Like most Cleveland Browns fans, I settled in Sunday with nervous anticipation for the start of the season. I’ve been preaching all summer that I was all-in on the Browns’ hype and optimism. I felt good. I was ready to go. But I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling, calling out from the darkest corners in the back of my mind, that the Browns are still the Browns and this whole thing was going to blow up in our face.
Then the Browns came out and tore right down the field scoring a TD on the opening drive of the season. Phew. My brain was trying to play tricks on me. The Browns are actually good! I was right!
Then Austin Siebert came out and missed the extra point. And from there, the Browns became the Browns again. My worst fears were realized. The offensive line is as bad as I feared. The defense isn’t good, as I feared. What a nightmare!
Ok, so this is all just a wild swing of overreactions. The fan part of me is susceptible to this. I know I should know better. The truth is, in the grand scheme of things, this game probably means very little. If the Browns bounce back this week against the New York Jets and then find a way to beat the Los Angeles Rams the following week, this game will be a distant memory. For those things to happen, however, the Browns clearly need to learn some lessons from this game.
I’m not here to rehash all the things that went wrong. That’s all been covered ad nauseam. But I do have to say, it was more than a little disheartening to see the Oakland Raiders be without two starting offensive lineman and still keeping Derek Carr from being hit even once. Somehow a defense with the likes of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb couldn’t even hit Carr once.
Heck, even the Titans were without two starting offensive linemen. All week there was talk of how much Myles Garrett and crew were going to eat. And yet, the Browns hardly managed any kind of sustained pressure. They had four sacks and six QB hits, which isn’t bad. But the pressure was hardly the consistent threat that I think many envisioned for this game. Garrett had two sacks, but he also threw a punch which kick-started the Titans’ first TD drive.
The Browns simply need to be more disciplined. But they know this. I’m not here to talk about what the Browns need to do differently, either. The Browns are professionals. They know what they need to do. It’s just a matter of whether or not they put in the work to make those changes.
The thing that bothers me the most, though, is the optics of this game. We went through pure misery for several years. The 1-31 stretch left a scar that will take decades to heal. I think most of us wanted to believe that pain was happening for a reason, and that reason was supposed to be paid off this season.
The Browns coming out and losing the way they did is really hard to reconcile with expectations. Even the most optimistic among us were willing to acknowledge that losing to the Titans was a very real possibility. Losing in the manner that they did, though? That part was incomprehensible.
The Cleveland Indians’ season has been going through a rough patch lately. They have fallen out of the Wild Card and are five games behind the Minnesota Twins. It’s not over, but the Indians have a hill to climb to make the postseason. The Cleveland Cavaliers are not expected to be much better this season than last. The Browns were supposed to be Cleveland sports’ new beacon of hope. I think that’s why this loss has hit so many fans so hard.
The elephant in the room is that this game very much felt like the proverbial “same old Browns”. I mean, gosh, if this team doesn’t work out, what is the franchise even supposed to do? And again, it needs to be repeated…this was one game. It doesn’t mean anything with any form of absolutes. But what it does do is raise some serious red flags.
It raises a red flag that in the first offseason after the Browns felt secured in their franchise QB, John Dorsey weakened the offensive line by trading away a Pro Bowl guard in Kevin Zeitler for Olivier Vernon (0 tackles and 0 sacks in Game 1). Dorsey did nothing to make the line better. Only worse. And Baker Mayfield paid the price.
It raises a red flag that in his coaching debut, Freddie Kitchens watched his team commit stupid penalty after stupid penalty. He watched one player throw a punch and another get ejected for kicking someone in the head. Outside of the scripted first drive, Freddie’s play-calling left a lot to be desired and didn’t even come close to what we saw from his schemes last year. This game got away from Freddie.
It raises a red flag that the Browns gave up the second-most points in the NFL in Week 1. The only team who gave up more points was the Miami Dolphins, who are trying to lose. Last year the Browns gave up the 3rd most yards in the NFL and were 21st in points against. It was not a good defense. There was hope that the Browns are going to be much improved this year. The 43 points given up aren’t all on the defense. Not even close. But it’s a red flag that the defense looked as lackluster as it did against a pretty pedestrian Tennessee offense.
It raises a red flag that Baker Mayfield was holding on to the ball so long and looking so uneven. Perhaps we can write off Baker’s three interceptions as just a slinger trying to make something happen as the game was slipping away. Maybe he looked unsure in the pocket because he didn’t trust the line in front of him. Whatever the reason, this wasn’t the same Baker Mayfield we saw lift up his team in the second half of last season.
There are almost as many red flags as there were yellow flags on the field on Sunday (ZING!). It’s far from panic time, though. Despite all the Browns’ silly self-inflicted mistakes in Sunday’s game, this was still a winnable game into the fourth quarter. It wasn’t really until Baker started pressing and throwing interceptions that it got out of hand.
If the Browns clean up their mistakes, there’s no reason they can’t win on Sunday. And from there, who knows. It was probably always going to be a process for the team to fully click with a new coach, all new coordinators, and so many new players. The game was made more frustrating because of all the preseason hype and expectations. The nice thing about the Titans game is that it brought all that hype crashing back to the ground. Now the Browns can just play. Forget the hype, forget expectations. Just focus on not making stupid mistakes and just play. The season starts Sunday.