After a month-long interlude in which we witnessed nothing short of playoff-caliber football, the Browns fell back to Earth yesterday in a decidedly frustrating manner. Despite collecting six turnovers, the Browns could not put away a less than stellar Jacksonville team.
This regression has naturally led many fans and members of the media to return to some familiar early season sentiments. Sunday's aftermath has allowed speculation to return regarding the overall state of the on and off field talent currently assembled, as well as a reflection of Eric Mangini's Process as a whole.
While yesterday's loss was indeed a step back in what appeared to be a recent upswing in franchise momentum, it's worth noting that the Browns were essentially victims of their own success.
And for a painful half of football, the elements that have built this recent success were nowhere to be found.
In analyzing the second half of yesterday's game, the most remarkable stat relates to the Jaguars' exhibition of complete futility. In five consecutive possessions, the Jaguars committed a turnover. And as we are all painfully aware, the Browns converted these five turnovers into a paltry three points.
Upon closer inspection, the reasons for these failures correlate to two specific factors: the Browns' rigid identity as a rushing offense and the hobbled state of Quarterback Colt McCoy.
In breaking down the Browns' five possessions after getting a Jacksonville turnover, a common trend emerges.
The Browns couldn't run against the Jaguars' seven and eight man fronts, and couldn't protect McCoy.
Or, just take a look at a summary of these drives….
· Cleveland 20 Yard Line - Run, Run, Sack, Punt
· Jacksonville 39 Yard Line - Run, Run, Sack, Punt
· Jacksonville 19 Yard Line - Run, Run, INC, FG
· Cleveland 43 Yard Line - Sack, INC, Run, Punt
· Jacksonville 35 Yard Line - Run, Run, INC, Missed FG
Not only did the Browns miss out on three prime opportunities to score from inside Jacksonville territory, but they also squandered field position – which proved costly in the third quarter.
As for the offense's woes, it's easy to assign blame to one of Cleveland's favorite whipping boys, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. However, yesterday's game again demonstrated that the Browns are woefully lacking in offensive playmakers.
Against Jacksonville, the Browns' offensive attack was exclusively comprised of Peyton Hillis. Both the team's leading rusher and receiver, the Browns offense grinded to a halt once McCoy began to limp around and the Jaguars began stacking the line to stop Hillis. Granted, the early down play calling was ultra-conservative, but the Browns' offensive line could not generate any running room against a defense who only had to worry about Hillis.
To add to the Browns' futility, McCoy was obviously slowed by an ankle injury. Gone was the mobility and threat of play action – two losses that turned McCoy into both a pedestrian QB and an easy target for the Jaguars' quick pass rushers.
Once the running threat was extinguished, the Browns were again reminded of what life was like when a QB doesn't have time to throw the ball. To this point, perhaps we have either been spoiled, or have simply forgotten, what the Browns offense is capable of when led by a QB who can't move.
In many respects, yesterday's offensive meltdown brought back memories of the season opener, when the Browns' running game sputtered and a stationary Jake Delhomme couldn't spark the offense.
Because both the "power" principle of the offense and McCoy's mobility were limited, the Browns once again became a team without an offensive identity. Hillis was repeatedly stuffed, McCoy's pocket was squeezed and no receivers could get open downfield.
And of course, countless opportunities were wasted.
Ultimately, the lesson learned from yesterday's second half is this….these Browns are built upon a rock solid offensive philosophy. However, it's obvious that the foundation is still a bit shaky.