After all, it was the devastating hit on Winslow by the Ravens’ Ray Lewis that caused a Baltimore interception, starting a horrific 10-minute stretch for the Browns which sealed their fate in a 28-10 defeat. However, unlike Winslow, Browns fans’ pain wasn’t caused by a Ray-Ray tackle but by the bone-crunching reality that their team is 0-3 with dim prospects for improvement.
After taking a 10-7 lead into the locker room at halftime, the Browns had a pitiful series of miscues that seemed to encapsulate the 2008 season thus far. Baltimoreturned the afore-mentioned interception into a touchdown four plays later. Just three plays after the ensuing kick, Derek Anderson threw his second of three interceptions on the day. But in order to give the Browns’ defense a break, Anderson made sure to deliver the ball so that it could be easily picked and returned for six points, which Ed Reed promptly did.
Just when the fans thought that it couldn’t get any worse, it invariably did. The Browns, desperately needing a first down, got just that, with two strong runs by Jamal Lewis. Or they would have, but Braylon Edwards made a brainless illegal block which nullified the first down. This was followed by, in order, a delay of game penalty, an incomplete pass, a sack, and a shanked punt. And thanks to yet another Browns penalty on the punt, the Ravens began their drive in excellent field position and easily scored, all but ending the game.
The complete ineptitude on the offensive side of the ball, combined with the innumerable penalties, catastrophic turnovers, and an injury list longer than that of Wilt Chamberlain’s sexual conquests brought back unsettling memories of the Browns of the recent past. In the pre-2007 seasons, the Browns frequently could not get out of their own way, and Sunday was no different.
Offensively, the running game was pretty effective in the first half, but had to be abandoned early after the Browns’ 3-point lead quickly turned into an 18-point deficit. This gigantic point-swing allowed Baltimore to truly cut it loose, mixing up aggressive pass coverages with blitzes from everywhere on the field. This put the pressure squarely on the quarterback, and Derek Anderson was simply unable to respond. The Browns converted just 3 of 13 third downs, and as has been the case all season, simply could not make the big play when it was needed.
The Browns were average on defense. Actually, considering that before the season began, most people expected the Browns’ defense to have trouble stopping even a good high school team, it’s hard to think that they haven’t improved over the last few weeks, despite having nothing to show for it in the win column. In fact, it could be argued that the biggest enemy for the Browns’ defense on Sunday was actually the Browns’ offense.
Chew on this: excluding the final drive of the day (when the game was over), the Ravens started three drives in Browns territory and scored a touchdown all three times. However, the seven drives that began in Baltimore territory resulted in a missed field goal, two interceptions, three punts, and a turnover on downs. The offense’s inability to consistently move the ball and control the clock put extraordinary pressure on the defense to bail the team out. And I think we’d all agree that if the Browns are relying on the defense to keep them in the game, if not to win it, the team is in serious danger.
Finally, while I do not offer this as an excuse, it’s obvious that the Browns extensive health issues, especially on offense, are becoming a significant problem. The offensive line clearly missed Eric Steinbach, and it was even more apparent that Rex Hadnot was rusty and Seth McKinney was uncomfortable at left guard. Additionally, the wide receivers and tight ends, once thought to be a supreme strength, have now become a glaring weakness. The absence of a legitimate # 2 wideout and Braylon Edwards’ less-than-stellar play have certainly contributed to Derek Anderson’s weak start. It seems like Andersonis always throwing to well-covered receivers, rather than progressing through his reads and finding matchups that have been exploited.
But in the final analysis, the most troubling part of the Browns’ disastrous start is the complete and total lack of confidence that has seemingly swallowed them whole. The Browns have lost seven games in a row, including the pre-season, and this has to be weighing heavily on their minds. The Browns have gone from a trendy Super Bowl pick to the NFL’s biggest disappointment in 2008, and they have fallen so hard and so fast that you really have to wonder what the atmosphere is like in the Browns’ locker room.
Even worse, the Browns don’t even look like they’re on the verge of turning the corner. With the exception of the always-reliable Phil Dawson, the Browns have - at best - been extremely inconsistent at each position. At worst, they have been downright awful, and have shown little evidence that they can put forth a strong 60-minute effort in any phase of the game.
Obviously, the meeting with Cincinnati next Sunday looms large. If the Browns are able to get the job done against the Bengals, they might be able to jump-start their season and begin rebuilding the confidence they so desperately need. After all, it was a victory over Cincinnati in Week 2 last year that did just that.