The League

Dan Parker
Browns Blogger

Dan Parker

DP is a Cleveland Browns' season ticket holder and currently writes for the Cleveland sports site Waiting For Next Year.

Have to Score to Win, Cleveland

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My overall exposure has been limited to the few teams I've seen, but I have would have to say with great bias and pure self-deprecation that if I had to pick one team in the NFL to deem "most likely to go winless in 2009," my own beloved Cleveland Browns would have to be my choice as having the most realistic chance. There's really only one reason, and it reared its ugly head again on Sunday: this team simply cannot score on offense. Forget scoring, they struggle to get first downs. They mustered only 11 against Baltimore (1 via penalty), and most came in the second half after the Ravens were comfortably ahead by 20+ points.

The Browns defense is mediocre at its best; they can stop the run early in games with fairly consistent success, and their secondary -- while largely suspect -- can usually keep teams out of the end zone. It's been classic bend-but-don't-break. However, since the offense can't run the ball with any kind of consistency and has little pass protection on the right side, it can make for some very short drives. Combine those two factors with the fact that Brady Quinn is attempting to cut his teeth running the sometimes-beguiling playcalls of rookie Offensive Coordinator Brian Doboll, and you have a recipe for offensive ineptitude the likes of which I haven't seen since the Browns were in their first and second years as an expansion team.

They've scored one touchdown on offense since week 11 of last season, and it came in pure garbage time (less than 30 seconds left in a game in which they were trailing by 21 at the time against Minnesota). The only other time they've tasted the end zone in 2009 was on a Josh Cribbs punt return, also in week 1. They recovered a fumble at the Broncos' 25 yard line on the opening kickoff in week 2, got down to the 3, and stalled. That was the closest the Browns have been to imposing any kind of offensive will on an opponent thus far.

Couple that offensive "output" with a middling defense that ends up spending most second halves on the field trying to stop teams -- that are usually protecting double-digit leads -- from running all over them, and you have a blueprint for a team that is 0-3 and has lost those three games by a combined point total of 95-29. Granted, the teams the Browns have lost to thus far are a combined 9-0, but Denver (what looked like the only winnable game of the three on paper) is breaking in a new coach, new 3-4 defense, and new quarterback of their own and had no problem pulling away in the second half.

Looking down the schedule, the only real stats one needs to look at in the Browns' opponents is defense. It won't matter if the Browns' opponents don't score too much; not only will they get plenty of chances with the current offense putting up 3-and-outs like it's their job, but it doesn't take much to outscore this offense to begin with. It doesn't get any easier for the Browns in the near future: Cincinnati and their new-look defense come to town on Sunday, which will most likely spell a loss for this offense. After that, they go to Buffalo -- site of their last win back in mid-November of 2008 -- and Pittsburgh, both of whom rank in the top half of the league in scoring defense. A home/away NFC North dust up with the Packers and Bears follows that; Green Bay is the worst scoring defense the Browns will have seen at that point by today's stats, having surrendered 23.0 points per game (tied for 18th in the league with Miami). After their bye week, Baltimore comes calling in what should be another rout.

It is only at that point -- staring down the barrel of an 0-9 start -- that a trip to Detroit looms. There had been potential for a "Winless Bowl For The Ages" on that November Sunday, but as Washington fans now know that will no longer be the case. The Lions have had their struggles, as we all know, but I had the opportunity to see most of their game against Minnesota in week 2 and their offense is still better than Cleveland's by plenty. Detroit's defense has struggled, though matchups with The Drew Brees Experience and Adrian Peterson will do that to just about any team. Honestly, I think it will just come down to which team's defense blinks first in that game.

After the potential slump buster with Detroit, the Browns then must go to Cincinnati, and after that play host to San Diego and Pittsburgh. All three should be losses as these teams currently all stand. So, if you're scoring at home, the Browns will most likely be either 0-13 or 1-12, depending on how the game with Detroit comes out. Here's where going 0-16 will get tricky:

The Browns close at Kansas City, home against Oakland, and home against Jacksonville. Three pretty lousy teams. Granted, Oakland has shown some flashes of improvement, but Kansas City and Jacksonville have both looked pretty bad. It's hard to project how the rosters will look 11 games down the road in an NFL season, as injuries have yet to really take their toll on too many teams. It is, however, not outside the realm of possibility that the Browns will go into their final three games -- all of which look potentially winnable on paper -- with an 0-fer in 13 tries.

What the Lions did last year -- and thank goodness for them, as talking about my Browns going 0-16 would be so much worse had it not finally happened to someone else's team already -- really is astounding. As a colleague of mine at Waiting For Next Year wrote last week, the old adage of "Any Given Sunday" really rings true in the NFL. Couple a key injury with a few breaks here and there, and any team can always beat any team. Heck, our Browns embarrassed then-reigning Super Bowl champion Giants on Monday Night Football at one point last season. Yes, the same team that didn't score an offensive touchdown for its final six games last year. All it takes is one fluke play, one freak injury, or one day where just enough goes right for one team and just enough goes wrong for another.

Do I think any teams will go 0-16 this year? No. If I had to pick though, I'm sad to say my Browns look like the best bet. Let's just hope I don't have to sit in the stadium those last two Sundays praying for a fluke touchdown to stave off some new form of ignominious Cleveland Sports History.

By Dan Parker  |  September 28, 2009; 6:31 AM ET  | Category:  Cleveland Browns Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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