April 23, 2014

Browns Really Lost on Four Drives of Futility

I prefer to take a constructive look at the Browns’ loss to the Bengals on Sunday.  This means I am not going to talk about the first quarter penalty-fest.  What’s the point?  There is no defense.  The coaches and players all know it is unacceptable and after that quarter the Browns committed four penalties the rest of the way.  On top of that, the Browns responded by taking the lead into halftime.  They responded to their mistakes with two unanswered touchdowns.

I am also not going to spend much time talking about the boneheaded play where the Bengals took the lead.  There isn’t anything constructive to add.  It can’t happen.  It shouldn’t happen.  It is a failure both on the field and on the sidelines.  Instead, I want to talk about the four drives that occurred between the Browns taking a four point lead in the third quarter and including the one after A.J. Green’s go-ahead touchdown.  To me, those four drives are the place where the most constructive criticism – and hopefully progress – can be made.

The Browns kicked a field goal after a ten play, 50 yard drive that gave Phil Dawson a chippy from three yards out. Browns led Cincy 17-13.  Phil Dawson then kicked the ball deep, Buster Skrine made a beautiful tackle and the Bengals started from their own 9 yard line.  The Bengals moved the ball two yards as Phil Taylor drew an illegal use of hands penalty on the Cincy offensive line and the Bengals were forced to punt.  Josh Cribbs returned the ball eight yards to the Bengals’ 44 yard line to start the first drive that I wanted to talk about.

Drive 1 – The Browns started on the Cincy 44 and had a very good chance to at least get into Phil Dawson range, but they appeared completely out of sync.  If Greg Little didn’t draw a pass interference penalty on 3rd and 6, this drive would have looked even worse.  Peyton Hillis had a single four yard run.  McCoy was incomplete three times. Josh Cribbs’ end-around was sniffed out for a three yard loss.  The Browns had a chance from inside Cincy’s territory and blew it completely.  You never know when these types of opportunities will occur.  They aren’t the norm.  Good teams don’t waste them.

It was a close play on the punt with Josh Cribbs touching his left elbow in the end zone, but the Browns utterly wasted an opportunity to get into field goal range or win an extreme field position battle as McGee netted 24 yards for his punting efforts.  Cincy started at their own 20.  With Gradkowski on the field, the Bengals ran Cedric Benson five times in the next seven plays and the Bengals punted from the 50 yard line.

Drive 2 – Hardesty ran for no gain, then Colt McCoy found Evan Moore in space for 16 yards out to the 41.  Then Colt McCoy and the Browns’ offense choked.  After a one yard Hardesty run, Colt McCoy took a sack and fumbled, though the Browns recovered.  McCoy followed that up with a delay of game penalty that brought up 3rd and 17 from the Cleveland 34.  Not very good odds of converting 3rd and 17 on your own side of the field.  An incompletion led to another unimpressive Richmond McGee 38 yard punt.  The Browns self-destructed a bit on this drive, but the desperation should have been growing as they clung to the four point lead.

Bengals ride Benson for two plays and 18 yards before inexplicably relying on Bruce Gradkowski’s arm.  Two incompletions brings a Bengals 42 yard punt to the Cleveland 11 yard line.

Drive 3 –  Colt McCoy found Josh Cribbs on first down for 13 yards to give the Browns breathing room out to their own 24.  The Browns seemed to have some rhythm going with Peyton Hillis running and Colt McCoy finding Greg Little for 12 yards on a 3rd and 2 play.  And then the Browns seemed to get lost.  In the next three plays Colt McCoy and Peyton Hillis combined for -9 yards in two runs and a pass.  The Browns had the lead, but in three successive drives had failed to build on the small four point margin.  Add on the fact that Richmond McGee gave the Browns one of his worst punts of the day – 28 yards to the Cincy 38 – and they had absolutely no momentum despite the fact that they had the lead and still had 17 unanswered points.

