CLEVELAND: Shortly after taking control of the franchise, this new regime promised fans big, noticeable changes to the Browns’ stadium experience. That must have been the reason behind the halftime concert Sunday and the two huge banners that covered the north and south stands during a timeout reminding fans that “WE ARE CLEVELAND” and “THIS IS THE DAWG POUND.”
They didn’t need to remind anyone this is Cleveland. The play on the field was proof enough.
For at least one week, the most important part of the game day experience — the actual play on the field — was just as dreary as last year.
Those preseason glimpses of a flashy, potent offense disintegrated into a crumpled heap of sacks, penalties and turnovers during the Browns’ 23-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
For as sharp as he looked in the first two (meaningless) preseason games, Brandon Weeden has now been equally awful in his past two appearances. Sunday, however, wasn’t entirely his fault.
He was sacked six times, hit 16 times and two of his three interceptions went off the hands of his intended receivers. Of course, they were tipped in part because Weeden’s approach to the short passing game is similar to Harry Dunne’s tactical approach to a snowball fight in Dumb and Dumber. Stand five feet from your target, throw it as hard as you can — and aim for the face.
Meanwhile, the Browns’ best offensive weapon, Trent Richardson, carried the ball 13 times with Weeden busy heaving 53 passes. Richardson never carried the ball in the fourth quarter.
“How games go is going to dictate that sometimes,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. “When you’re trying to play from behind, you’re going to throw the ball a little more.”
A little? Thirty, even 35 throws for Weeden would be “a little” more, but 53 attempts by a struggling quarterback playing without a suspended Josh Gordon simply exposes the offense to disaster.
The NFL has become a pass-happy league, but the Browns are built to run the ball. That vertical passing attack out of the shotgun that Weeden thrived in this preseason vanished Sunday, replaced with a dink-and-dunk approach that looked all too familiar to Shurmurball. And on one of the rare occasions Weeden had time to look downfield, he heaved an interception into double coverage at the goal line.
Sooner or later, and preferably sooner, the Browns are going to have to trust their best offensive weapon. Richardson was drafted to be an elite running back, but injuries last season and opportunities Sunday prevented him from doing that.
Richardson had at least 20 carries in only five games last season. The Browns went 3-2. He carried the ball on each of the game’s first two plays Sunday and four of the first six, then was held to nine carries over the Browns’ final 60 offensive snaps in a game that was within one score most of the day.
When the Browns had a first-and-goal inside the Dolphins’ 5-yard line late in the first half, Richardson inexplicably jogged off the field to the surprise of a sellout crowd that could be heard grumbling in dismay.
Apparently it caught the Dolphins defense by surprise, too. They were so stunned to see the Browns best player jogging off the field that they had to burn a timeout. Richardson did come back after the timeout, but the Browns eventually scored without ever looking his way.
“Coach has a game plan, so whatever he calls I’m down with it,” Richardson said. “We’re all behind him. We got behind, so we were chasing points the whole game.”
Give Richardson credit for being a good teammate. He had ample reason to criticize a flawed approach, but refused. He even went so far as to say that he saw a lot of good come out of the loss Sunday and that the entire day felt far different than last year.
“This was the first time in a long time the team didn’t give up,” he said. “When it came to the third and fourth quarter, we were still fighting. We fought every play.
“This time last year, if something would’ve happened like this we’d be arguing. Now we’re still putting it together and we know what we need to work on.”
Yeah, a new banner: GET RICH, QUICK.