Final thoughts: Disappointing start

Posted Sep 8, 2013

Browns Senior Editor Vic Carucci gives his final thoughts on the Browns’ 23-10 season-opening loss to the Dolphins.

Here are my final thoughts from the Browns’ 23-10 loss in their season-opener against the Dolphins Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium:

>>Another forgettable start. No, the season isn’t already lost. Yes, there is ample opportunity for the Browns to rebound, beginning with next Sunday’s game at Baltimore. But there was a whole lot riding on this game. It represented the start of what is supposed to be an improved team under new leadership. Instead, it merely gets added to the long list of season-opening flops. That makes nine in a row and 14 in the 15 since the Browns’ return to Cleveland. You want to say things are different now, and in many ways, they are, as far as the organization’s overall approach to football and off-field business. However, the results are the results in this bottom-line league. The Browns’ chore of proving that they truly are heading in the right direction from a football standpoint just got a little bit harder. The key is for coach Rob Chudzinski and his staff to prevent the players from dwelling too much on this one and quickly turning its focus to the Ravens.

>>Weeden’s struggles. Of the multiple reasons to be disappointed by this loss, the biggest was the performance of Brandon Weeden. This is supposed to be the year he makes his case to be the Browns’ long-term answer at quarterback. He still might do that, but for now, the doubt far exceeds the hope. Weeden threw three interceptions. Although two were on throws that deflected off the hands of receivers, he did not ever truly seem comfortable or in control. Granted, there were issues with his protection; he was sacked six times and frequently pressured. However, when Weeden did have time in the pocket, he tended to take too long to make decisions. He did not show any of the progress he presumably had made through the offseason and training camp because of the coaching of Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner and the fact he is operating in an offense that is supposed to be more tailored to his skills.

>>Defense comes through as advertised. If there is a bright spot to take from this game, it is that the Browns’ defense did precisely what it was expected to do after the heavy offseason investment to make it dominant. The team set out to greatly improve its ability to rush the quarterback by adding free-agent outside linebackers Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves, and defensive lineman Desmond Bryant to the 3-4 scheme of new coordinator Ray Horton. The trio generated all of the Browns’ four sacks Sunday, including two by Bryant, and the front seven as a whole frequently disrupted quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Unfortunately, the Browns’ offensive struggles caused the defense to carry far too much of the load, and eventually the defenders wore down.

>>Cameron rises to the occasion. With Josh Gordon beginning his two-game suspension, the Browns were in desperate need of a play-maker. Enter Jordan Cameron. The tight end came through with a game-high-tying nine receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown. He was the only Browns’ pass-catcher to consistently find openings in the Dolphins’ secondary. If the performance was any indication, Cameron figures to continue to be an integral part of the Browns’ passing game and should help open things up for Gordon, once he returns, and Greg Little.

>>O-line issues. The Browns need to get better on their offensive line, and quickly. The unit was far from sterling in pass-protection, or in blocking for the run. The biggest problems were on the right side, where Oneil Cousins struggled mightily. Not only did he consistently seem to be overmatched, but he also was penalized four times. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz also had a long day against defensive end Cameron Wake, who finished with two-and-a-half sacks, for minus-19 yards, and had multiple pressures.

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