Technically speaking, the season isn’t over for the Cleveland Browns after their 39-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins. But, it’s at least starting to feel that way as the Browns are 3-6 overall and sit at rock bottom in the AFC North. Sure, Deshaun Watson comes back in a few weeks and you could make an argument that Cleveland could have a shot at making a run at the playoffs. But, regardless of being a cellar dweller and a razor thin margin for error, the Browns never really had a serious shot to begin with this season.
A lot of that can be attributed to Cleveland openly showing how low they were willing to go to acquire Watson and, in turn, knowing that getting Watson would result in him being suspended for the majority of this season. Mind you, the acquisition of Watson shouldn’t be viewed solely through the lens of this season. But, in the moment, it’s understandable why those within the Browns organization and the fanbase surrounding them outside are frustrated with how Sunday’s game went. Cleveland was carrying a ton of positive momentum after beating up on the in-state rival Cincinnati Bengals on Halloween night. Considering that they also had an extra week of rest on top of that, it felt like while the odds were pressed against them, the Browns at least had a chance against a very talented Dolphins team.
To open up the game, things went almost perfectly for Cleveland. Four plays, 53-yards and a touchdown gave the Browns a vibe that the Bengals win was the winds of change blowing into their sails. Immediately after, the Dolphins responded and showed that they had no issue marching down the field and showing why they’re one of the best young teams in the league. Sure, it took a few more plays than Cleveland to reach the endzone. But, when Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa connected with fullback Alec Ingold for the score, any positive momentum the Browns cobbled together came to a screeching halt.
For context: through the first three quarters of the game, the Dolphins only possessed the ball six times on offense. Four of those possessions resulted in touchdowns. One resulted in a field goal. The only one that was a failure was when Miami turned it over on downs deep within Cleveland territory. Despite the strong start to the game, the Browns just were unable to keep up with the Dolphins and, in the most Magic Johnson way to summarize it, it’s not possible to win if you don’t match an opponent in scoring. Cleveland didn’t score after their opening touchdown until they connected on a field goal in the third quarter that… trimmed the deficit from 17 to 14 against Miami.
All throughout the game the Dolphins imposed their will on offense and dared the Browns to try and match them. On the ground, Miami had a season-high 195 rushing yards and came into the game averaging 87 per game. Cleveland, meanwhile, only had 112 rushing yards in the game and were held to only 30 in the first half, despite boasting the best rushing attack in the NFL. Instead, the Dolphins dared the Browns to throw the football all while comfortably controlling Cleveland’s rushing attack. Sure, Jacoby Brissett, Donovan Peoples-Jones and the Browns passing attack responded to the challenge with 212 passing yards and a touchdown. But, Cleveland doesn’t hit its apex offensively if the running game isn’t the primary feature in the attack. On Sunday, the Dolphins figured that out and more or less cruised to victory with balance everywhere on offense and victory felt all but certain.
That certainty was locked up due to the Browns, unfortunately, reverting to bad habits on defense once again. Clearly, Miami is too talented to be totally contained on offense. But, when you add in Cleveland’s all too familiar issues with poor tackling, players out of position and far too predictable formations schemed up by Joe Woods and his staff. It first was a problem in September and early October and at this point, it doesn’t seem like it’ll be going away any time soon. What was once considered a stable feature in what was shaping up to be a fairly tumultuous year disappointed once again. Sure, there’s no real depth on defense for the Browns outside of at cornerback. But, when the issues are so rampant and at a fundamental level, things are in need of a deep and dramatic makeover. That probably means that Woods and his staff will be given a pink slip. But, that’s down the line and an in-season firing of Woods isn’t going to fix what’s wrong with Cleveland on defense.
Sure, firing Woods could send a message from the top down. But, at the end of the day, will the message even be heard by the Browns or their players? Probably not and that’s frustrating no matter how you feel about this team. Especially when the team had extra time to come in properly prepared to try and keep clawing and scrapping toward a playoff berth while waiting for Watson to come back. Instead, it’s another wasted year on the shores of Lake Erie and different winds of change could be coming as well.
In the history of the league, only two teams have ever made the playoffs with three wins after nine games so Cleveland’s chances going forward appear bleak. Sure, they’ll likely hit another gear on offense when Watson is back under center. But, Watson can’t play defense and fix the myriad of issues on that side of the field. There are still eight games to go until the end of the season and then the Browns will have to answer several uncomfortable questions about where things stand and where they need to head next. Right now, it’s clear Cleveland misjudged where they stand talent-wise across the board and a lot of the same issues they had last season have only gotten worse this year.
Those issues became even more clear when watching how the Dolphins operate on both sides of the ball on Sunday and now, the onus should now be to take several pages out of their book. If Cleveland believes Watson is their franchise quarterback, they need to do more to support him in terms of playmaking at the receiver position. Not only that but, the Browns need to empty the clip in terms of assets in order to bolster their defense at key positions as well so that they don’t have to lean so heavily on Watson on any given Sunday. Again, that’s for this offseason but, Miami also gives a good perspective on where Cleveland needs to go next in order to be taken seriously as a playoff threat. Until they can find their purpose, it’s just another lost season for the Browns. There’s always next year, right?
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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