Browns need to find identity

Posted Oct 14, 2013

Senior Editor Vic Carucci says the time has come for the Browns to do some self-examination to figure out why they have unraveled three times in the second half.

The numbers simply don’t add up.

When you’re ahead at halftime in all six games that you’ve played, you shouldn’t have a 3-3 record to show for it.

The attitude doesn’t add up, either.

Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said there was “a lot of energy in the locker room at halftime” of Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions. Yet, through the final two quarters, his team seemed mostly listless and disinterested as it was outscored, 24-0, on the way to a 31-17 loss.

None of this computes. None of it makes sense.

I firmly believe the Browns are a better team than the one that gave such an embarrassing showing at FirstEnergy Stadium.

I’m not suggesting their three-game winning streak before Sunday indicated they were a playoff contender or that they aren’t in need of more key components (including quarterback) to become one. Heck, maybe, like a race horse that isn’t in the same class as the better members of the field, they simply come up short at the end.

But I do think the winning streak meant something to the Browns.

It certainly was indicative of the benefits of having a strong defense capable of allowing them to compete against any opponent on the schedule. Strong defenses stuff the run, which this one has done through most of its games. They generate pressure. They rank in the top five of the NFL. And this defense actually looks as if it is better in some places, namely cornerback and free safety, than many of us assumed before the season.

The consecutive victories against Minnesota, Cincinnati, and Buffalo also provided evidence the Browns do know how to sustain first-half success. And the three interceptions that Brian Hoyer threw against the Vikings before leading the game-winning drive and the injuries the Browns overcome the following two weeks, including the one that ended Hoyer’s season early in the Buffalo game, meant they have the mental toughness to overcome adversity.

So what’s the problem? Why, in three losses, have the Browns been outscored, 55-3, in the final two quarters? Why only one first down in the second half against the Lions – when the game was already decided – and a mere six yards in the third quarter?

I can already hear many of you saying, “It’s simple. Brandon Weeden is a bad quarterback.”

It’s true that Weeden is 0-3 as a starter, although he did play through most of the game against the Bills. It’s true that he had a terrible game against the Dolphins. And it’s true that he made one of the all-time worst plays with his bizarre, underhanded toss with 4:36 left against the Lions that was intercepted and helped put a still winnable game out of reach.

But the issue seems larger than the performance of one player, even if he does occupy the most important position on the team. For the record, Weeden did more than a few things right to help the Browns build a 17-7 halftime advantage. During those 30 minutes, he made good and quick decisions with where to go with the ball. There weren’t any, to borrow his description on the killer interception, “boneheaded” throws.

Crushing Weeden is an easy thing to do now, and I get that.

Still, the defense was – and has been – a part of the letdowns as well. If this group is as strong as so many of us believe it is, it shouldn’t do that. Upper-tier defenses don’t do that.

Nor do they adopt the mentality that they have to pick up the slack for the offense. They should simply perform well on a consistent basis, as should the offense. Consistency is the primary missing piece in the Browns’ 3-3 start.

What I don’t get is this observation on what happened against Detroit from tight end Jordan Cameron: “We wanted to continue to lead and really push it, and it was just one of those things that we were flat in the second half. I don’t know if we got comfortable or complacent, but the energy wasn’t there.”


With a chance to win a fourth game in a row and stay in first place in the AFC North and maintain the relevance they began to enjoy after that three-game run, how could the players have a lack of energy at any point during the game, let alone the most critical one? That is when the energy that Chudzinski saw in the locker room should only intensify and come pouring out onto the field.

Which leads to this point: The Browns need to figure out who they are. They need to find their identity.

We generally view them as a team that plays tough, solid defense, has a couple of offensive playmakers in Cameron and Josh Gordon, and a dynamic returner in Travis Benjamin. We want to think of them as being tough-minded as well.

Right now, though, they’re giving an impression that they are merely front-runners, capable of only performing well when everything goes their way. And they, and we, know that that isn’t truly the case, based on so much of what they have overcome in the past six weeks.

This is a time when the veteran leadership has to get everyone on the right page. This is a time when the topics such as the future of the quarterback position and other changes coming down the road must be forgotten by every man in the locker room. Hoyer and the spark he provided are gone. Weeden is the starter, and he is the best the Browns have for the foreseeable future.

There is no game left this season, including the back-to-back trips to Green Bay and Kansas City, that is unwinnable.

And there is nothing that should prevent a team that has found a way to win the first half of each one of its games from winning some second halves as well.

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