GREEN BAY, Wis.: Brandon Weeden occupies the bull’s-eye on Browns’ fans dartboards, but he’s not the only deserving target.
Outside linebacker Paul Kruger and wide receiver Davone Bess are underachieving. The defense is regressing, especially on third down. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner seems reluctant to rely on the running game. Receiver Josh Gordon didn’t aggressively fight for balls Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.
And to prove that some lessons might never be learned, Weeden tried another underhanded flip to running back Chris Ogbonnaya, which went for a costly interception in the previous game against the Detroit Lions. This time, a diving Packers defender failed to catch it.
The Browns made improvement after halftime Sunday at Lambeau Field, but too many warts were showing in a 31-13 loss to the Packers.
There were too many issues on too many fronts to defeat a team quarterbacked by Aaron Rodgers, who takes a back seat to no one in the league except for Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos.
Falling behind 14-0 in the first 12 minutes made the chances of an upset nearly out of the question, even though the Browns showed life in the fourth quarter.
“It definitely makes it harder, but we throw the blame on nobody, no individual person,” Gordon said of the early deficit. “It definitely is tough, but it’s nothing we can’t persevere and press on through.”
Gordon didn’t do much right against the Packers, but he nailed it with that assessment. There were plenty of players to blame. And much of it should fall on him.
Targeted six times, Gordon caught just two passes for 21 yards. That’s not the kind of effort the Browns need from their big-play receiver. He seemed to lapse into a funk, perhaps beaten down by continuing trade rumors before the Oct. 29 deadline, but he denied that was a factor.
“It’s been weeks now I’ve been hearing about it. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen,” Gordon said. “That’s just how I’m looking at it.”
When the Browns started 0-2 under Weeden, part of the excuse was that he didn’t have Gordon, suspended for two games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Now Weeden has Gordon, and they’re not able to make any magic.
The most glaring play Gordon failed to make came on fourth-and-15 from the Packers 31 with 11:09 remaining. Coach Rob Chudzinski opted against a 49-yard field goal attempt by Billy Cundiff because of the wind and slick field in the stadium’s north end, but cornerback Davon House broke up Weeden’s pass intended for Gordon at the 5-yard line.
Gordon thought he fought for the ball; Chudzinski said he thought Gordon could have fought harder.
“I jumped up at it and tried to make a play on the ball, but the defender came back and got his hand in there and knocked it out,” Gordon said. Asked if he could have gone after it more aggressively, Gordon said, “I definitely think I did attack it the way I usually do and the DB made a great play on the ball.”
Gordon might benefit from the fans’ obsession over the continuing poor play of Weeden, who attempted 42 passes and threw for only 149 yards, with a passer rating of 48.6. But the Browns are treading water or going backward in a number of areas. The same problems that were discussed last week were not remedied, especially on third downs. The Browns went 7-of-18 on offense and allowed the Packers to convert 7-of-13, 6-of-8 in the first half.
“We’ve had a little bit of trouble with that all year,” Browns strong safety T.J. Ward said of the third-down defense. “I don’t think we have figured it out completely yet. When we do, you will see improvement there.”
That’s a huge reason the Browns have surrendered 62 points in two games. This dubious effort came when the Packers were playing without two of their top three receivers and three of their four starting linebackers, leading some to believe the Browns had a chance.
Breakdowns across the board quashed those dreams.
In the Browns’ four losses there have been others at fault besides Weeden, including veterans being counted on for more consistency and failing to come through. Bess and Kruger top that list.
Bess dropped another pass; he’s most consistent in getting at least one of those a game. A six-year veteran acquired in an April 26 trade with the Miami Dolphins, Bess has 25 catches this season for 234 yards and no touchdowns. He has not been the threat over the middle the Browns thought they were getting on the second day of the draft.
Kruger went two more quarters without a sack, extending his stretch without one to 23 quarters dating to the season opener. The recipient of a five-year, $40 million free-agent contract, Kruger finally ended that shutout streak with 11:08 remaining in the third quarter, and he drew a holding penalty on the Packers nine minutes later. But it was only a quick flash of the impact the Browns expected from the former Baltimore Ravens specialist, who totaled nine sacks last season. Those who wondered if Kruger’s success came because of the Ravens who lined up across from him might be saying the same thing again.
So far this season, such whispers have been drowned out by the roar of outrage surrounding Weeden. But the inconsistent Browns need big plays from their big-play talents on both sides of the ball. A redheaded quarterback shouldn’t be the only target on the dartboard.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.