Cleveland Sports Weekly: Browns lose in week one, again

Jim Piascik

The Cleveland Browns have lost 14 of their 15 opening games since their return in 1999. Amazingly, in every year except 2004, the Browns started 0-1 and immediately gotten off on the wrong foot.

One game does not make a season, but it is hard not to be discouraged after yet another loss in the first week of the season. The Browns were a popular sleeper pick amongst the national media before the season, and while the Dolphins are not considered a bad team, many expected Cleveland to get a win Sunday.

Yet they didn’t. Just like always.

It’s not as if everything was bad Sunday. There were some pretty good takeaways from the loss.

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For one, the defense that was talked up throughout training camp came through. The Dolphins only managed 20 rushing yards on 23 carries, less than one yard per carry. Obviously, that is not something the Browns have any chance at sustaining throughout the season — no team could keep that rate up — but the defense did look strong against the run.

The defense also did a decent job of keeping Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill at bay. His stats ended up being pretty decent, but the Browns ended up with a well above-average day containing Tannehill and suppressing the run.

That above-average defense will only get better when 2013 first-round pick Barkevious Mingo gets healthy and rejoins the team. The issue, of course, is with the other side of the ball.

Running back Trent Richardson did not run exceptionally well Sunday (47 yards on 13 carries), but that was not the biggest issue on offense for the Browns. Running the ball is important, but in the NFL today, quarterback play is the most important.

The NFL is a quarterback-driven league; there is little denying that. The problem in Cleveland is that no one can be sure if Brandon Weeden can be the real answer for the Browns.

With new offensive coordinator Norv Turner still in the infant stages of implementing his system, it is too early to say anything definitive about Weeden or the offense. One game is far too small of a sample to judge anyone, especially given that Weeden is playing in a different offense than in his first season.

But what we can say is that the early results were not good. Three first-half interceptions, including one on the first drive of the season, and only 10 points are not acceptable going forward. Weeden did rack up 289 yards in the air, although he did that on 53 attempts (only 26 of which were completed).

Some of that could be on the play calling — 53 passes compared to 13 runs is about as far from balanced as a team can get — but not even completing half of the passes is a problem.

The development of tight end Jordan Cameron (nine catches, 108 yards, and a touchdown) could be huge for the offense, as could the return of wide receiver Josh Gordon in week three after his two-game suspension for a substance abuse violation. But the offense’s successes and failures, as well as how far the Browns go in 2013, will come down to Weeden.

Cleveland will travel to Baltimore next week to face the Ravens. While the Ravens are the reigning Super Bowl champions, their pass defense had one of the worst showings in Week 1 when it allowed 462 yards and seven touchdowns to Peyton Manning.

Weeden is not Manning, but clearly this Baltimore defense is not as daunting as those in the past. If the Browns are going to avoid falling to 0-2 for the sixth time in eight years, Weeden will need to do his best Manning impression Sunday afternoon.

The Browns do not play again until Sunday. To tide you over, why not take in the playoff-atmosphere Indians baseball going on downtown tonight and Wednesday against the Kansas City Royals? Bottom line, this team is contending. Why not wash the bad taste of the Browns out of your mouth and go check it out while you wait for Sunday?

Contact Jim Piascik at [email protected].