At some point if you have a lead that is less than one touchdown and you fail to build on it, the momentum seems to shift from the team with the lead to the team that hasn’t been put away yet.  Maybe it is just something that happens here in Cleveland, but I know you all felt it yesterday. You all know what happened next with A.J. Green and the Bengals snapping it before the Browns even thought about being ready.

Drive 4 –  The Browns started from their own 21 now trailing by a field goal 20-17.  With their backs now up against the wall with 4:28 remaining in the game, the Browns needed to respond and they didn’t.  Four straight incompletions including an especially desperate looking long throw to Mohamed Massaquoi on 3rd and 10 made the Browns look like a video game team that had no idea how to beat the computer.

So, what’s the conclusion?  Nothing concrete just yet, but the Browns appeared to lose a lot of rhythm.  There were a lot of faces in and out of the game on offense.  Most say the Browns don’t have enough weapons.  While I think that is true, I also found that the Browns appeared to be trying to use too many at times.  Massaquoi, Robiskie, Little, Cribbs, Moore and Watson were all out there at times for McCoy.  Maybe the Browns need to work on developing a more concise gameplan with less personnel in order to increase chemistry and efficiency.  We’ll see, but that is what I am thinking right this second.

What do you think?

 

  • Scott

    I agree wholeheartedly. To many squandered opportunities in the middle of the game with the Browns seemed to have momentum. Lack of rhythm really killed many of the drives.

    It is funny how most people feel that punters are really not an important part of a football team. Usually an afterthought. But it is amazing how much of an effect they can on the outcome depending on whether they are good or bad. Wow, I would say this brought back memories of Derrick Frost, but I actually think he was better. He usually only shanked it about once per game, not 3 or more times.

  • mgbode

    great summary here. I really felt that the loss is on McCoy as much as the defense for that brain-fart.

    he had so many opportunities to extend the lead (as you have noted several of them above), but he failed to lead them to points. while, there are obviously other factors at work besides the QB-play, he is the biggest factor and he did not deliver in week1.

    hopefully, he plays better as the season goes along.

  • Twotondawg

    About that field goal drive. 1st and goal from the 4. Run, pass, pass. Not what I want to see the Browns do. We have Peyton Hillis! Theres a reason he got the Madden cover.

  • Chris

    That one defensive screw up (though it was huge) didn’t lose the game. You’re absolutely right. The Brown’s failure to get up by more than a touchdown all game lost the game.

    Cleveland was really clicking for a few series… but for most of the game it was hard to watch.

  • Harv 21

    Not ready to lay this on Colt. He did miss Little on a wide open turn-in but wasn’t horribly inaccurate and had no turnovers. He was under way too much pressure considering the level of competition and the long completion on the dead run to MoMass before getting crushed was freakin’ heroic. Looked to me that receivers aren’t consistently open, and don’t exactly fight for position or the ball (what is up with Evan Moore’s croc arms on deep routes?).

    Also, have to mention one Cribbs play. He is a truly swell ST player, but if you can catch and down the ball at the 4 it’s a needless gamble to let it bounce again. Crossed the thin line between cajones and boneheadedness. You can psyche a shaky QB into a turnover down there. Maybe not the ultimate difference but maybe another symptom of lack of discipline so far. He knows better.

    OK, I’m done, it’s one game.

  • Wally

    I miss Reggie Hodges for sure….agree, Frost was terrible, but that was a sad performance yesterday. Not sure if the line was unimpressive, or Colt was just holding on to the ball too long. Thought went to the pass too often – Hardesty and Hillis both didn’t look bad. Not too be too predictable, but could’ve used some more 2nd and 5′s. Got into predictable 3rd and longs and Colt tried to force it. Pretty frustrating – the Bengals may not win another game this season.

