By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Five takeaways from the Browns’ 27-6 loss to the Indianapolis Colts …
1. Is the offense as bad as it looked? No way. But it’s going to take a small leap of faith to believe that. The flashbacks to last season were unavoidable. Dismal blandness on offense has become such a common sight in Cleveland that the gut reaction to the unproductive evening in Indianapolis was, “Great. Here we go again.” I have a feeling that Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner knew exactly what they were doing. They wanted to fine-tune Trent Richardson a little more and conceal just about everything they plan to install for the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 8. Even though Davone Bess was out and Josh Gordon is facing a two-game suspension, we saw absolutely no Travis Benjamin on offense. We saw no screen game, no variety of pass distribution and very few deep balls, even though Brandon Weeden was not under siege from the pass rush. I went into this game thinking it would be a good thing for the Browns to lay an egg. I felt it would benefit them more than another near-perfect outing from the first-team offense. Mission accomplished.
2. The plan to manage Richardson for a healthy start to the real season has been executed beautifully. Richardson ran with energy and a quickness we never saw last year. In his second practice game, Richardson carried seven times for 31 yards, with a long run of 12, and gained another 10 yards on a pass in the flat on which he made a cutback that would make Dion Lewis blush with envy. After the game, Richardson had the proverbial look of the cat that swallowed the canary. “We’re gonna be good,” Richardson told me. “And Brandon’s gonna be great.”
3. The pro personnel department is under the gun to acquire a running back. I believe Richardson will be the sturdy, dependable player the coaches are counting on. But if something does happen to him and he is out for any period of time, the dynamics of the offense are blown to smithereens. The injury to Lewis was a big blow. Backups Chris Ogbonnaya and Brandon Jackson are decent players, but they don’t have the quickness, speed or power to gain the respect of defenses. If Richardson is out, the burden on offense will fall entirely on Weeden. The Browns have to find a backup running back with a redeemable physical skill which Turner could exploit. Lewis had that.
4. The secondary is still a concern, but Buster Skrine’s improvement is real and exciting. Skrine made two pass breakups on tight coverage on Reggie Wayne – plays on which he would have drawn flags last year. Now, Wayne did amass seven catches for 79 yards in the first half, but not all were on Skrine. In the regular season, Joe Haden will shadow every opponent’s top receiver. That didn’t happen in Indy, and Andrew Luck exploited some obvious communication problems among the secondary and linebackers, as a result. In my opinion, Skrine has earned a starting job over Chris Owens, who missed his second game. Skrine is a surer tackler and is finally trusting his speed and quickness in coverage. Owens will see a lot of time in nickel defenses. I will say this: if any of the Browns’ top three cornerbacks miss time with injuries, it will be a huge concern. Rookie Leon McFadden, who missed about 10 days and two games with a strained groin muscle, is not ready to be competitive.
5. Punter Spencer Lanning showed the coaches something. Punters are like quarterbacks and cornerbacks – they need to have instant amnesia and forget about their bad plays. Lanning struggled on his first two punts, for 31 yards and 29. Knowing his roster spot probably hung in the balance of the game, Lanning responded with punts of 65, 50, 60, 56 and 36. His gross average after the two bad kicks was 53.4 yards. But can he kick the ball true with the Lake Erie winds howling in November and December? Nobody will know until then.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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