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|By Mike Young|
A sudden flood of success hit Cleveland in 2016 thanks to an NBA championship and a World Series title that almost accompanied it.
Clearly, the city’s run of sports triumph has yet to rub off on the 0-9 Browns. The franchise has hit depths the Cavs nor Indians could rightfully imagine plummeting to these days.
The negativity about the team has reached the point where fans and media wonder if the Browns could go 0-16.
“We’re not going to go 0-16,” linebacker Christian Kirksey said after Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys, via Cleveland.com. “That’s for a fact. We’re not doing that. Things are going to get on a roll, and we’ve just got to keep fighting.”
It sounds like Kirksey is trying to convince himself more than others.
What went right last week
This was the Browns’ worst effort of the season. Even the 33-13 loss to the Patriots came with the built-in excuse of Charlie Whitehurst and a slight amount of competitiveness in the first quarter.
For what it’s worth – and it’s not much – Cleveland’s only touchdown drive was well-executed. Cody Kessler executed a near-flawless two-minute drill, completing five of six passes and hitting Terrelle Pryor for a touchdown to cap it off.
What went wrong last week
In previous games, the Browns’ young pass rush provided a small glimmer of hope. That was not the case against the Cowboys’ elite offensive line. New linebacker Jamie Collins registered the team’s only quarterback hit of the game and it was not a sack.
The Cleveland defense couldn’t get off the field, either. Dallas was a combined 10-for-14 on third and fourth down conversions.
The Browns cannot afford to continue shuffling offensive linemen. They’ve admirably tried to hold it together despite offseason departures and injuries, but it was a mess against the Cowboys.
Cam Erving – who earns nothing but contempt from fans every week – was ejected after tossing Cowboys’ defensive lineman David Irving’s helmet. That meant John Greco had to slide over to center again, and Alvin Bailey had to replace Greco at right guard. Bailey allowed three sacks, according to Pro Football Focus.
In case you didn’t see it, here’s why Erving earned an ejection:
Browns’ Cam Erving Rips Off Cowboys’ David Irving’s Helmet And Throws It At Him, Both Players Get Ejected pic.twitter.com/31PDbnKBp9
— SportsCast (@SportsCast_THN) November 6, 2016
Based on the “Zeke” chants every time he touched the ball, Ezekiel Elliott was the clear star in this game. There were a lot of Cowboys fans at FirstEnergy Stadium but they weren’t the only ones rooting on the former Buckeye.
Elliott ran the ball 18 times for 92 yards and scored two touchdowns. He’s still the NFL’s leading rusher and has a total of 891 rushing yards this season.
The Cowboys may have too many injuries in the back end of their defense and may not generate enough of a consistent pass rush to make up for it. Still, they’re the clear NFC East favorites and – barring a complete meltdown caused by a quarterback controversy – could make a deep run in the playoffs.
What does this mean moving forward
As far as the Browns go, they need to keep Kessler upright and see what they have in him. The most -optimistic outlook I can offer is that he’s a stopgap measure while a 2017 first round quarterback waits to assume the starting quarterback role.
On the other side of the ball, Carl Nassib, Emmanuel Ogbah and Collins need to show they can generate pressure on opposing QBs. Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett could be the top pick in the draft, and if the Browns take him, they could have the makings of a fearsome pass rush.
First thoughts on next game and opponent
The Browns played the Ravens in week two. Cleveland led that game by 20 in the first quarter, before Baltimore blocked an extra point and ran it back for two points. That started a Ravens comeback that inevitably led to a 25-20 win for the former Browns.
A national audience gets to see the rematch in Baltimore. Remember the last time these two teams squared off in prime time?
Believe it or not, the Browns are almost completely healthy heading into Thursday night.
Only cornerback Jamar Taylor (groin) has been officially ruled out. Pryor (hamstring) was limited in practice until Wednesday, when he fully participated. Corner Joe Haden (groin), defensive lineman Jamie Meder (knee) and wideout Ricardo Louis all fully participated in Wednesday’s practice, as well.
For the Ravens, linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot), tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh) and corner Shareece Wright (thigh) are out. Linebacker Kamalei Correa (thigh) and offensive lineman Marshal Yanda have not practiced all week. Correa is still questionable while Yanda is doubtful.