Final thoughts: 2nd-half blues

Posted Oct 13, 2013

Senior Editor Vic Carucci offers his thoughts on the Browns’ 31-17 loss to the Detroit Lions Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Here are my final thoughts from the Browns’ 31-17 loss to the Detroit Lions at FirstEnergy Stadium Sunday:

>>This one stings for multiple reasons. The biggest is that it slammed the breaks on the feel-good story that was the three-game winning streak after a 0-2 start. The Browns had made themselves more relevant than they had been in quite some time. They were beginning to make believers out of many skeptics locally and nationally. Now, the “same, old Browns” talk is rekindled. The other reason it stings is that the Browns had played so well in the first half, especially the second quarter, and were virtually a different team in the second half, especially on offense.

>>Much of this loss will no doubt be placed on the shoulder pads of Brandon Weeden. He deserves his share of blame, but not all of it. As poorly as Weeden and the Browns’ offense played in the second half, their defense was equally inept. And Weeden merits his share of credit for a strong showing after a slow start. He was stepping up in the pocket, making quick and good decisions, and doing some nice things on the move. Then, it all suddenly stopped. Weeden no longer seemed in synch with his receivers. The sharp timing and rhythm he displayed on most of his first-half throws was virtually non-existent in the second half. And then came the interception. With 4:36 left in the game and the Browns trailing, 24-17, Weeden made what he said was an attempt to avoid a sack by doing an awkward, underhanded/backhanded flip of the ball in the direction of running back Chris Ogbonnaya that linebacker DeAndre Levy intercepted. “I was trying to flip it over Obby’s head,” Weeden said. “(A Lions defender) had my left ankle, so I couldn’t actually turn to throw it. I didn’t want to get the sack there, so I just tried to flip it as far as I could over Obby’s head. It’s almost better to just take the sack there and move onto the next play. It was just a boneheaded play.” Yes, Brandon, you should have taken the sack.

>>With the Ravens losing to Green Bay, the damage to the Browns’ standing in the AFC North wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Yes, the Bengals beat the Bills in overtime to grab sole possession of first place, but the competition in this division remains fairly even. The Browns are going to have an enormous challenge trying to rebound at Lambeau Field next Sunday. And let’s not even think about the prospect of going to Arrowhead Stadium the following week to face 6-0 Kansas City. Still, it isn’t crazy to think that a recovery is possible, especially with the Packers missing one of their best defensive players, linebacker Clay Matthews. We know the Browns can play strong defense, and perhaps they will have outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard back from his knee injury this week. We also know the Browns have led at halftime in all six of their games this season.

>>The question will be asked a whole lot in the coming days: How long can the Browns stick with Weeden at quarterback? The second of his two interceptions Sunday, both by Levy, will leave a lingering cloud over Weeden. So, too, will the intentional-grounding penalty he drew on the previous series. There seems little doubt that he will start at Green Bay and perhaps at Kansas City as well. Beyond that, it’s hard to say what the future holds for Weeden as a starter. Would switching to Jason Campbell make them better? Campbell did struggle late in the Week 2 loss at Baltimore after Weeden left with a thumb injury, but that hardly could be considered a large enough sampling to say how he would perform. Granted, the Browns did decide to go with Brian Hoyer as their starter for the next two weeks, and we all know that that worked exceptionally well. The unknown is how Campbell would perform with a full week to work with the starting offense.

>>I didn’t see this so much as a case of the Lions making brilliant “halftime adjustments” to turn themselves around as I did the Browns simply losing whatever edge helped drive them through the first half and steadily unraveling through the balance of the game. The Browns came out with a physical, aggressive approach that clearly put the Lions on their heels. They ran the ball extremely well, surpassing their season high for each of their first five games by halftime with 115 yards on 16 carries. The Lions were simply stouter up front when the second half began and they held the Browns to a mere 11 yards on the ground the rest of the way. The Browns had six total yards in the third quarter. That just can't happen if you have any hope of being remotely competitive.

>>Give the Lions’ offense credit for finding coverage mismatches in the second half, mostly by getting their tight ends and running back Reggie Bush isolated on one-on-ones with linebackers and safeties. Joseph Fauria had an amazing day, scoring a touchdown on each of his three receptions. Bush had five catches for 57 yards and a score. After gaining a mere 14 yards on seven carries in the first half (an average of two years per carry), Bush broke out in the second with 64 yards on 10 runs, boosting his final yards-per-carry average to 4.6 yards.

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