Same old, same old: Browns lose opener to Dolphins

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

It was another home opening loss for the Cleveland Browns that was riddled with dropped passes, terrible blocking, and costly penalties. The front office personnel and the coaches on the sideline are new, but the script remains the same.

After a great start to the opening drive that saw good pace and an excellent mix of runs and throws that was steadily moving the Browns up the field, it all went to crap as Brandon Weeden, with a blitzing defender in his face, threw off his back foot to a double-covered Travis Benjamin who’s probably never battled for a pass in his life. It was all downhill from there.

The offensive line struggled all day in both pass protection and run blocking. Trent Richardson could never get going and only average 3.6 yards per carry on 13 runs. The inability to establish the run led The Norv to throw 53 times with Weeden (many of those coming while trying to play catch-up of course). The problem with that plan of attack is that Weeden almost never had a clean pocket on the afternoon. Mitchell Schwartz and Oneil Cousins were down-right pathetic all game. Schwartz was consistently victimized by Cameron Wake who sacked Weeden 2.5 times and Cousins just tried to see how many of the possible game infractions in the rule book he could break. Off the top of my head without looking it up I know he got called for a false-start, holding, and a facemask at least and I’m pretty sure there was more than those. Additionally he couldn’t block anyone in the box all day and wasn’t effective as a pulling guard either. The left side of the line, while not as bad, was consistently being pushed back into Weeden’s lap on every drop-back.

Weeden, who struggled under pressure as he did last season, did not have a good day throwing the ball. He had passes batted down again and didn’t make many great throws. Unfortunately for him, when he did put the ball on his receivers hands they had a hard time bringing them in. Cameron and Little looked like they were trying to play the tip drill a couple times and regularly looked like they were being caught off guard that the ball was being thrown to them while they were out on a pass route. The only receiver who had a really good day was Davone Bess who really looks like a nice find as a slot receiver, safety-valve type guy. Cameron put up nice stats with nine catches for 108 yards and TD but he was at fault for one of the INTs and couldn’t seem to stay on his feet after catching passes, losing out on some valuable YAC.

That kind of an offensive performance was reminiscent of what we came to expect out of Pat Shurmur, not what we were expecting from the great and powerful Norv. If the Browns continue to play like that then they won’t win many games this season, especially because I have a sneaking suspicion that the Dolphins aren’t a great team. I mean, Ryan Tannehill had a decent game, but he was far away from being really good or impressive in any way. He took what the defense gave him in the second half and got the ball out quick. But he didn’t really make any big plays to speak of that we’ll see from the likes of Brady, Roethlisberger, Stafford, and even Flacco this season.

The Norv is going to need to find a way to get Richardson some better running lanes and Weeden a cleaner pocket. I understand that he wants to attack down the field with the pass but if the line is incapable of giving the receivers time to get into their routes then that won’t work.[1] I’m a believer in The Norv is an offensive mastermind and I’m confident he’ll get it figured out, but that was a pretty terrible first impression to say the least.

The only real bright spot for the Browns was the front seven on defense, who played spectacularly all game. They dominated the line of scrimmage and only allowed 23 rushing yards on the day and less than one yard per carry. They had six tackles for loss and four sacks to boot. The Dolphins adjusted to a quicker passing game to neutralize the Browns rush that had Tannehill as flustered as Weeden for much of the first half. This of course exposed the weakness in the Browns secondary as Skrine and Owens couldn’t contain Hartline and Gibson who combined for 16 catches and 191 yards. Joe Haden virtually shut-out Mike Wallace Who Cares More About His Catches Than Wins (full name) but Tannehill was able to find other targets to keep the ball moving.

The bottom line on the game is that at halftime the Dolphins coaching staff made the necessary adjustments to get the win, and the Browns did not. Neither team had a good first half and looked lost offensively going into the locker room. And just as we’ve come to expect from this team in its pervious iterations, they came out in the second half and didn’t look any different.

It has been said that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I think that by proxy the Browns coaching staffs over the past fifteen years has driven the Cleveland fans insane by failing to make the necessary in-game changes to get wins, particularly in Week 1. They make their game-plan and defiantly stick to it even when it isn’t working.

It’s a new era of Cleveland Browns football they tell us. But this new one right now feels a whole heck of a lot like the old one.

Isn’t it great to have football back?

[1] It’ll be interesting to see on the coach’s tape what Weeden was looking at downfield with the receivers’ routes. I’m always interested to see from that wide view if he just wasn’t the throws or if they didn’t have time to develop before the pocket collapsed.

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