The Cleveland Browns' free fall continued last Sunday with an embarrassing loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Up next is a trip to Foxborough to visit the 9-3 New England Patriots. That’s not indigestion from Thanksgiving you are feeling; it’s dread for what Sunday may bring.
The Browns have no idea who their starting quarterback will be Sunday against the Patriots. Brandon Weeden has been diagnosed with a concussion and will have to go through the NFL’s concussion protocols before he can return.
Jason Campbell is currently going through those very protocols and did not practice last week. Alex Tanney was signed off the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad last Wednesday and has just three practices under his belt. Oh joy.
Head coach Rob Chudzinski admitted via Scott Petrak of The Elyria Chronicle Telegram that “all of the possibilities are open right now” at quarterback. If you listen closely you can hear Patriots coach Bill Belichick salivating.
AFC North Standings
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The Cincinnati Bengals continued their hot streak by traveling to San Diego and knocking off the Chargers Sunday. Their defense held quarterback Philip Rivers and a very potent Chargers offense to just 10 points.
After struggling early this season, they are now the sixth overall defense in the NFL, allowing just 18 points per game.
The Pittsburgh Steelers fell to the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving night in an exciting and interesting game. It was exciting because it came down to a failed two-point conversion attempt by the Steelers with just over one minute to play.
It was interesting because their head coach Mike Tomlin stood close enough to the field to prevent a kickoff return for a touchdown at one point. And it seemed intentional.
Only in the AFC North.
ILB Craig Robertson (knee) did not play Sunday.
ILB Tank Carder (shoulder) did not play Sunday.
QB Jason Campbell (head) did not play Sunday.
QB Brandon Weeden (head) reported a concussion after the game.
The Browns are now down to a practice-squad quarterback who has been on the team less than a week if Weeden and Campbell cannot play.
“These next 24-48 hours will be key [in determining who’ll play quarterback]. We have a number of plans, contingency plans, and we’ll see as I get more information how that plays out,” Chudzinski said Monday via Nate Ulrich of the Akron-Beacon Journal.
If the Browns have to look outside the organization for a starter, it would most likely be a veteran who has been around the league and can run a vanilla offense on just a few days of practice.
Inside linebackers Craig Robertson and Tank Carder missed the game Sunday, but their absence was not the end of the world. Darius Eubanks played pretty well in a replacement role and may earn some more playing time even if one of those two return this week.
What Must Improve
The Quarterback, Whoever It Is
Brandon Weeden put up decent numbers on Sunday, but he was also responsible for three key turnovers. He threw two terrible interceptions and did not feel pressure on another play, which resulted in a fumble lost.
The Browns offense was at its best this season when Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell were taking care of the football and making plays when they were there to be made. The offense has looked putrid when the quarterbacks force the issue and try to make something happen from nothing.
It is tough to imagine any scenario where the quarterback play improves this week no matter who is in the game. Campbell has faced Belichick’s defense twice in his career and has three interceptions and a combined rating of 75.4.
Alex Tanney would be seeing his first NFL regular-season action against one of the great defensive schemers in the history of the NFL. A newly signed veteran would have three days of practice with a new offense.
No matter which way you slice it; things don’t look good for the Browns Sunday.
The Defensive Pressure
This Browns pass rush has taken a huge dip in the past month. After registering 31 sacks in the first eight games, the Browns have just two in the last four weeks.
This issue starts with the outside linebackers who have faded mightily. Rookie Barkevious Mingo looks like he has hit the “rookie wall” and may not be very effective the rest of the season.
After a fast start for Jabaal Sheard, he has failed to find his footing since coming back from injury midseason. Paul Kruger has just 2.5 sacks on the season and can rarely be found in the backfield making plays.
It is not just the pass rush either. The defensive line allowed 77 yards to Maurice Jones-Drew on Sunday and has given up chunks on the ground over the last three games.
Worse than that, however, the Browns don’t see to be generating the push they did early in the season. Even when they do, teams just use it against them. It seems like the Browns have not successfully stopped a screen pass in well over a month.
Right the Ship
Right now things could not be worse for the Browns. They have lost six of their last seven games, have no shot at the playoffs and have no clue who their starting quarterback will be come Sunday.
Rob Chudzinski needs to find a way to rally the team. Early in the year when the front office traded running back Trent Richardson, and they started a third-string quarterback named Brian Hoyer, he found a way to make the game fun again for the team.
He pulled out trick punts and trick field goals and generated some excitement on the football field.
That game was on the road just as this week’s game will be. The level of opponent is nowhere near the same, but the premise should be.
If the Browns can have fun again on Sunday, then they can give themselves a chance to pull off the unthinkable. If they trot out on the field with the same stale game plan and try to beat the Patriots straight up, things will get very ugly.
(All quotes and observations were gathered firsthand, unless otherwise noted.)