Is Sunday the Cleveland Browns last chance at a win in 2015?
By Thomas Moore
Dec 6, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; A Cleveland Browns fans watches the game against the Cincinnati Bengals during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Bengals defeated the Browns 37-3. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
The Cleveland Browns have not won a game in more than two months and Sunday’s contest against San Francisco may be their last chance in 2015 for a win.
Each week presents new opportunities and new challenges in the National Football League.
And, yes, that even includes the Cleveland Browns, who will host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The game against the 49ers presents an opportunity for wide receiver Travis Benjamin and tight end Gary Barnidge to move closer to becoming just the 10th different receiver in franchise history to reach the 1,000-yard mark in receiving yards.
It also presents yet another opportunity for quarterback Johnny Manziel to show the Browns, and possibly a future employer, that being an NFL quarterback is more important to him than being an Internet party sensation.
It also may present the Browns with their last opportunity to actually win a game before the 2015 NFL season comes to a close.
San Francisco comes in with one of the worst offenses in the NFL, ranking:
- 32nd in yards per game at 295
- 32nd in points per game at 14.8
- 30th in passing yards per game at 196
- 30th in passing touchdowns with 11
The 49ers can, sort of, run the ball as they are tied for 17th in the league with an average of four yards per rush. Stopping the run is, as everyone knows, the Browns’ Achilles heel on defense (among other things) as they are next-to-last in the league in several statistical categories.
In addition to having to worry about San Francisco’s offense, the Browns have battled themselves on defense, due to injuries, declining play from certain veterans, and issues with the system put in by defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil who, while he seems unable to fix the problem, at least knows a problem exists.
“It’s been a bunch of things. I have to do a better job. It starts there. We have to do a better job as a coaching staff,” O’Neil said at his weekly press conference. “We’ve oversimplified it this year with some of the injury stuff. Our system in the past, a lot of the success starts in the secondary and that allows you to do other stuff, whether it’s pressure, load the box, confuse a quarterback. It’s been hard to do some of those things when you’re playing with a lot of younger players or you have guys in and out of the lineup.
“Like I said, if there was one thing, it would be fixed by now. It’s just not, and that’s probably why our record is what it is right now.”
The 49ers will also bring with the one of the worst defenses in the NFL, ranking:
- 28th in yards per game with 395
- 24th in points per game with 24.2
- 27th in passing yards per game with 270
- 28th in rushing yards per game with 125
The Browns will counter with an offense that still can’t run the ball – last in both yards per game (73.9) and yards per carry (3.4) – is still dealing with injuries at wide receiver and, most importantly, struggles with scoring points with anyone other than Josh McCown at quarterback.
In the seven games where McCown has played the entire (or most of) the game, the Browns have averaged 23.2 points per game. But in three of the four games where Manziel was the primary quarterback, the Browns have scored 10 or fewer points, which is a problem.
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While the offense has struggled more often than not without McCown, offensive coordinator John DeFilippo is doing what he can to work with the hand he’s been dealt on offense.
“I am going to be flat out honest with you – it is not easy,” DeFilippo said of building a game plan around an inexperienced quarterback. “It takes a lot of patience. It takes a lot of anxiety, but to say it can’t be done, you just have to be ready for what it is. The guy is going to make mistakes if he is a rookie or a young quarterback. I don’t care if he is in his second year; he is going to make some mistakes.
“It is not easy, but at the same time, you coach who you have. If that is the guy that this organization wants it is full speed ahead, it is full speed ahead in getting him ready to go. If that is the direction that this organization goes down, I am all for it. Those decisions are out of my hands.”
After facing San Francisco on Sunday, the Browns will have road games against Kansas City and Seattle before closing out the year at home against Pittsburgh. All three of those teams are fighting for playoff berths, meaning they will be extremely difficult games for the Browns.
It has been more than two months since Browns fans have celebrated a Victory Monday.
But if they can’t find a way to get the job done on Sunday, that wait may very likely extend until the opening of the 2016 NFL season.