The tally marks kept piling up as Todd Haley watched and re-watched the Browns’ season-opening tie to the Steelers.
Cleveland’s offensive coordinator counted 28 mental errors committed throughout the game. In his eyes, 10 is all a unit can get away with if it can expect to emerge victorious.
That was more than enough inspiration to prompt Haley to go back to the drawing board in his preparation for the Saints.
“That is way too many to think that you have a chance to win a game,” Haley said. “We had a chance to win it, thanks most in part to the defense and what they did. You cannot go out and have 28 mental errors. As a coaching staff, we cannot just say, ‘Players, we made mistakes.’ We have to figure it out – are we doing too much. Are we asking too much of these guys? All of that is being evaluated on a day-to-day basis.”
Haley dropped another big number during his weekly press conference. He counted up 100 yards lost from penalties and negative plays throughout the 21-21 tie, a result he described as “just as bad as a loss.” The way he sees it, that’s seven points the Browns didn’t get in a game in which just one more would have been the difference between winning and tying.
“We gave up seven points in just minus plays – which we have to get fixed,” Haley said. “But you go on the road in this place, you better stay ahead of the chains and you better not have pre-snap penalties that hurt yourself.”
The task at hand won’t be any easier Sunday in New Orleans, where the Saints like to feast on opposing teams with a quick-strike offense and a defense that thrives off the momentum and noise created by it. Pre-snap, “concentration” penalties were among the issues Sunday for Cleveland’s offense, which mixed in a number of players who missed time during training camp and the preseason because of various injuries.
The group’s discipline will be put to the test in its first road trip of the season to one of the NFL’s loudest environments.
“We told them we gave them a flier on the game, but now in this game, this is a defense that is very good, a very aggressive defense that feeds off of their offense, feeds off the dome and that noise,” Haley said. “This is a game that is very critical for us as an offense to stay ahead of the chains so to speak.”
Haley chalked some of the offense’s issues up to the newness of it all. His first few games in Pittsburgh, where he led one of the league’s most consistent offenses for six seasons before coming to Cleveland, weren’t as pretty as the overall numbers indicated.
The process of establishing trust needs to be sped up, Haley said, because the Browns have loftier goals than what they did Sunday, especially through the air. Cleveland rushed for 177 yards but was led by quarterback Tyrod Taylor -- something Hue Jackson expressed he does not want to see on a weekly basis. Through the air, Taylor was just 15-of-40 on his passes, the first time in his career in which he didn’t complete at least 50 percent of his throws.
Haley put the onus on the entire offensive group, and that included himself. The numbers didn’t lie: the Browns offense has to be better if it wants to turn a tie-worthy performance into a winning one.
“To be a good or big time passing offense, you better have trust in everyone,” Haley said. “I think we are still in the process of building that trust. Me as the offensive coordinator has to take some of that into account when planning. We can’t just throw it out there and say, ‘Hey, we are going to be a juggernaut.’ It is a process, and as a play-caller and lead play designer, we have to be very thoughtful in what we ask all of these guys to do here, especially early.”