  • AMC

    I blame the playcalling as much if not more than the players. Twotondawg got it exactly right – that playcalling on first and goal from the 4 was atrocious. The two pass play calls were particularly bad: the first was that AWFUL fade pattern to the back corner which works, what, maybe 20% of the time? I hate that call because the QB has to get rid of the ball before they even know if the coverage is good or the receiver has good position. The second pass involved a stationary Colt McCoy in the pocket also. One of McCoy’s best attributes is his ability to make plays on the run. Down in goalline situations where it is more difficult for receivers to get open with a small field, being able to move and force the defense to adjust is a huge asset and Shurmur failed to use it. If the Browns score a TD there it’s 21-13 and even if the AJ Green TD still happens the Bengals have to convert a 2 point conversion just for the tie. The Browns inability to score on any drives after the FG was obviously decisive, but I thought the failure to get 7 points there was the turning point in the game.

    Throughout the game, both when the Browns were winning and when they were behind it seemed like too many passes were being thrown to receivers who were not in a position to make a 1st down. McCoy is accurate enough to hit guys on routes more than 5 yards down the field, and yet when the Browns fell behind, it seemed like Shurmur wanted to dink and dunk 5 yards at a time down the field.

    In addition to the punter being miserable, you also can’t ignore how poorly the offensive line played giving little time to Colt and opening up few holes for Hillis. They definitely looked like a cobbled together unit.

  • http://twitter.com/jdean330 Jacob Dean

    We need to cut ways with Robo. We need to stop letting Cribbs be in anything but 3rd receiver. Little and Mo Mass both have the tools to be our WRs with Evan Moore and Watson being our go to guys for third down conversions. LETS NOT FORGET HILLIS!!!! What happened to the screen plays of Hillis catching the ball and running. Shurmur never let Hillis get going. I think we were a victim of our own mistakes more than the Bengals success. Here is to looking forward to a win next week…

  • Ron

    Offensive Line! The right side continues to be a problem,and now with the demise of the Browns LG they just will not make it. Tony G complains about spending a high draft pick on the OL, but now it’s really necessary. No running game will put too much pressure on McCoy.

  • Brendon

    I know he’s not on the offense, but how about Joe FREAKIN’ Haden!

  • B-bo

    Colt McCoy needs to learn the lesson of when to throw the ball away, and he needs to learn it soon. At least one of the sacks he took knocked us out of FG range.

  • Kevin

    Actually I agree with you. To a certain degree. I think that one player who should be out of the rotation now is Robiskie. It’s the 3rd year and nothing has changed. He was non existent and I don’t see how that can change. Cribbs was useful at WR so let’s Give him the starting job alongside massaquoi who showed some play making ability even though he missed training camp. Little seems to be what we expected: Raw but there is something there but for now maybe let’s not give him so many reps. Watson and Moore looked good.

    So really there is just robo who is expendable so what I’m getting at is that the coaching staff needs to establish a real hierarchy among those players.

    Also something you didn’t mention is the poor – to stay polite- play of our o-line. I know there has been a lot of injuries but I’m not sire McCoy got one nice pocket all game. Maybe on the Moore td otherwise he made plays with his legs. Also I think the running game wasnt at his best as a result of that pb on the o line.

  • NIKKO

    Brendon….Haden definitely was one of the few real bright spots for the Brownies. Can’t remember how many tip/deflections he had, but it was a bunch. He’s the real deal!

  • Nicky Z

    Agreed. The Browns’ wide receivers are woeful and Peyton Hillis needs to be given the ball more.

  • crowsfoot

    If I had the chance to exchange rosters with the Bengals, I would do it in a minute. From the young ,developing quarterback to the big defensive ends, and with everything between, the Bengals are the better team.

  • Bernie Quasar

    Theres that awful intangible 4th quarter “sinking” feeling that has plagued the browns last season and beyond. I think we can all relate: its that gut feeling that the browns will lose and for me it creeps in anytime we’re leading by less than 6 points with 5 minutes to go in the 4th quarter. Don’t know how or why I arrive at this feeling … oh wait: cite all of last season. Ouch.

