If you’re like me, the Browns’ 28-10 defeat at the hands of the Cowboys Sunday was bittersweet. While I was disappointed with the Browns performance, I also have Marion Barber on my fantasy team!
All kidding aside, the Browns did a pretty good job replicating their 2007 season opening debacle, a 34-7 thrashing at the hands of Pittspuke, in that they never really seemed to have any momentum or control of the game. But where the ’07 opener left me feeling like the Browns were on the verge of another dreadful season, I’m far less hysterical today.
First, let’s put some things into perspective. The Cowboys are the clear-cut favorite to be the NFC representative at Super Bowl XLIII. Be honest. When you looked at the Browns’ 2008 schedule and tried to figure out their record, did you seriously count this as a “win”? Probably not. So what’s with all the shock and anger? It’s not like the Browns blew a winnable late-season game to the Bengals.
You know who should be shocked, irate, and worried? Chargers, Colts, and Patriots fans. These are teams that everyone predicted to go deep into the playoffs, with most even picking one of them (or the, ahem, Cowboys) to win it all. San Diego lost to a very average Carolina team at home, and did you see the Colts game? They were totally out of sync offensively, due in part to Peyton Manning’s absence in the preseason (sound familiar?) and couldn’t contain the dangerous duo of Kyle Orton and Matt Forte on defense. And, perhaps the best news about the game is that the Browns came out of the game relatively healthy – unlike the Patriots, who lost The Golden Boy for the season.
Ok, ok. So the bottom line is that the Browns still played pretty poorly. As expected, the Browns defense was the main culprit. First and foremost, the pass rush was non-existent. I kept waiting for the Browns’ big free agent signees to make some noise, but it never came. I mean, Corey Williams did play, right? Anyways, with the youth and inexperience in the Browns secondary, the key to defending the pass is disrupting the quarterback’s timing. Even the best shutdown corners in the NFL can’t cover guys all day long without some help from the front seven. Anytime you give a solid quarterback like Tony Romo an eternity to read the coverage, stand in the pocket, pat the ball a few million times, and step into the throw, it’s going to be a long day – and it was.
The Browns have got to get off the field on defense. Dallas was ridiculous on 3rd down, converting 8-11 (72%) and their time of possession approached 40 minutes. What seems to be truly lacking is a bona fide playmaker on the defensive side of the ball. Sean Jones, Shaun Rogers, and Kam Wimbley are good players – but with a defensive unit that is well below-average, the Browns are going to need to rely on turnovers, sacks, and other big plays to keep the team in the game. Someone needs to step up and fast!
The effort on offense was equally uninspiring. It was all downhill after the Browns answered Dallas’ first TD with a 9-minute TD drive of their own. Even that was a bit lucky, as it was extended by several Dallas penalties and managed to overcome a sure-TD dropped by Braylon Edwards. Speaking of Edwards, what was up with that guy? Even when the Browns drafted him, we knew that he was great at making the tough catch but would consistently drop the easy ones. Obviously, this is something that he is still dealing with, and something that continues to hurt the Browns. For him to become the truly elite receiver that everyone seems to think he is, he has got to make those catches – and how about eliminating the penalties while you’re at it, buddy? – and be a difference maker in these games. Two catches for 14 yards is not going to cut it.
All things considered, the offensive line did a fair job, yielding only 1 sack and opening some decent holes for Jamal Lewis. Jamal ran hard and this is a huge positive for the Browns. Not only do they need to strongly establish the run in order to open up passing lanes, they are going to have to use the run to chew up clock and keep the other team’s offense off the field. While big plays are exciting, the Browns are going to have to consistently move the chains, picking up big chunks of yardage as they advance the ball down the field….. Hmmm, I don’t know….. Kinda like the Cowboys did??
Listen, everyone. It’s one game. No one needs to burn their free orange towels that were handed out at the gate (ok, well, maybe we should burn those. Why do the Browns continue to think this is something we want???) The point is, Sunday was about what was to be expected, given that the Browns were rusty and injured playing a high-powered offense and staunch defense. The Browns will use this week to re-focus on a HUGE game against the Yinzers. If the Browns are to make the playoffs, they are going to have to beat up on the AFC North, and the road goes through the ‘Burgh. But just remember - it’s not a must-win because the Browns lost their first game, it’s a must-win because it’s the Steelers!!