The Browns fourth quarter defense has been abysmal this season. As the ESPN and NFL analysts love to talk about, the Browns defense has blown two late fourth quarter leads. The fourth quarter woes have been playing themselves out all season long on both sides of the ball. Cleveland's defense has had the opportunities to ice games, yet have come up short. Simply put, they just aren't putting their team in a position to win.
But exactly how bad have they been performing?
The Browns have given up more touchdowns in the final quarter (11) than in any other quarter of football, even the extra quarter that the NFL keeps secret. They've given up more first downs (71) in the fourth quarter than any other quarter. They've given up more passing yards (843) than in any other quarter. They've caused more fistfights between fans (13,492) than in any other quarter. They've had more viewers break their television remote controls in rage (43,885,302) than in any other quarter, which GE is very happy about as there's been an unusually high spike in universal remote sales this quarter.
Opposing quarterbacks are killing Cleveland in the fourth quarter. It seems that for three quarters the opposition has Brandon Weeden and then, suddenly in the fourth quarter, they get Drew Brees. That's not an exaggeration, either. The average rating of opposing quarterbacks throughout the first three quarters is a paltry 74.8. Once the clock hits the final 15 minutes, however, the average opposing QB rating shoots up to a 103.5. Of the eleven different quarterbacks Cleveland has faced this season (Flacco, Dalton twice), six different quarterbacks have had 100+ ratings in the fourth quarter (Flacco, Stafford, Brady, Rodgers, Henne, Tannehill). The other five have had ratings below 71 (Dalton, Tuel, Ponder, Smith, Roethlisberger). There's no middle ground with this defense. This defense is like a box of chocolates, it gets all smushy when under pressure and it's terrible for your health. And if this defense really were a box of Whitman's samplers, Paul Kruger would be the Cherry Cordial chocolate filled with regret.
One problem could be pressure, or the lack thereof. The Browns have only recorded 8 sacks in the fourth quarter this season, the lowest of any quarter. It's not like teams aren't passing the ball in the fourth quarter, either. Opposing teams have attempted 134 passes in the fourth quarter against Cleveland, completing 67.9% of those attempts.
Cleveland just isn't capitalizing. The Browns have held the lead at some point in the fourth quarter in seven games this season, only turning four of those seven games into wins.
The Browns red zone defense is among the worst in the league. They are giving up a touchdown on 65.8% of red zone appearances, which is good for 30th in the NFL. Opponents are scoring, on average, 5.39 points per red zone appearance, good for 31st in the league. They've made some solid improvements in legitimate areas, to be fair. Cleveland is currently ranked 8th in the league in three-and-out drives and 3rd in the league in forced punts per drive. Up to this point, they've been the epitome of a "streaky" defense.
Fans would tell you that there used to be nothing worse than constantly proving to be outmatched, week after week. After seeing the potential in this group and constantly seeing them fail to achieve it, they may have changed their minds.