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Tough opening game for the Browns and the rookies on offense


Image source: Cleveland Browns Facebook Page

I’ve had season tickets to the Browns games since they returned to the NFL, and it’s been tough watching the product on the field. Usually we’re leaving early, and then late in the year we don’t bother going at all.

Expectations were definitely higher this year, as the rebuilding project has produced a young team with potential playmakers in Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden and Josh Gordon.

The Browns were 9.5 point underdogs, so in the grand scheme of things a close ballgame was a pleasant surprise. Frankly the stadium was rockin’ in the fourth quarter as the Browns had a chance to pull the upset. The fans were into it until the very end. Unfortunately, we ended up with another loss to open the season.

Here are some thoughts after stewing on it for several days:

- The offensive woes were very disappointing. I’m aware of all the challenges, with a rookie quarterback, a rookie running back who didn’t play a down in the preseason, a rookie wide receiver who hasn’t played in several years and a rookie right tackle. Perhaps we expected too much, but the results were just dismal. The stout Philly defense didn’t make things any easier to accept.

- Many in the media who broke down the game noticed that Trent Richardson was very rusty and didn’t look that explosive despite his awesome run where he crushed a Philly defender and separated him from his helmet. I won’t get too concerned here, as Richardson had zero game reps in preseason, so we should expect him to get much better as he gets into football shape and we start facing some weaker defenses.

- The lack of a running game really hurt, as Brandon Weeden had a brutal performance. Perhaps things would have been different if Greg Little and Owen Marecic would learn how to catch a football, but the end result was just ugly. Weeden just needs to play better, along with the line and the receivers. I’m ignoring all the fools on Twitter who want to bring up Colt McCoy after Weeden’s first game as a rookie, and that includes emotional Browns fans and hacks in the “media” who are desperate for Twitter responses and traffic to their websites. It’s an idiotic topic. Let’s see how Weeden looks after 5 games and then we can have a rational discussion on that topic.

- I was encouraged by some of the play calling, and I loved the double reverse to Travis Benjamin, but Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress need to find more plays apart from slants to make Weeden’s job easier, like bubble screens and other easy throws to get him in a groove. I liked seeing Trent Richardson split wide left on a couple of plays, but we didn’t see a quick pass out to him like we saw last night with Flacco and Rice in the Ravens game. Again, it was one game against a tough defense. We’ll know more about the offense and the play calling after 5 games.

- The defense was fantastic. Perhaps things would have been worse had Andy Reid realized he was allowed to run the ball, but the young defense harassed Micheal Vick all day and forced countless errors. Let’s hope we see much more of this. The young linebackers played extremely well, so I don’t want to see slow guys like Scott Fujita getting much playing time once he gets healthy. Still, the run defense didn’t look great.

- Pat Shurmur made some glaring game-management mistakes last year. I didn’t like them, but I felt he would get better in year two. We didn’t see any huge brain farts in game one, but I think he made a mistake not going for the 2-point conversion. The Browns were having trouble scoring, and the danger of an Eagles touchdown was far greater than two field goals, so adding one point to get to 16-10 gave him very little. Frankly, the pick six was such a surprise they had little time here, so that probably explains the decision as much as anything.

I’ve avoided talk radio in Cleveland this week for the simple reason that I don’t want to listen to emotional rants from unhinged hosts and callers. I don’t care to discuss who the next coach or GM might be if this continues, and I really don’t care to debate Jimmy Haslam’s first move when he takes over. It would be nice if most of the talk actually centered on football as opposed to all the drama, but that’s apparently too much too ask these days.

Let’s see where things stand after 5 games. Of course if the offense continues to look this bad, then those issues will not be avoidable. But the offense should get better as the young kids gain experience. They have talent, and hopefully they figure out how to exploit it.

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Browns fire Eric Mangini

Cleveland Browns players dump a cooler of Gatorade on head coach Eric Mangini near the end of a 34-14 win against the New England Patriots on November 07, 2010 in Cleveland. UPI / David Richard

The Cleveland Browns have fired Eric Mangini. Despite winning games against the New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints, Mangini never seemed to grasp what it took to win consistently in the NFL. He made the Browns a tougher team and he clearly improved the overall situation, but his game management skills were terrible. He was obsessed with the “process” of preparing and not making mistakes, but he couldn’t find a way to beat the bad or mediocre teams on a consistent basis.

His approach in the Buffalo game summed it all up. He was so obsessed with avoiding mistakes that he forgot the Browns were the better team. He played for the field goal in a game where he should have attacked and gone for the jugular.

His consistent use of Robert Royal is passing situations was baffling. How many dropped passes does one need to see before realizing that this guy should not be a target? I know Evan Moore got hurt, but there are other people on the roster. Also, despite having backs with good hands, he rarely used the screen pass, even in games when the pass rush was a problem.

Mangini is a solid football guy, but he really hurt himself with his approach on offense. He would have benefited from an experienced offensive coordinator.

The team is better after a very solid off-season that produced an excellent draft and other gems like Scott Fujita and Peyton Hillis. If the front office keeps that up the Browns should be fine.

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