Different year. Different owner. Different team president. Different general manager. Different head coach. Different coordinators. Same old Cleveland Browns.
The song remained the same for the Browns in the 2013 NFL season opener against a Miami Dolphins team that likely isn't going to be anything special this year. Cleveland's defense did all it could to keep the Browns in the game and the home crowd in their seats as long as possible, and they were unjustly rewarded with an offense that was pitiful at some points and pathetic at others. Only four quarters of meaningful football have been played, but the question already has to be asked:
Is Brandon Weeden really the guy?
In fairness to the second-year QB, the stats only tell a part of the story. Take his three interceptions as an example. The first came off of a heave down the field on third down, a pick that was as good as a punt. Blame has to be placed on Cleveland wide receivers failing to reel passes in, a problem that has plagued the franchise since the days of Braylon Edwards, for the other two interceptions.
The game plan of offensive coordinator Norv Turner also left much to be desired. Trent Richardson, advertised to be Cleveland's workhorse so long as he is healthy, got just 13 carries. Weeden, meanwhile, attempted 53 passes. Barring the Browns being involved in a blowout, which wasn't the case on Sunday, those two stats are nothing short of unacceptable.
There's also the fact that Weeden's pass protection routinely hung him out to dry. When Oniel Cousins wasn't committing penalties (four on the day), he was failing to prevent oncoming pass rushers from getting into the backfield. “Weeden is running for life again,” commented NFL Red Zone host Scott Hanson at one point in the fourth quarter.
With all of that out of the way, Weeden certainly earned plenty of the criticism he's been getting/going to get from fans and Cleveland sports talk radio personalities. He lacked the poise and confidence one would hope to see from a quarterback who will turn 30-years old in a month, and it was clear from the early stages of the game that he and/or the previously mentioned Turner were badly missing vertical weapon Josh Gordon, who is suspended until Week 3. Perhaps most worrisome for Cleveland fans is that it took little time for Weeden to get visibly rattled, almost as if he believed a big hit was coming each time he dropped back to pass.
The only bright spot on the Cleveland offense was, not coincidentally, the team's most noteworthy weapon during the preseason. Tight end Jordan Cameron led the Browns in receptions with nine, including one that saw him climb the ladder in the corner of the end zone and bring down Cleveland's lone touchdown of the day. With Greg Little and Travis Benjamin struggling with varying cases of the dropsies and Gordon gone for one more game, Cameron could prove to be Weeden's most reliable target.
It will be interesting to see what happens once opposing defenses prepare to treat Cameron like he is a No. 1 WR.
Cleveland entered the season with plenty of hope that the team was, in fact, headed in the right direction. Outside of the expected solid play of the defense, I saw little evidence that indicated much has changed since last December. It only gets worse for the Browns, who now have to travel to Baltimore to take on what will be an angry Ravens opponent that will be celebrating a Super Bowl championship and also looking to vent frustrations after that Thursday night beat-down at the hands of the Denver Broncos.
Any Cleveland fans out there feeling positive about that game?