I’m very grateful for the win. Let’s be very clear about that. We will take them however we can get them. But this was not a very pretty win. The Browns struggled to get anything going on offense, especially in the first half. If it had not been for a few excellent plays by the defense, this one would have turned out much differently.
How bad was it in the first half? As I sat with a buddy watching the game we began to joke about second and 8. It seemed like the gameplan was to get 2 yards on first down, and another 2 or 3 on second down, leaving third and 5. The Browns ran 11 first down plays in the half, one of which was a kneel down at the end of the quarter. So of those 10 plays, exactly 1 went for more than 3 yards. (That was a 13 yard rumble by Hillis on the first play of the second possession.) Here are the results from first down in that half-
0,13,2,1,0,1,2,0,3,0 for an average of 2.2 yards on first down. Or like we joked- second and 8.
In the second half, the Browns managed to find a few more big plays on first down, especially to Watson over the middle. They completed a 20,22 and 15 yard pass on first down. Of the 13 First down plays ran in the second half 7 went for 3 yards or fewer. The Browns averaged over 5 yards per first down play in the second half (excluding kneel downs).
One of the new buzz phrases this year is ‘behind the chains’. It refers of course to finding yourself in down and distance situations which aren’t favorable. Second and 5 is a great down and distance. The playbook is wide open and the defense is on their heels. Third and 5 is a bad down and distance. 80% of the time you can expect a pass, and so the defense can adjust. The Dolphins wisely brought pressure on these downs and the Browns were generally helpless to convert.
Cleveland faced 14 third down situations against the Dolphins. On 11 of those third downs the Browns had to get 5+ yards. 11 of 14! That is not setting yourself up for success. And how many third downs did the Browns convert? Exactly 2. For the game. I don’t know how many games you are going to win converting 2 third downs. Thank you defense.
The script is written on trying to stop the Browns. If you can stack the line and get to Hillis before he gets to the second level of the defense you have a good shot to force the Browns into a passing situation. With Delhomme under center, the best way to win those downs is to bring pressure. If you can force Jake to move out of the pocket even the slightest bit it rattles him. If he reads the blitz he will dump it off short where you make a sure tackle. Suddenly the Browns are punting.
Brian Daboll is going to have to find ways to change things up and get the ball down field on first down. Additionally, Hillis is going to be most effective when the opposition doesn’t know if it’s a run or pass down.
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