There has been a disturbing trend in the first six games for the Cleveland Browns with their coaching in the second halves of games. The Browns have gone into the half with the lead in every single game, which is impressive and something to be applauded. Unfortunately, they are continuously running into problems where they lose and have to regain leads in order to win or just end up getting badly outplayed in the second half. This has not been an issue that has been left to one side of the ball. Both sides of the ball have been far less effective in the second halves of games and while the Browns as a team need to finish better, there are some questions about how the coaches are able to adjust and deal with teams in the second half; they are 6-0 in the first half of games, but a concerning 2-4 in the second half of games resulting in a 3-3 overall record. The question that has to be asked is if the Browns coaching staff is doing a poor job in the second half of games or if their consistent success in the first half is actually more impressive than they are given credit and that success makes the second half of games look that much worse. There are areas that can be improved, but after looking into this and considering the past, it seems like the Browns coaching staff is getting every bit out of the team in the first half and they are getting outmanned and ‘out-personneled’ in the second half of games more than they are being outcoached.
Week 1 against the Dolphins
1st half: 7-6
2nd half: 3-17
Result: 23-10 Loss
Week 2 against the Ravens
1st half: 6-0
2nd half: 0-14
Result: 14-6 Loss
Week 3 against the Vikings
1st half: 24-17
2nd half: 7-10
Result: 31-27 Win
Week 4 against the Bengals
1st half: 7-3
2nd half: 10-3
Result: 17-6 Win
Week 5 against the Bills
1st half: 17-10
2nd half: 20-14
Result: 37-24 Win
Week 6 against the Lions
1st half: 17-7
2nd half: 0-24
Result: 31-17 Loss.
The Browns are missing pieces, most notably at the quarterback position but the defense is having substantial second half problems as well and it is not simply a matter of fatigue. The Browns have a great rotation and are able to play a number of players and keep guys fresher longer.
The most noticeable issue that has killed the Browns on defense in the second half of games has been offensive lines adjusting to Ray Horton’s blitzes. In the games against the Dolphins, Ravens, and Lions, the opposing offensive lines were able to adjust, pick up blitzes and give their quarterback time to make throws and pick apart a defense that might only have four or five players in coverage. Ryan Tannehill, Joe Flacco and Matthew Stafford were able to make plays and lead their teams to points and better performances in the second halves of games.
The Browns have good corner play from Joe Haden and Buster Skrine but they cannot cover forever and when those blitzes do not land, finding an open target becomes easy for even an average quarterback, let alone good ones. Some of this comes down to the fact that the Browns need their players to win individual matchups and players like Barkevious Mingo, Paul Kruger, and Desmond Bryant so they can make plays. Not having Jabaal Sheard and Billy Winn has been difficult, but these issues were there when they were there.
The Browns might be better served being a little more restrained with just how much or how many they blitz or increase the amount of players that show blitz but drop back into coverage. The Browns are living by the blitz and dying by the blitz. That is who they are and who they want to be, but it is biting them and teams have been able to figure them out over the course of a game. They need to find a way to keep teams guessing and keep them off balance. They also need guys to step up and make great plays individually. Players need to win on an individual basis more consistently so they make those blitzes and this pressure scheme count for more.
Offensively, nothing the Browns do is great. They have stretches of being reasonably effective and getting points, but they really are never great. Much of this is because the quarterback position does not have the answer they need and the NFL is all about having a quarterback who can make plays and lead their teams to points. However, the amount of drop off the Browns have on offense from the first half to the second half is extremely disturbing and there are reasonable questions to be asked of Norv Turner and Rob Chudzinski about this. In two games, the Browns were shutout in the second half, both with Weeden in the game. Nevertheless, the offensive output has only been slightly better under Brian Hoyer when he was able to play in the second half of games.
The running game is mediocre to put it kindly, which certainly is difficult to get anything going with consistency and also makes it difficult to eat clock and have long drives to get the defense rest. The Browns are trying to do things that compensate for mediocrity in the running game including end arounds and screens that have had some success. The lack of any kind of consistency in being able to run the ball puts far more pressure on the quarterback position to deliver, which the Browns simply cannot do on a regular basis.
A lot of what the Browns might be able to do offensively comes down to the fact they have enough viable options to get the ball and they just need to do it more often. Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron consistently show how much they can bring to this team. Both Hoyer and Weeden have used every bit of both, although Weeden probably needs to take advantage of Cameron more often than he does. Because they have those players, it makes Davone Bess more effective as he can get open and create space consistently. He needs to get more looks. Lastly, Greg Little who is utilized far more by Weeden than with Hoyer, becomes a nice fourth option. Little has been able to make plays at times and while he is hardly a star, he is able to make some plays. Against the Bills, he was able to make a few big plays and that carried over to this game where he had a few catches, drew a pass interference call that produced 23 yards and then he made a catch that looked awfully good by the sideline that was called incomplete after a review.
All of those options make it so Willis McGahee and Chris Ogbannaya can get yardage both on the ground and as receivers out of the backfield. To a certain extent, the Browns are stuck because the quarterback situation is a problem and will be for the rest of the season. They do have options that can help Weeden make some plays, but the lack of a consistent running attack and the need to use alternatives to make up that difference is difficult, because they are inconsistent. To some extent, the Browns are what they are offensively and this is just what they are going to be until they can add more talent to this team and add more help in the coming offseason, which they have to take full advantage.
If the front office can help strengthen the offense, they can take pressure off of the defense. As much as this might be criticizing the defense and Horton, the fact is the Browns are a good defense and has the ability to get even better. In a league that sees so many points scored, the Browns are trying their best to shut teams down and have had some success. They can add a few pieces to the defense and get better through development, but they need the offense to get better. Not only do they need them to score more points, but avoid disastrous turnovers.
It is certainly possible this coaching staff is actually getting the most they possibly can out of this team by in large. Their success in the first half makes the second half looks so much worse. Perhaps the coaching staff is doing a great job and squeezing everything they can out of the first half and teams are able to make u that difference in the second half. It is not exactly smoke and mirrors but the Browns seem able to script plays pretty well and make quick adjustments in the first half, especially offensively that allow them to get these leads.
The second half gives opponents with more talent the opportunity to get back into games and the Browns are trying to do their best to prevent that comeback and hope that between the lead they get in the first half and minimizing the amount of damage in the second half, they can win the game. To this point, that has resulted in a 3-3 record.
One has to wonder if there are a lot of other coaches around the league and in the past for the Browns that could get as much out of this roster as this staff is. Horton has a good amount of talent on the defense with a few average pieces that he is able to put in position to succeed. They could use more help and more talent to get even better, but the offense is where most of the improvement has to happen.
The Browns need help at quarterback, running back, another tight end, another wide receiver, and likely another guard and possibly two along the offensive line. As frustrating as it is the Browns have been in the second half of games, perhaps it is amazing that the Browns were able to win three of their first five games and this game is an indication of where the season is going to go. The Browns could be in for a tough slide the next couple weeks as they face the Packers and Chiefs on the road followed by the Ravens before the bye week.
The schedule certainly softens up after the bye in parts and the Browns will win a few more games, but this is probably going to be a season long trend for the most part. The question will be going into next season if they have been able to address these issues and become a strong second half team and put teams away, which will put a lot of pressure on the scouting department as well as the coaching staff. The second half flops are unbelievably frustrating, but after further investigation, it seems as though the first half and perhaps the success they maybe should not be having is what makes the second half so noticeable and unbearable to fans. The Browns are definitely better this year, but they are still trying to build themselves into a winner and it is not going to be accomplished overnight.