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Shifting focus to back home after dropping the ball on the road against the Atlanta Falcons, there was a lot of external, and likely internal, pressure on the Cleveland Browns. Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Chargers was where Cleveland's season began. If the Browns wanted to show they could stack up against the NFL's elite, especially without Deshaun Watson, this was their chance to prove it.
For most of the game, the Browns were more than proving it. Cleveland had found a balance on offense winning the game for them. Jacoby Brissett and the Browns' receivers were keeping the Chargers honest within the secondary and, in turn, allowed Nick Chubb to wreak havoc on the ground. It felt like Cleveland had victory within reach and was going to improve to 3-2 on the year, keeping them in the mix for first place in the division.
Unfortunately, life sometimes has a cruel way of twisting things against you. If you're a Browns fan, you already know it. Some weeks it's a collapse to the Jets. This week it was Cade York starting to show cracks as a rookie kicker. It was also Brissett opting to throw instead of run when Cleveland was 7 yards short of a first down and turning it over with a costly interception.
"It is just bad decisions late and late throughout the play, and just making good decisions," said Brissett after Sunday's loss. "That was a poor decision by myself. Yes, I saw Amari coming. I know I am better than that, and I just made a bad decision."
“It sucks. It really sucks. That is a pivotal moment in the game," Brissett continued. "Obviously, the ball was in my hands for a reason, and that was not the outcome obviously that I was intending to happen. I am just better than that. I truly am, and I know that. I will be better next time.”
There's no rest for the weary as the Browns now have to gear up and prepare for another opportunity at home against the New England Patriots. Today, we'll be breaking down key takeaways from Cleveland's loss to Los Angeles. They might be able to give some insight on what the Browns can change, especially with rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe likely under center for the Patriots.
It's time to temper expectations about rookie kicker Cade York
When Cleveland selected Cade York out of LSU earlier this spring in the 2022 NFL Draft, they were hoping to finally have consistency at the position. It's something the Browns haven't truly had since Phil Dawson was kicking for them. When York came up clutch against the Carolina Panthers in Week 1, nailing the longest game-winner by a Browns kicker since 1984 and the longest ever by a rookie in NFL history, York reaffirmed Cleveland taking him in the fourth round.
York was known for his accuracy and leg strength in college. So, after his performance against the Panthers, along with attempting, and making, kicks from 60 yards out during practice and warmups, expectations made York seem like the next greatest thing. But, as fans and media continued to put York on a pedestal, he got even closer to the sun. And, much like Icarus, York started to show his cracks and the expectations came crashing down to Earth.
In Week 2 against the New York Jets, York missed a key extra point. Sure, York missing wasn't the reason why Cleveland lost the game but it was part of a team-wide collapse. Unfortunately, it happened again the following week on Thursday night against the Steelers. In the grand scheme of things, it didn't matter much considering the Browns won 29-17. Despite this, in the distance, you could see a very faint red flag start to raise.
It all came to a head on Sunday against Los Angeles. York missed two key field goals in Cleveland's 30-28 loss and one can argue that it was one of the deciding factors. Sure, it wasn't the nail in the coffin for the Browns – all credit goes to Brissett's late-game boner for that one. But, with York showing cracks in his foundation, there should be some concern in Berea.
A good, possibly great, NFL kicker is extremely similar to a golfer or power hitter in baseball. If they start showing the yips and are losing the mental side of the battle, they're a liability on the field. It's totally fine to be excited about York and his potential. This also isn't a segment condemning him or the pick. Rather, it's just a reminder to never deify a rookie in the NFL – especially one selected at a position with tons of options available.
Cleveland shouldn't be too concerned with York right now. Give him the benefit of doubt and hope he lives up to the billing from his college days. But, also maybe let the hype that surrounds him quiet down as well. If not, he could be a waste of a draft pick.
Cleveland Browns rookie kicker Cade York might be human after all based on his showing Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers. Photo credit: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Frustrations keep mounting despite the star power
Brissett's interception was arguably the most frustrating point of the game, and it happened with nearly three minutes left when the Browns trailed by two. He tried to squeeze the pass through traffic in a situation where an incompletion would've likely just yielded a chip-shot field goal from Cade York. Instead, Cleveland drove 73 yards on 12 plays and had no points to show for it.
This is what the Browns signed up for when they went with Brissett when they knew Watson's suspension was inevitable. They were hoping that Brissett could do enough to keep defenses honest with his arm, all while leaning on the running game and a star-studded defensive unit. For the most part, this game was exactly that. Brissett didn't try to do too much and while Cleveland was smashed by Los Angeles on the ground (one of the worst rushing attacks in the league), they made several goal-line stands to prevent the margin from becoming too out of control.
The problem is that this bend-and-sometimes-break philosophy on defense is going to end the season before it ever truly starts for the Browns. Cleveland is lacking at the linebacker position, it's what probably made them trade for Deion Jones. Sure, Jones won't be an absolute, sure-fire answer to the team's defensive woes. But, it's hard to be worse than where they're at now.
That's the frustrating thing in all of this. The Browns have stars all over their defense and yet, they fail to perform on a week-to-week basis. In turn, it's causing heroics from players like Brissett when Brissett shouldn't be making those plays in the first place. It leads to costly interceptions and causes these costly issues to grow in perpetuity.
It's a shame, too since Chubb and Hunt have been great together. In fact, it feels like running the football is the only thing Cleveland is consistent at. Unfortunately, you need more than that to win in the NFL and the Browns may need to do some soul-searching and learn that being an offseason champion doesn't translate to instant on-field success.
Learning how to play a complete game
Listen, the Browns are littered with grown men all over their roster who are true experts of their craft. There's a reason why I'm sitting at my desk writing about them while they put their bodies on the line any given Sunday.
But, it doesn't take a football expert to realize that Cleveland has yet to truly play a complete game of football from wire to wire. Mistakes that surfaced in the first four games, including the two they won, are not being corrected. The Browns continue to commit undisciplined penalties, defensive players miss too many tackles and Brissett continues to crumble in crucial situations. In all three of their losses, Cleveland has failed to maintain a fourth-quarter lead.
The list goes on and on and when they lose, it's easy to dogpile on what's wrong with the Browns. No, firing head coach Kevin Stefanski or defensive coordinator Joe Woods is not the answer. That's just slapping on a piece of scotch tape to a bursting dam and calling it completely repaired.
Like we dived into in the last segment, the Browns need to break down tape and do some serious soul-searching. They need to learn how to play a complete game of football. There's an incredibly small margin for error and right now, Cleveland is on the precipice of having it all come crumbling down.
They have to find a way to move past it all and shift focus to New England next Sunday.
Featured image credit: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at email@example.com. He can also be found three to five times a week on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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