Another year began for the Cleveland Browns as so many years have begun for the Cleveland Browns. It wasn’t a miserable nightmare game. It wasn’t a gut-punch that will last in any sort of misery memory bank. That bank is rich with much bigger and grandiose currency than what transpired yesterday in Cleveland against the Dolphins. Still, it’s not a great look for the latest ownership, front office and coaching staff that is looking to make their own new mark on the franchise.
The team did a wonderful job gold-plating the Cleveland Browns game-day experience. The staff was friendlier than I’ve ever seen them in my life. The Browns had plenty of personnel out in the streets to try and help head off any issues with the new small bag policy they are left to enforce. The music, replays, drum line and the surprise halftime show by The Presidents of the United States of America (POTUSA) were all really great. I’m not being even the slightest bit sarcastic. With apologies to Dustin Fox, I don’t think the Halloween theme being played on third down worked, but these things are fluid. As I’ve said all along, the in-game stuff should be the easy part. And if they didn’t know already, this new Browns organization just learned how difficult it is to build the team on the field.
It’s not all bad, of course. Desmond Bryant looks like a beast along with the rest of the defensive front. The safeties played well in their first game, I thought. We also must put Oneil Cousins in perspective here. He was the third man up. Maybe the fourth man. It’s not like anyone in the Browns organization aimed to have Oneil Cousins as the starter this season on the right side of the offensive line. On top of that, it isn’t like Cameron Wake and the Dolphins front isn’t good. They are. The problem I have is where the Browns skimped or thought they were good enough.
I don’t want to pick on Buster Skrine.1 I thought Buster probably played a little bit better than some of us thought on the first watch of the game. I re-watched this morning and while the Dolphins were picking on Skrine, there were a couple other things happening.
First of all the defense was designed to get pressure on the QB and force him to make mistakes. That left Skrine out there to play soft and keep the game in front of him. Yes, he got double-moved by Hartline on one long TD pass, but I think some of his exposure was at the hands of the blitzing nature of Ray Horton’s defense. Combine that with really nice timing play execution by Tannehill and Hartline, and they really made Skrine and Owens look bad at times.
The real problem I have here is with the Browns going through camp and pre-season with all of us assuming that Buster Skrine was clearly a solid option for nickel corner, and then seeing him named winner of the position battle at CB2 opposite Joe Haden. Those weren’t the best plans and even understanding it’s just one game, it’s hard to believe this won’t be a continual problem all year without some personnel adjustment.
All you Browns fans that harped on Sheldon Brown, should be up in arms today. Sheldon Brown and Dimitri Patterson aren’t the be-all end-all at cornerback, but this is a team with tons of cap space that knowingly went into the season with Joe Haden, Leon McFadden, Buster Skrine and Chris Owens as their corners. All of this is prefaced with the “it’s just one game and things could get better” garbage, but you can’t tell me that everyone who paid any kind of attention to the Browns this pre-season wasn’t worried about corner.2 To have it present itself so plainly in the first game of the season as a clear roster gap is discouraging.
Finally, on Brandon Weeden, I talked about it with Scott Raab this morning, and I almost don’t know what to say anymore. I don’t hate Brandon Weeden. He seems like a good guy who wants to do really well, but he just doesn’t look like a guy that has the level of football instinct needed to win in the NFL. He’ll have better games than he had yesterday against the Dolphins and their pressure on him was pretty impressive. Beyond that, it’s tough to say the potential ceiling on Weeden is worth the time. He’s not going to be the next Kurt Warner. He’s just not. So, I guess I can say that’s something that Michael Lombardi got right?
It’s not the end of the season, but man is it frustrating. Not that the Browns lost, per se. That’s always frustrating. It’s that the Browns lost in the face of some really obvious glaring needs and never looked like they exposed any glaring needs on the opposite side of the field. I was certainly hoping that despite some inadequacies that couldn’t all be fixed in a single year that the Browns were good enough to pick apart another team’s weak points.
Certainly I hoped they could do it at home to start off a brand new season with brand new front office and coaching staff. This was the culmination of all that work that went into the off-season and for one very important week – a week where the Browns wanted to make a really great first impression – I’m left with my only fond feelings being a surprise performance of “Peaches” by POTUSA at halftime.