I prefer to take a constructive look at the Browns’ loss to the Bengals on Sunday. This means I am not going to talk about the first quarter penalty-fest. What’s the point? There is no defense. The coaches and players all know it is unacceptable and after that quarter the Browns committed four penalties the rest of the way. On top of that, the Browns responded by taking the lead into halftime. They responded to their mistakes with two unanswered touchdowns.
I am also not going to spend much time talking about the boneheaded play where the Bengals took the lead. There isn’t anything constructive to add. It can’t happen. It shouldn’t happen. It is a failure both on the field and on the sidelines. Instead, I want to talk about the four drives that occurred between the Browns taking a four point lead in the third quarter and including the one after A.J. Green’s go-ahead touchdown. To me, those four drives are the place where the most constructive criticism – and hopefully progress – can be made.
The Browns kicked a field goal after a ten play, 50 yard drive that gave Phil Dawson a chippy from three yards out. Browns led Cincy 17-13. Phil Dawson then kicked the ball deep, Buster Skrine made a beautiful tackle and the Bengals started from their own 9 yard line. The Bengals moved the ball two yards as Phil Taylor drew an illegal use of hands penalty on the Cincy offensive line and the Bengals were forced to punt. Josh Cribbs returned the ball eight yards to the Bengals’ 44 yard line to start the first drive that I wanted to talk about.
Drive 1 – The Browns started on the Cincy 44 and had a very good chance to at least get into Phil Dawson range, but they appeared completely out of sync. If Greg Little didn’t draw a pass interference penalty on 3rd and 6, this drive would have looked even worse. Peyton Hillis had a single four yard run. McCoy was incomplete three times. Josh Cribbs’ end-around was sniffed out for a three yard loss. The Browns had a chance from inside Cincy’s territory and blew it completely. You never know when these types of opportunities will occur. They aren’t the norm. Good teams don’t waste them.
It was a close play on the punt with Josh Cribbs touching his left elbow in the end zone, but the Browns utterly wasted an opportunity to get into field goal range or win an extreme field position battle as McGee netted 24 yards for his punting efforts. Cincy started at their own 20. With Gradkowski on the field, the Bengals ran Cedric Benson five times in the next seven plays and the Bengals punted from the 50 yard line.
Drive 2 – Hardesty ran for no gain, then Colt McCoy found Evan Moore in space for 16 yards out to the 41. Then Colt McCoy and the Browns’ offense choked. After a one yard Hardesty run, Colt McCoy took a sack and fumbled, though the Browns recovered. McCoy followed that up with a delay of game penalty that brought up 3rd and 17 from the Cleveland 34. Not very good odds of converting 3rd and 17 on your own side of the field. An incompletion led to another unimpressive Richmond McGee 38 yard punt. The Browns self-destructed a bit on this drive, but the desperation should have been growing as they clung to the four point lead.
Bengals ride Benson for two plays and 18 yards before inexplicably relying on Bruce Gradkowski’s arm. Two incompletions brings a Bengals 42 yard punt to the Cleveland 11 yard line.
Drive 3 – Colt McCoy found Josh Cribbs on first down for 13 yards to give the Browns breathing room out to their own 24. The Browns seemed to have some rhythm going with Peyton Hillis running and Colt McCoy finding Greg Little for 12 yards on a 3rd and 2 play. And then the Browns seemed to get lost. In the next three plays Colt McCoy and Peyton Hillis combined for -9 yards in two runs and a pass. The Browns had the lead, but in three successive drives had failed to build on the small four point margin. Add on the fact that Richmond McGee gave the Browns one of his worst punts of the day – 28 yards to the Cincy 38 – and they had absolutely no momentum despite the fact that they had the lead and still had 17 unanswered points.
At some point if you have a lead that is less than one touchdown and you fail to build on it, the momentum seems to shift from the team with the lead to the team that hasn’t been put away yet. Maybe it is just something that happens here in Cleveland, but I know you all felt it yesterday. You all know what happened next with A.J. Green and the Bengals snapping it before the Browns even thought about being ready.
Drive 4 – The Browns started from their own 21 now trailing by a field goal 20-17. With their backs now up against the wall with 4:28 remaining in the game, the Browns needed to respond and they didn’t. Four straight incompletions including an especially desperate looking long throw to Mohamed Massaquoi on 3rd and 10 made the Browns look like a video game team that had no idea how to beat the computer.
So, what’s the conclusion? Nothing concrete just yet, but the Browns appeared to lose a lot of rhythm. There were a lot of faces in and out of the game on offense. Most say the Browns don’t have enough weapons. While I think that is true, I also found that the Browns appeared to be trying to use too many at times. Massaquoi, Robiskie, Little, Cribbs, Moore and Watson were all out there at times for McCoy. Maybe the Browns need to work on developing a more concise gameplan with less personnel in order to increase chemistry and efficiency. We’ll see, but that is what I am thinking right this second.