to throw away from him more often than not. He can probably start planning his Hawaiian vacation now.
The Browns were dominated on special teams more so than in any other phase of the game. Until this week, the Browns usually won the special teams battle.
Punter Spencer Lanning will have nightmares about the Bengals for years. He had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown. He also had another punt deflected and ended the day with a 38 yards-per-punt average. That’s not good.
The Browns also allowed a big punt return by Adam Jones.
While I don’t think this is a sign of things to come, the special teams definitely have some mistakes to clean up this week in practice.
The Browns defensive line has been so dominant this season that it is hard to fathom it could not get to Andy Dalton.
The Bengals entered the game as the 11th-worst team in the NFL, allowing 26 sacks on the year. The Browns entered the game as the fifth-best defense, having sacked the opponent’s quarterback 31 times.
Then the Browns were held without a sack.
In fact, they actually only hit Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton one time during the game. Dalton threw the ball 27 times, too, so there were plenty of opportunities.
The Bengals did a good job of calling quick routes, and Dalton did an even better job of getting rid of the ball. He had been pressured far too much the past two weeks, which led to some bad turnovers.
The Browns were not able to create that same pressure.