The Browns dropped their third straight game Sunday with a 38-15 loss against the Patriots at FirstEnergy Stadium, and we've got some takeaways to discuss after another rough Sunday in Cleveland.
1. Browns 'beat ourselves' on offense
To begin, let's give credit to the Patriots where credit is due.
The Browns expected to have a tall battle against Bill Belichick and New England's defense, and they were right in expecting so. Nearly every strength of the offense was met with some type of solution from New England — the run game was stymied, Amari Cooper was silenced and Jacoby Brissett didn't have many other better options to spread the football.
But the Browns still have the talent to find ways to overcome such obstacles. They stopped themselves from doing so.
The offense committed three turnovers, including one on the second play of the game, and couldn't find big plays in critical late-game moments. QB Jacoby Brissett turned in his least productive start of the season, completing 21 of 45 pass attempts for 266 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He also fumbled in the fourth quarter, which the Patriots recovered and promptly scored a touchdown that boosted their lead to a commanding 23 points.
Nick Chubb posted a season-low 56 rushing yards. Amari Cooper was targeted 12 times, but he only caught four of them for 44 yards.
Credit to the Patriots, yes, but the Browns know the results still have to be better to win games.
"We probably beat ourselves more than they beat us," Brissett said. "They had a good plan, but I think it started with us. I take full responsibility in the start of the game, and that's beating ourselves. We have to get out of our own way and take it one play at a time."
The Patriots intercepted Brissett on the second play from scrimmage when Brissett looked to complete a deep pass to TE Pharaoh Brown. The ball was slightly underthrown and made for a relatively easy catch by safety Kyle Dugger, and that set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
Cleveland lost the turnover battle 4-1, which will almost never result in a winning performance. Head coach Kevin Stefanski constantly emphasizes the need to win in that category for the best shot of a victory, but the Browns have now lost that battle in their last three games.
It's no coincidence they've dropped all of them.
"We've got to take care of the rock on the offensive side and take it away on the defensive side," Stefanski said. "We just didn't do either … You're not going to win games with that type of turnover margin. Jacoby understands he has to take care of the ball, and it's as simple as that."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Patriots in Week 6
2. The defensive woes haven't ended
The Browns still have yet to put a complete game together on defense, and the woes that plagued them Sunday came against a QB who was one of the least experienced players on the field.
Bailey Zappe, a fourth-round rookie from Western Kentucky who started in place of the injured Mac Jones, started only his third NFL game but found open receivers on too many occasions. He entered Sunday with 287 passing yards on the season but totaled 309 passing yards against the Browns. No Patriots receiver had over 64 receiving yards, but four of them crossed the 60-yard plateau.
"They made their plays," Stefanski said. "In the back end, I know our corners were battling. They won a few times in coverage. Obviously, we put a lot on the corners today. They had their fair share of plays that they got us, but I have faith in those guys to go win."
The Browns placed a higher emphasis on tackling this week after a rough performance in Week 5. They started practice Wednesday with a "tackling circuit" and reviewed a 15-play reel defensive coordinator Joe Woods compiled of their missed tackles from previous games.
Yet they still had moments where the technique was poor. Those errors were compounded by patchy pass coverage, an issue that was a big problem in the first two games against the Panthers and Jets. Those problems returned, and Zappe exploited them.
For the Browns to turn the tide, they'll have to keep harping on those points in practice until they prove they're fixed. Doing so will be much easier said than done against the formidable opponents that are next up on the schedule — which we'll dive into next.
"The bottom line is you pour everything you got each week into this thing," Stefanski said. "That's the truth. We're going to do that again this week. We're going to pour everything we have into it."
3. An uphill climb awaits
The Browns don't appear to have any relief in their opponents over the next five games.
They play the Ravens next week, who lost to the Giants and have problems of their own at 3-3, but they also have one of the league's most mobile quarterbacks in Lamar Jackson. After Baltimore, the Browns host the Bengals on Monday Night Football — Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase and the other weapons on Cincinnati's offense will be a difficult task, too.
Then, the Browns have to face Josh Allen and Tom Brady, two QBs who are arguably better than any passer Cleveland has faced this season.
The players, of course, are focused on whoever is next on the schedule.
"I don't think any of us are focused that far into the future," Myles Garrett said. "We're all just worrying about this week coming up, how we can work on this film and get better on this film."
That's a fine approach — and the only mindset they should have with 11 games still to play.
But over the course of the next five games, the job likely won't be any easier as the Browns attempt to climb out from a 2-4 record.