If you’ve never been punched in the stomach, well, it feels a lot like what you experienced when that ball glanced off Josh Gordon’s fingers. But watching the Browns offense throughout second half was more like continuous drips of water falling upon one’s forehead.
Sunday’s style of loss — in which they had not business losing — drives a Browns fan mad, much like Chinese water torture.
This loss did not hinge on Pat Shurmur’s decision to punt on fourth and 1 with a little more than six minutes to play after Gordon’s drop. No, this has to do with the Shurmur’s decision to abandon the running game at a critical point of the game.
At some point in the near future, the Browns will need to rely on quarterback Brandon Weeden to win games. This is just how the NFL works nowadays. It is a quarterback league and a league where points come from the passing game.
Yet entering Sunday, the Colts’ defense was ranked 29th against the run. Only once did they allow less than 100 yards rushing a game. Just last week, New York Jets’ Shonn freakin’ Green had 162 yards and three touchdowns.
Fast-forward to the third quarter Sunday.
After a shaky first half, the Browns defense finally settled down in the third quarter. No longer were the Colts methodically marching downfield scoring touchdowns. With 3:19 left in the third quarter and trailing 17-13, the Browns took control at their own 20-yard line.
Four plays. Four passes. One first down. Punt.
The Colts went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, but the Browns offense countered with pass-pass-pass-punt.
Those were two critical possessions when the momentum turned in Cleveland’s favor, and plenty of time left in the game. No need to develop a sense of urgency to score in less than two minutes. Yet the Browns abandoned the running attack.
After those two pass-happy possessions, the Browns forced another three-and-out and took over at the Colts’ 20-yard line.
First play, Montario Hardesty rushed for 9 yards, then 2 yards and after an incomplete pass, 6 yards. The drive failed with a two-yard pass on third and 4.
Hardesty was providing sustainable rushing numbers, yet the Browns seemingly panicked late in the third quarter and did not lean on the running game. This has become the rule, not the exception for this team.
Trent Richardson’s ribs were obviously bothersome Sunday. He looked tentative in the first quarter and finished with only eight yards on eight carries. Hardesty has shown that he should receive some carries and Sunday was no different. He finished with seven carries for 28 yards. That’s a 4.0 yards per carry average, an average that is quite reasonable in the NFL.
On those seven carries, Hardesty looked quick, found the holes and gained yardage.
In all, the Browns finished with 55 yards rushing on 17 carries. Meanwhile, the Colts had 148 yards rushing on 37 carries.
Weeden is improving with each game. He made some great throws, had only a handful of questionable decisions and most importantly he did not have an interception or fumble.
Unfortunately, the Browns again seemed to lean too heavily on him too early in a game, opting to shelve what appeared to be a successful running game.
Debate about going for it on fourth down all you want this week, but the failure to utilize the Browns stable of running backs has been problematic all year long.