Browns left with many issues to fix

Posted Sept. 12, 2011 @ 4:20 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

The Browns, for the record, are early favorites in Sunday's game at Indianapolis according to oddsmakers. This is a nod to the Colts' poor play in their season-opening loss at Houston and surely an attempt to attract some money on Indianapolis, a club with plenty of room on its bandwagon. 

On the basis of the clubs' respective performances Sunday, the Browns are reasonable favorites. While Cleveland fell 27-17 to Cincinnati, the Browns had stretches where they played quite well. The Colts, meanwhile, never threatened at Houston.

How the Colts will fare the rest of the season is a popular discussion topic Monday. They have been so powerful for so long. Will they plummet to the depths of the league, or did we see the worst in Week One?

As we ponder the Colts' fate, the Browns' fortunes also must be contemplated. Cleveland was regarded as a club capable of potentially exceeding expectations in 2011, but its performance Sunday should raise some concerns about Pat Shurmur's club.

The PFW Spin

Here are five worrisome aspects of Cleveland's loss to Cincinnati: 

1) The defense gave up 13 early points to a team starting a rookie quarterback then surrendered two long TDs late. It's not a good sign for Cleveland that Bengals rookie QB Andy Dalton, shaky at times in the preseason, was cool, calm and collected in his one half of play before leaving with a wrist injury. Then, late in the game, the Browns suffered two huge defensive breakdowns. Shurmur said he believes the Bengals snapped the ball quickly before Cleveland's defense was set on A.J. Green's 41-yard TD catch, but no matter the circumstances, the Browns gave up what proved to be the game-winning TD in embarrassing circumstances. However, in my view, the 39-yard TD rush by Cedric Benson was just as alarming. Benson sprinted through a huge hole off the right side and was never touched on his way to the endzone. On the day, Benson racked up 121 yards on 25 carries. Not a good start at all for Cleveland's run defense.

2) The passing game was inconsistent. QB Colt McCoy completed just 19-of-40 throws, though he did play quite well in the second quarter and showed he could stretch the field with long throws to TE Benjamin Watson and WR Mohamed Massaquoi. That said, a completion percentage less than 50 percent is hardly ideal for a West Coast scheme. What's more, McCoy faced a good deal of pass-rush pressure late in the game from DLE Carlos Dunlap. The Browns' ORT play is a concern with Tony Pashos out. Artis Hicks replaced Oniel Cousins early, but Hicks is probably best inside.

3) The running game was plodding. RB Peyton Hillis had a quiet day, rushing for 57 yards on 17 carries (3.4 ypc) as rushing room was generally hard to come by. With the passing game struggling to build momentum at times, a more robust ground game would have helped. 

4) Penalties. The Browns, who committed just 4.9 penalties per game last season, racked up 11 penalties for 72 yards in Week One. Miscues were especially a problem in the first quarter.

5) Punting. Richmond McGee struggled in his first regular-season game. A 20-yard punt put Cincinnati in good field position and led to a Bengals field goal, and McGee could manage just a 28-yard punt with a little more than six minutes left in the game, failing to capitalize on an opportunity to pin Cincinnati deeper in its end of the field. Given favorable field position on its 38, Cincinnati started a drive that led to the eventual game-winning TD in greater comfort than Cleveland would have preferred. In all, McGee's net average on eight punts was a paltry 31.6. Shurmur said Monday that the Browns were evaluating the punting situation.

Credit the Browns for overcoming a 13-0 deficit. The offense got into gear in the second quarter and showed some big-play punch. The defense also stepped up, forcing seven consecutive punts. But Cleveland's lapses Sunday were notable, and the volume of problems was surprising.