Just two weeks ago, the future seemed bright in Cleveland. Fans shouted cheers of “Playoffs”, “AFC Championship” and even “This Year”. The talk around the water coolers and job sites throughout northeastern Ohio today however, carries a completely different tune. Once again, our focus offers us phrases such as “NFL Draft”, “running back”, “offensive line”, “wide receiver” and of course “quarterback”.
For Cleveland fans, the most troubling facet was not that is was a heartbreaking loss, or even that our playoff chances have dwindled. We can stomach a loss in battle. We can handle getting knocked down. What troubles us is that it was the Steelers and even more so that we did not put up a fight. In a game that was both painful to watch and depressing to relive, the Cleveland offense stumbled and choked, play after play. It was not until late in the game, when it was all but over, that the Browns finally showed signs of life.
The Cleveland offense was, well, offensive at best, offering three fumbles, an interception and another handful of dropped passes. Quarterback Jason Campbell again abandoned the vertical game, amassing only 124 yards in nearly three quarters of play, until being knocked out of the game with a concussion. The offensive line struggled to contain the pass rush, giving up five sacks. The return of Brandon Weeden was quickly followed by an interception return for a touchdown, although he eventually settled down and sparked some offensive production.
The Browns certainly did not get any help from the officials, who neglected to call a variety of penalties. Let me rephrase, they neglected to penalize the Steelers for a variety of penalties. They showed no restraint when calling them against the Browns. In a league where the focus is on safety and quarterback protection, how is it that Jason Campbell can be knocked out of the game with a concussion, a direct result of a shot to the face, without a penalty being called?
I could continue my rant about the officiating, but in all reality, it did not matter. The Browns were, in a word, bad. If we could combine the upsides of both Weeden and Campbell, our offense could be impressive. However, the dink and dunk attack Campbell offered will not win us many games, nor will the interceptions, inaccuracy and bad decisions of Weeden. We must find a quarterback who can throw the ball down the field and complete a screen pass. Instead, our current options force us to choose from one, or the other. I personally, would rather see the vertical game that brought excitement back to Cleveland, even if that means having Weeden at the helm. Yes, I said it. Brandon Weeden gives us the best chance to win. Not because he is a good quarterback, I could argue otherwise, but he offers the best chance for our playmakers to make plays. Josh Gordon had a record setting performance, most of which came once Weeden took the field.
On a day when things just seemed upside down, even the Dawg Pound banner, the Cleveland Browns highlighted their downfalls with pristine accuracy. We must get help on the offensive line. We must get a quarterback who offers both a deep game and consistent short passing. We must also get the order of those acquisitions correct, even the best quarterback would struggle behind the line we have in place. We must also find a quality running back and deepen several other key positions. I remain optimistic for next year and can see these issues being resolved in short order, but that does little to ease the pain of this one.
We will attempt to boost our pride next week when we host the Jaguars and we will have a shot at redemption when we travel to Pittsburgh for the final game of the season. We eagerly anticipate the return of Brian Hoyer, who at the very least should provide adequate play while we groom whichever franchise quarterback we select in next year’s draft. We may find ourselves talking “playoffs” again soon, but the best thing about this game, is that it is over.