Browns unable to score touchdowns in home stadium
The Associated Press
BEREA — There’s a joke floating around Cleveland that goes: Why is Browns Stadium a safe place to go during a tornado? Because there’s never a touchdown there.
It’s not that funny, but it’s somewhat true.
Cleveland hasn’t scored a TD in two straight home games, a 131-minute drought dating to Oct. 2. Since Colt McCoy’s touchdown pass to tight end Benjamin Watson during garbage time of a 31-13 loss to Tennessee, kicker Phil Dawson has accounted for all 18 points scored at home by the Browns, who have gone 25 consecutive drives without taking the ball across the goal line.
“It’s frustrating,” McCoy said Wednesday. “We spend a lot of time working on the red zone. We dedicated a whole day to it, so we’ve just got to find a way to get down there and punch it in.”
The winless Indianapolis Colts are the only team with a current longer drought (29 drives) than the Browns, who made four trips inside the St. Louis 20-yard line last week but came away with just four field goals by Dawson. It’s almost as if someone has posted a “Dead End” sign near the goal line.
It’s not like the Browns (3-6) have had many chances, either. Cleveland has only had 18 possessions inside the red zone, the league’s second-lowest total. The worst figure belongs to the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6), who will visit the Browns on Sunday in what on paper is shaping up to be a colossal dud.
There are obvious reasons for the Browns’ scoring struggles. A new offensive system, injuries, a young quarterback and few dependable playmakers have contributed to Cleveland’s inability to reach the end zone. There’s been a trickle-down effect they can’t seem to stop or reverse.
“How do you bust free from the touchdown drought? Scoring touchdowns,” said Watson, doing his best to explain the deficiency.
“How do you score touchdowns? Execution in the red zone. How do you execute in the red zone? Execution in practice. How do you execute in practice? Pay attention in the meetings. It goes all the way down.
“It’s not a one-trick thing that just happens and you don’t just get lucky in the red zone. When you see teams score a lot of points, it’s because they’re precise, it’s because they make plays, it’s because stuff isn’t always open and they somehow manage a way to get in there. It takes a total team effort. And a lot of times it’s just that — effort.”
The Browns can’t score touchdowns early, late or often. Amazingly, they have not scored a TD in the first or third quarters of any game.
Cleveland’s offensive players are aware of the miserable scoring stats, and would like to fix them. However, there’s not much they can do but keep working at making things better.
“At some point, it’s important not to dwell on it,” Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas said. “Sometimes when you look at certain statistics that are not going your way, coaches and players can make it more than it is. Not that it’s not a big deal, but when you think about it so much, it kind of becomes a mind block rather than going out one play at a time and taking care of business.
“The natural response is to get tight and nervous once you get down in the red zone, and that’s where you start missing throws or you get penalties or you’re afraid to make a mistake. You can’t play that way.”
With his offense stuck in a rut, Browns coach Pat Shurmur, pulling double duty as Cleveland’s offensive coordinator and play caller in his first season, expanded the playbook last week against the Rams with mostly positive results. The Browns caught St. Louis off guard with a wildcat formation, two handoffs to wide receivers and a nifty, double-reverse pass for 21 yards from McCoy to backup quarterback Seneca Wallace.
However, the trick play turned out to be illegal because of two forward passes.
On the play, wide receiver Josh Cribbs was supposed to hand the ball to Wallace, but he flipped it toward the line of scrimmage, which would have been fine except another pass was thrown.
Shurmur said he knew the play was illegal as it happened. The Browns were not penalized and the Rams did not challenge the ruling.
“The first exchange (Cribbs to Wallace) was practiced all week as a handoff. Three times,” Shurmur said. “In the game, it got flipped. That kind of stuff happens all the time. I was well aware what happened. And, I know the rules.”
Shurmur also knows his team needs to score to win, but he didn’t have much of an answer when asked how the Browns can end their touchdown drought.
“Score touchdowns,” Shurmur said, adding he isn’t worried about the lack of scoring killing his team’s confidence. “I don’t worry about that. You just keep working to get better. These guys don’t have a problem with confidence. We’ve just have to go out and get it done.”
Last week, the Browns made four trips inside the red zone, but only got as close as the 4-yard line. That’s when they lined up for Dawson’s 22-yard field goal attempt he missed after a botched snap threw off his timing and St. Louis defensive lineman James Hall penetrated the middle to deflect it wide.
The Browns realize they can’t always count on the reliable Dawson to save them every week, not with the wind and weather turning November and December kicks into adventures. They need to get into the end zone and score touchdowns, which seems simplistic but has been anything but easy.
“I’m surprised,” Watson said. “We play offense to score points. We’re all disappointed with ourselves. We’re disappointed we’re not putting points on the board to help our defense and to win. It feels great to move the ball down field, but at the end of the day, it’s about putting points on the board. Do we want to change that? Yes.
“We all have questions why and we’re working on solutions, but I don’t have them right now.”