Browns lay an egg in Jacksonville

All week long the national media was heaping praise on the Cleveland Browns. And after that impressive win last week against Pittsburgh they deserved it.

But much of the praise got way out of hand, with Mike Greenberg from Mike & Mike proclaiming that the Browns would be 6-2 after facing three bad teams starting with the Jaguars. Given the unpredictable nature of the NFL, that prediction was suspect at best, and even bordered on the ridiculous when you consider that before the season started guys like Greenberg were predicting the Browns would be so bad that Johnny Manziel would be starting by the bye week.

The Browns had been very good through five games, but we know they’re not an elite team. The Browns aren’t good enough to beat any NFL team, even a winless NFL team, when they play as poorly as they did today.

Here are some observations from today’s comedy of errors:

– NFL coordinators practically work around the clock to dissect their opponent and game plan around tendencies. Through five games Kyle Shanahan had been brilliant running the Browns offense, but now those tendencies are on tape, and the Jacksonville defensive staff did an excellent job getting ready for the Browns running game. They also had the horses up front to carry out their aggressive plan, and we now can see that the loss of Alex Mack will hurt. Right guard Paul McQuistan was overmatched, and the entire line couldn’t seem to block well all day. As a result, the Browns were stuffed most of the day when they tried to run the ball.

– Terrance West needs to play better. When compared to Ben Tate and Isaiah Crowell he’s not nearly as effective, so he needs to complain less about touches and start running north and south as opposed to doing his Trent Richardson imitation with endless jukes and side-to-side cuts. He probably got some playing time by responding well to his benching last week and Crowell fumbles, but he played a critical role in this loss. Late in the second quarter, the Browns were inside the twenty yard line facing a third and short. They gave the ball to West, and had he bulled his way forward we would have easily gotten the first down. Instead he ran side to side and came up short. Then they ran him again on third down and this time the line failed him as McQuistan and Mitchell Schwartz couldn’t get a push, but West wasn’t able to overcome that and find a way to get a yard. This sequence was critical, which leads us to Mike Pettine.

– Pettine has been excellent as a first-year coach. There are many things we can quibble about with this team, but overall Pettine has done an excellent job. That said, he makes rookie head coaching mistakes, and going for it on fourth down after West got stuffed was a game-changer. The Browns could have taken a 9-0 into the half after playing a very mediocre first half on the road. Instead, they gave Jacksonville life, and the Jaguars capitalized with a quick touchdown before the half. So instead of a two-score lead at halftime, the Browns were behind 7-6 and the young Jaguars suddenly thought they could win. It was a foolish decision.

– Brian Hoyer was a mess today. Without a running game the offense needed him to make plays, but instead he left plays on the field. He wasn’t helped by a couple of drops from receivers or pressure allowed by the offensive line, but he made things worse. He had Jordon Cameron wide open in the end zone and overthrew him. Hoyer was clearly affected by pressure he had been getting and the batted down passes. It was one of many poor throws throughout the day. All the talk of a new contract for Hoyer seems absurd after this game, though we all need to remember that it’s just one game. Let’s see what Hoyer can do over a full season.

– Even with all the problems on offense, the Browns were in this game near the end of the fourth quarter, mostly because the defense had a solid game, picking off Blake Bortles three times. Sure, they gave up some rushing yards, but they had the Browns in the game down only 10-6. Then came the Jordan Poyer muffed punt. That ridiculous play summed up the whole day. He was backed up to the two yard line, which meant he shouldn’t even have tried to catch that punted ball. Then of course the ball basically bounced off of his head. Game over.

Following this mess, many of course will overreact, particularly some of the buffoons on the radio who were convinced this offense was doomed to be terrible like previous seasons. That happens everywhere of course. Remember three weeks ago when Tom Brady’s career basically ended on prime time against Kansas City? Of course that lasted one week until they destroyed the Bengals who were 3-0 at the time.

The NFL is extremely unpredictable, so you can’t read too much into one game. The key for the Browns is how they react to this loss. How will the coaching staff and players adjust to what Jacksonville did to them? Can they get the running game back on track against two other bad team as home? Can Hoyer play better now that other teams can start game planing around what he does well? We’ll see.

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