BEREA: For the Browns to have a chance of winning Sunday when they visit the Cincinnati Bengals or any other time this season, their offense must resemble something that belongs in the NFL.
It obviously didn’t show any semblance of respectability last weekend in the 17-16, season-opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The defense did its part by pressuring and confusing quarterback Michael Vick, compiling five takeaways and scoring a touchdown via middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson’s 27-yard interception return.
It also literally begged the offense to reciprocate.
Browns defensive end Juqua Parker entered the offense’s huddle before the start of a series midway through the third quarter. He tried to breathe life into a corpse.
“I just tried to give them some of my energy and let them know we needed seven points to win this game,” Parker said. “If they could get that for us, that would be a plus. I was just trying to bring the fire to the huddle.”
It’s embarrassing that Parker felt the need to speak up. But who could blame him? At that point, anything was worth a shot.
The Browns started four rookies on offense — quarterback Brandon Weeden, running back Trent Richardson, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and wide receiver Josh Gordon — and expected to experience some growing pains. But they didn’t think Week One would be as excruciating as it was.
The Browns scored all their points off turnovers, meaning they could easily have been shut out if the defense hadn’t stepped up. They settled for field goal after field goal after field goal, because the offense couldn’t capitalize.
Weeden threw four interceptions, fumbled twice, completed 34 percent of his attempts and finished with a passer rating of 5.1. Richardson dropped a pass in the flat that could have resulted in a touchdown, carried the ball 19 times for 39 yards (2.1 average) and didn’t do anything of significance other than knocking the snot out of Eagles safety Kurt Coleman as his helmet flew off.
Both first-round picks obviously must bounce back against the Bengals, but they need help, too.
The receivers and backs need to catch the ball. Greg Little needs to use his hands, not his neck. If Weeden throws a poor pass destined for an interception, Travis Benjamin must at least try to break it up. Gordon must use his size and strength to beat bump-and-run coverage.
The offensive line must create lanes for Richardson, and he needs to burst through the holes when they do open. The pass protection against the Eagles wasn’t bad, but the run blocking was anemic. The linemen need to push the defensive front and consistently reach the second level to seal off linebackers.
The good news is all of the offense’s problems can and should be corrected.
Left tackle Joe Thomas has been to five Pro Bowls, and he is the offense’s captain. It’s his responsibility to ensure the huddle doesn’t lack fire or a sense or urgency, and Parker’s intervention should have served as a suitable hint.
The responsibility also falls on Weeden. At age 28, he’s not an average rookie. The Browns are counting on him to lead now, not next month or next year. He’s also got to calm down, deliver mechanically sound throws and strike a balance between taking shots and being careless with the ball.
Richardson looked quick this week during the snippets of practice open to the media. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Aug. 9 and couldn’t hide his rust after missing all four preseason games. If he can produce, the passing attack would be much more likely to fall into line.
There isn’t really a legitimate excuse for the offense to continue to perform as poorly as it did.
The defense is young, too, and unlike the offense, it has key players out with injuries. Still, defensive coordinator Dick Jauron’s men held up their end of the bargain in Week One.
Pat Shurmur is an offensive-minded coach, and he has Brad Childress as his offensive coordinator now. They had months to prepare for the Eagles but fell way short of inspiring. If the offense doesn’t redeem itself against the Bengals — whose defense will be without cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, the 17th overall pick in this year’s draft, and starting weakside linebacker Thomas Howard — Shurmur and Childress will ultimately be to blame.
Parker’s bold move into the offensive huddle shows the frustration of the defense. No one wants to see a divided locker room, especially with incoming owner Jimmy Haslam III watching closely.
It’s only Week Two, and it’s important not to overreact to one game. But at the same time, this season could get ugly in a hurry if the offense doesn’t seize its opportunity to make amends.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.