Where Do Cleveland Browns Stand After 1st Quarter of 2015 Season?

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVOctober 7, 2015

With a quarter of the season spoken for, where do things stand for the Cleveland Browns?
With a quarter of the season spoken for, where do things stand for the Cleveland Browns?Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns have four games behind them, which means they are a quarter of the way through the 2015 NFL season. And the quarter-season mark is as good a time as any to take stock of where the Browns stand. 

The Browns are 1-3, earning their sole win in Week 2 against the Tennessee Titans. But that's not to say the Browns haven't been competitive. In Week 4, on the road against the San Diego Chargers, they managed to match the Chargers for nearly every point and yard they earned, only falling in the final seconds thanks to a 34-yard field goal made by kicker Josh Lambo.

But for all the steps forward the Browns have made so far this season, they have made even more conspicuous steps backward, particularly on defense, where the Browns are allowing a league-worst 406.2 yards per game on average.

Browns on Defense Through 4 Games
WeekYds. AllowedPass Yds. AllowedRush Yds. Allowed
@ NYJ353179154
vs. TEN385219166
vs. OAK469314155
@ SD43834791
via Pro-Football-Reference.com

Their run defense has again been a problem, giving up 154, 166 and 155 rushing yards to their first three opponents before limiting the Chargers to 91 ground yards in Week 4. The passing defense has also been a surprise deficiency after the Browns fielded one of the league's top secondaries just a year ago.

The biggest culprits have been cornerback Joe Haden and safety Donte Whitner. Haden has allowed 15 receptions on 21 passes thrown his way for 220 yards, 67 yards after the catch and two touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus. Whitner, meanwhile, has allowed nine catches on 14 targets for 166 yards, 82 yards after the catch and two touchdowns.

Cornerbacks K'Waun Williams and Pierre Desir and safety Jordan Poyer have each allowed one passing touchdown so far this year.

The offense, meanwhile, is just starting to find its footing. One positive: The Browns have never put up fewer than 275 yards in a game this year. But scoring touchdowns is still a struggle—Cleveland has been outscored by its opponents, 85 points to 102.

Turnovers have been a problem, as well, especially when quarterback Johnny Manziel had to step in for Josh McCown in Weeks 1 and 2. This is the main reason why Manziel remains the backup to a now-healthy McCown.

And McCown, while not particularly inspiring, has been playing well. His completion percentage of 66.3 surpasses his career average of 59.2 percent, and his 65 completions have yielded 746 yards, four touchdowns and only one interception. His 98.4 passer rating is the second-highest of his career, only surpassed by his stretch filling in for Jay Cutler while with the Chicago Bears in 2013.

Though everyone pegged Dwayne Bowe to be the big, downfield difference-maker in the passing game this year, his nagging hamstring injury kept him off the field to start the season, and the impressive play of other receivers have limited his involvement in the past two weeks.

Instead, it's Travis Benjamin, tight end Gary Barnidge and, as of Week 4, running back Duke Johnson who have really emerged as playmakers for Cleveland.

Thus far, Benjamin has totaled 16 catches on 27 targets for 328 yards and four touchdowns and is averaging 20.5 yards per reception. Barnidge, too, has 16 catches for 235 yards and two scores. Johnson, whose receiving prowess has only just realized itself for Cleveland, has caught 15 passes on 17 targets for 117 yards and a score.

Browns' Receiving Leaders
Travis Benjamin271659.3%32820.5814
Gary Barnidge211676.2%23514.7632
Brian Hartline15853.3%12315.4140
Duke Johnson171588.2%1177.8251
Andrew Hawkins191052.6%11211.2270
via ESPN

And the run game has done a much better job this year than in 2014. Johnson has 31 carries for 99 yards, while Isaiah Crowell has rushed 49 times for 191 yards and one score while averaging 3.9 yards per carry.

But the offense isn't doing a good job of getting into scoring position. The Browns are averaging 2.8 red-zone scoring attempts per game this year, and they are earning touchdowns on them a league-low 27.27 percent of the time, down from 2014's 48.98 percent.

While the Browns have avoided the kicking curse that has plagued so many other teams, with Travis Coons converting all seven of his field-goal attempts this year, they need more touchdowns in order to stay competitive with their opponents.

And if the offense isn't going to get all that much better at scoring touchdowns, then the defense will need some major tweaks to limit their opponents' ability to move the football and find themselves with scoring opportunities. 

For what it's worth, Browns head coach Mike Pettine is well aware that the defense is the team's biggest problem at present, saying on Monday, via the Browns' official website: "I can't sit here and say that it's not a source of frustration, it's not a source of disappointment. We need to play better."

Pettine added, "One thing we're not going to do is anything wholesale and hit the panic button. … We have to be that team that if a mistake is made, we learn from it, we lock it away and we don’t make it again."

Cornerback Joe Haden has been one of the Browns' weakest defenders against the pass.
Cornerback Joe Haden has been one of the Browns' weakest defenders against the pass.Jason Miller/Getty Images

But, "words into action," right? And it's going to take a lot for Pettine's words to translate into on-field actions. The problems are plentiful. There's the simple lack of execution. There's the poor tackling. There's the recurrent issue of the Browns defense giving up too many big or explosive plays.

There's the lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks—right now, the Browns have just nine total sacks. Seven were earned against Titans rookie passer Marcus Mariota in Week 2, and only two were against the Chargers' Philip Rivers despite him being without his starting left tackle, left guard and center in Week 4.

And while there may not be wholesale changes made to fix these problems, it should lead to Pettine being more involved in the defense, at least according to Scout.com's Lane Adkins.

All signs point to the Browns defense continuing to struggle as the season continues. And even if the offense continues to show improvement, that won't matter if it cannot score points.

Add into the mix the schedule the Browns have ahead—the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5, the Denver Broncos in Week 6, the St. Louis Rams in Week 7, the Arizona Cardinals in Week 8 and then the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers in Weeks 9 and 10 before finally reaching the bye in Week 11—and things could get worse before they get better for the team.


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