CLEVELAND — With the Cleveland Browns’ new-look defense needing its biggest stop of the game, defensive backs Buster Skrine and Chris Owens decided to take the series off.
In fact, their entire performance on Sunday was off.
Ryan Tannehill played a game of catch up and down the field with his receivers Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson. You know, those two wide outs who are the Dolphins’ perennial Pro Bowlers. (That is not fact, but sarcasm.)
Hartline was targeted 15 times and finished with nine catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. Gibson was targeted 10 times and had seven catches for 77 yards. Tannehill finished 24-for-38 for 272 yards.
Who could be found across the line of scrimmage on each play in which Hartline or Gibson had a big gain? Buster Skrine or Chris Owens.
Skrine and Owens weren’t the only reasons the Browns lost ANOTHER opener.
But they sure were a big reason.
The Browns’ defense stopped the run. Miami finished with 20 yards rushing on 23 attempts for an average of 0.9 per carry. The Browns’ defense got to the quarterback to the tune of four sacks and seven quarterback hits. The Browns’ defense — more specifically Joe Haden — shut down their No. 1 wide receiver Mike Wallace.
Tannehill targeted the $60 million man Wallace five times and he was held to one catch for 15 yards. Unfortunately, Haden couldn’t cover both sides of the field. While Haden blanketed Wallace, the other side of the field —occupied by Skrine and Owens — was so damn wide open.
Let’s go back to what proved to be the game-sealing drive. Miami took over on its own 15-yard-line ahead 13-10 with 11:54 remaining in the game. That’s when Tannehill began playing catch with Hartline and Gibson.
· Tannehill pass short left to Gibson. Gibson caught the ball, faked out Owens and ran for 24 yards.
· Tannehill pass short left to Hartline. Owens missed the tackle and Hartline ran for 16 yards.
· Two plays later on third and 9, Tannehill pass short right to Gibson for 14 yards, who was wide open in the middle of the field. Owens on the coverage.
· Tannehill to Hartline. Slant route, 7 yards. We’ll call it Tashaun Gipson on the coverage.
· Two plays later on third-and-2, Tannehill found Gibson for six yards and the first down. Skrine on the coverage.
· Tannehill to Hartline for 11 yards. Hartline ran an underneath route and was guarded by LINEBACKER Paul Kruger. Kruger is fast, but not guard a wide receiver fast.
· Finally, on first and goal from the Browns’ 6-yard-line, Skrine was called for pass interference setting up 1-yard touchdown run by Daniel Thomas.
“Ryan did a good job placing the ball, the line did a good job protecting and we jelled,” Hartline said. “Brandon made catches and we moved the ball around. That’s where we want to be most of the time.”
In all, it was a 10-play, 85-yard drive that took 5:06 off the clock and brought the Browns’ season-opener record to 1-13 since 1999.
“I thought the ball went to the right place a vast majority of the time based on the coverages that we got,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said.
In another hapless home opener effort that featured dropped balls by wide receiver and drive-killing and touchdown-removing penalties by guards — well, just Oniel Cousins, specifically — the inability to have a proper corner opposite Haden doomed the Browns.
This game proved no longer can you just stop the run and win a football game in today’s NFL.
Remember Leon McFadden? The Browns’ third-round draft pick out of San Diego State was penciled into the right corner back position. He was quickly erased during the offseason.
Remember Alabama corner back Dee Milliner? He was selected three spots after the Browns took linebacker Barkevious Mingo in the first round of last April’s draft. Mingo didn’t play Sunday because of a bruised lung suffered in the offseason. Milliner started for the Jets.
Remember free agent corner back Brent Grimes? He spurned the Browns for the Dolphins. Grimes started Sunday opposite former Browns player Dmitri Patterson.
Once again, the Browns start the season 0-1 and the upcoming 15 games seem daunting. Most of the preseason hope generated is waning. Where have you heard this before? Oh just pretty much every season since 1999.
Next up for the Browns is the defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens on the road followed by more 2012 playoff teams in the Minnesota Vikings (on the road) and the Cincinnati Bengals (at home).
Hooray … football is back!