    You can blame play calling, and there has been much discussion on that already. I’ll still take shurmur over daboll any day. Noticeably missing from this (entire) game was McCoys and company’s fierce determined two minute drill attitude. Where was the confidence? I hope these are just growing pains adjusting to a new offensive scheme, but from the looks of game one, the browns are missing that intangible “hard nosed” spark that gave them a fighting chance and a few good upsets last season. Yikes.

  • -bobby-

    I think Cribbs needs to start at WR. He is the only one who can find a way to get open and bail McCoy out. MoMass will be alright for now, but unless he can find a way to get the ball more (probably by you know, getting open) then mine as well get Little some action (later in the season). I dont think Little is ready to start over MoMass yet, but once he gets more into the game I could see him getting there.

    As for Hillis, he needs to get outside more. Once he gets moving it takes more then 1 to get him down. As much of a bulldozer he is, no one is getting through a narrow whole with 2 DL and a LB ready to fill it. (Swing him out behind Joe or the RT).

    And for the gl failure, I think if they pound it 3 times and dont get in people are going to complain and 2nd guess anyways. If we come down with the ball its a great playcall and finally we pass in the RZ.

  • BuckeyeDawg

    I will not complain or second guess. You have the best LT in the game, one of the bast centers in the game, and Peyton Hillis. Pound it in. Go for it on 4th if you have to. No way Hillis doesn’t get 4 yards on 4 plays.

  • TikiHat

    I’m chalking up the First Quarter to Buck Fever, the Yips, Nerves, or whatever you want to call it. We were warned by many experts that the Lockout was going to hurt the Browns more than most teams. The were right. We weren’t ready to play at the start of the game. There’s no way to sugarcoat that.

    They got over their nerves by the 2nd. Our offense hit a rhythm, and we caught a glimpse of what Shurmur wants to make happen. Sadly, the team slowly lost its momentum. I think the biggest factor in this slowdown was that the Offensive Line only had 5 days to practice as a unit. They didn’t know how to counter as the Bengals’ D adapted their attack. As a result, the Browns timing was interrrupted. I’m not going to meltdown over this first game. If the same thing happens in Indy, then I’ll worry.

    I’m not as upset as the end of the fieldgoal drive as some. Everybody was expecting a steady dose of Peyton. Why not do what nobody is expecting? If it works, everybody calls it a brilliant play. The safe bet was to run Hillis. Shurmur took a gamble and tried to attack with passes in an ‘obvious’ run situation. Isn’t that kind of the general idea behind the whole West Coast philosophy? I would have preferred a roll-out pass play, but I’m not upset about the gamble in general.

    In the end, it was a horribly frustrating game to watch. Still, many of the problems were identifiable and correctable. We weren’t overmatched, we made mistakes. I guaran-damn-tee you that our defense will NEVER let an offense set while they’re still in the huddle again. Moore will get the timing right in the endzone and Little will get it right across the middle. I expect(hope?) that our play on the O-Line, and at Right Tackle specifically, will show drastic improvement by Sunday next. I wish I had that kind of optimism about our punting, but to be honest I’m just hoping that our offense makes that a non-issue.

  • Kevin

    Tikihat, brilliant analysis. I love it and that’s exactly my feeling although I’d be a little more cautious about our OL. I hope your right but I’m not sure they can fix their problems in one week

  • Cleveland12

    It would be nice to be lucky!
    CM needs more protection
    How many of his passes were tipped needs to addressed
    Thought Shurmurs offence would have buckets of screened passes only saw one!
    Evan M should’ve caught the overhead for TD or at least attempted to dive for it.. Poor effort!
    As for McGee he looked awright in preseason but self destructed from the outset, what explains that except maybe nerves.
    Finally our heads hung when we went down again to the AJ score… not a good sign. Stop talking about talent it’s all about determination!
    Finally No team is ever complete or perfect it takes a good manager to analyse our strengths and the enemys weaknesses. This game by game. One thing I hated about Mangini was his lack of ammending problems during games. We can win if we know where to punch. Shurmur must be intelligent else we are cannon fodder. Sorry went on a bit. :-)