Sunday's 24-20 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars came in typical Cleveland fashion: Losing a fourth quarter lead late in the game; yet, the offense is more to blame than the defense.
The offense's inability to move the ball in the third and fourth quarters proved more detrimental to the Browns chances of winning than the defense giving up the big play to Maurice Jones-Drew late in the game. Cleveland's defense sacked David Garrard four times and forced six Jacksonville turnovers, including a string of five consecutive take aways in the second half.
The Browns could only muster ten points off of those turnovers, which proved to be the difference in the game.
Offensively, Cleveland's biggest weakness is a lack or play-makers at wide receiver. With Josh Cribbs being ruled out for the contest on Sunday, the young Cleveland receiving corp was without its most dynamic weapon. Without the tackle-breaking and field stretching abilities of Cribbs, the Browns offense had a very hard time moving the ball down the field. Cleveland does not have another reciever that requires even an occasional double team, so that allowed the Jaguars to load the box to stop Peyton Hillis, as well as take away other checkdown options for Colt McCoy.
Cribbs may not be a true No. 1 wide receiver, but he does have the ability to keep defenses honest, which in turn, helps the running game by drawing some extra coverage to one side of the field. Hillis suffered without Cribbs in the game, as he had only forty-eight yards on twenty-one carries. Without a deep option, Cleveland was forced to run and throw into a lot of traffic throughout most of the game.
Defensively, one can't ask them to do more than they did on Sunday. If your defense can force six turnovers in one game, there is no way that you should lose. Despite giving up the long, 72-yard gain on the Jones-Drew screen pass, the defense played well and handed the offense too many opportunities to come up short. Of the five second half turnovers caused by the Browns, only one resulted in points from the offense, a 38-yard field goal by Phil Dawson (he missed two FGs from fifty-one yards on the day). The other touchdown came when Abe Elam stripped Jones-Drew of the football at the eighteen yard line and scampered into the end zone.
The other attempts at points after turnovers resulted in a missed field goal and two punts. The defense deserved a better outcome than they were handed in this game, but credit the Jacksonville defense for executing their game plan and keeping Cleveland's offense in check.
Despite losing in the fourth quarter, the Browns have made great improvements throughout the season: Hillis is having a terrific year as the focal point of this offense; McCoy is emerging into a very promising young quarterback; the defense continues to play better as a unit each game.
There is a solid foundation forming in Cleveland and they are a few play-makers away from making some serious noise in the AFC North. Another fourth quarter loss is still better than watching the product that was on the field last season.