Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 12/18/12
Before Week 15, there were eight victims of the NFL grind, and with arguable exceptions, they were all declared 'dead men walking' quite some time ago.After Week 15's slate of games, there would be another quartet of lifeless masses heaped upon the Football Nation Morgue, all with just a smidgen more optimism than that original group of tagged-and-bagged cases.As these final weeks play out, the air of frustration surrounding the final batch of departed souls will be thick enough to cut with a Ginsu knife, as that group will have collapsed at a critical pass.Quite a stark contrast to the first few to get wheeled in here.As for this week's collection of cadavers, they fell somewhere in the middle: optimistic at times, but never with blinders.And speaking of blind, maybe a few of em checked off the 'eyes' box on their organ donor cards....Subject: Cleveland BrownsDate of Death: December 16, 2012Record at Time of Death: 5-9Contributing Factors to Death:1. The Weeden GambleThe Quarterback Class of 2012 is getting much early ado, thanks to the clutch abilities of first pick Andrew Luck, and the world-class athleticism of second pick Robert Griffin III.Beyond that duo, there are other successes of varying degree. Third rounder Russell Wilson has Seattle in position to contend, the Redskins' other rookie Kirk Cousins has shown flashes, and Nick Foles is poised to take over as Philadelphia's starter going forward.Unlike that last trio, Brandon Weeden was a first round pick, taken 22nd overall via a pick acquired from Atlanta. It was a questionable move, given that Weeden would turn 29 in October, and his backup, Colt McCoy, is three years younger, with two more years of pro experience.Weeden's played every snap of this mostly-down season, and his numbers certainly pale to Luck and Griffin, much in the way that Elway, Marino, and Kelly dwarf Todd Blackledge.Weeden's rating is 72.37 (14 TD, 17 INT), which is thirty-second best in the league. Luck is merely a spot ahead with a 75.5 rating, but those fourth-quarter victories make up for statistical anomalies.Put it this way: in Cleveland's five wins, wins of them came from holding the opponent to 17 or less points. Who's to say how bad they'd be if not for Dick Jauron's underrated defense.2. Running StrugglesAfter striking out with Peyton Hillis' down year in 2011, the Browns committed itself to turning the running game around for 2012. They traded up one spot in the Draft to select Alabama's Trent Richardson, the highest running back selection since Reggie Bush in 2006.The greatest running back that ever lived, one Jim Brown, publicly declared Richardson to be "ordinary", which begged the question: is Brown speaking as just another bitter icon, or is his assessment of Richardson's talents accurate?Hillis averaged 3.6 yards a carry in 2011, with 587 yards and 3 touchdowns, in 10 games played. That sound we heard the Madden Curse laughing maniacally.Richardson hasn't fared much better. Although he has more yards (897) and touchdowns (11, a Browns rookie record), he has a lower YPC average (3.5), and that's on more carries a game (Richardson gets 18.4 carries to Hillis' 16.1 a year ago).The Browns' 97.4 rushing YPG as a team is eighth worst in the league. Of the seven other teams, four are also eliminated: San Diego, Jacksonville, Oakland, and Arizona.3. No Clutch on OffenseSo below-average quarterback play and an inconsistent running game meld together to provide this next grim reality: the Browns have the third worst third-down offense in the NFL.Cleveland converts just 31.1 percent of its third downs, or 61 of 196 attempts. Only one team (Arizona) has had more attempts and made less of them (52 of 203, or 25.6 percent).And 259 of Cleveland's points came on offensive touchdowns and kicking (the other 21 points came on 2 pick-sixes and a return). Take away Phil Dawson's 26 made field goals, and the offense is responsible for 69.9 percent of the scoring.By comparison, the Patriots lead the league in third down percentage (49.5 percent) and offensive touchdown/kicking points (450 of the team's 506 points). Take away 26 made field goals, and New England's offense accounts for 82.7 percent of that scoring.That's why that pressure you feel when you see a third down play is quite palpable.To read previously written autopsies for the Eagles, Titans, Chiefs, and others, click here
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