Review: Exhibition Game 1

So what’s the early word on the Mike Pettine era?

“Meet the new Browns– same as the old Browns” covers it pretty well. There were a number of things I was looking forward to seeing. I came away almost entirely disappointed. On offense:

  • The Browns didn’t score a touchdown.
  • The offense passed more times (37) than it ran (28).
  • The running game was its usual horrific self (28-89, or 3.2 yards a carry).
  • The most successful runner– both in total yards and rushing average– was the backup quarterback (Johnny Football; 6-27; 4.5 yards a carry).
  • The longest carry was a scramble (Mr.Football for 16 yards).
  • The ballcarrier was stuffed 6 times.
  • It had only 4 drives longer than 3:30 of game time and only one longer than 50 yards.

That’s the same stuff we see every year in both regular season and exhibitions.The beginning of the “Kyle Shanahan tries to run Dad’s offense without the training wheels” ere was spotty. On defense:

  • Detroit scored the game’s only touchdown.
  • The Lions ran more plays (65-62), gained more yards (296-282) and gained more yards per play (4.8 to 4.2).
  • The Lions won on time of possession (31:49).
  • The Lions had 3 drives of 50 or more yards, and 6 possessions longer than 3:30 of game time.
  • The Browns couldn’t stop the run.
  • The defense kept getting gashed by the run for the same reason it always does: it overpursued, got taken out of the play and the runner cut behind them.
  • The Detroit runners who did the most damage were George Winn (an undrafted free agent in 2013, who has already been tried by Houston, New England, Oakland, Pittsburgh and Dallas) and Mikel Leshoure (a second round pick in 2011 who has gained a whopping 807 yards in three seasons, averaging 3.7 yards per carry).

The game wasn’t nearly as lopsided as it could have been, because the Lions didn’t let receiver Calvin Johnson play and the starting offensive unit (quarterback Matthew Stafford, running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, TE Brandon Pettigrew, the starting center and guard) played only the first series. That unit marched 32 yards on eight plays, kicked a field goal and left the offense in the hands of Dan Orlovsky (55% of the snaps) and Kellen Moore (35%).

The kicking teams mostly played badly– two long kickoff returns and a long punt return allowed. It did get one kick return.

And while it’s only a single game and things obviously could change, both Ray Farmer and Kyle Shanahan look in over their heads.

So you’ve already written the season off? After only one meaningless pre-season game?

I haven’t written the season off. But I am acknowledging that virtually nothing positive happened.

Exhibition games aren’t meaningless. They just need to be viewed through different perspectives, since every coach uses them for different purposes. Last year Rob Chudzynski thought he needed to “change the culture” immediately by getting the team off to a fast start. He played his starters more and Cleveland went 3-1 in exhibition games, beating two teams who went 7-9 (27-19 over St Louis; 24-6 over Detroit) and the 8-8 Bears (18-16).

In game 3, both the Browns and Colts used their starters until the middle of the third quarter. Indy was ahead 17-3 when the first teams left; they won 27-6

The easiest way to put a game into perspective is to break down the score by units:

  • In the battle of the first teams, the Browns lost 3-0.
  • When both second teams were on the field, the teams played to a 3-3 tie.
  • In the battle of the third teams, the Browns lost 7-3.
That doesn’t add up. You have 13 for Detroit and only 6 for Cleveland.

Because I’m comparing apples to apples. The Browns scored six points when the teams were mismatched– Cleveland’s first team scored at least one time against Detroit’s second team defense.

Let me show you a color-coded possession chart. This table lists all 22 possessions, with the units on the depth chart (first team in gold, second in silver, third in bronze) identified, and the results following. Detroit pulled its starters much sooner than Cleveland– which also meant their third team went in sooner.

Q Time Detroit Unit Cleveland Unit Plays Yards Result Score
1 15:00 Offense 1   1 8 32 FG 0-3
  11:09   1-2 Offense 1 7 45 Punt 0-3
  8:10 Offense 2   1 6 6 Punt 0-3
  4:01   2 Offense 1 7 21 FG 3-3
  1:43 Offense 2   1 3 2 Punt 3-3
  0:31   2 Offense 1 11 53 FG 6-3
2 11:10 Offense 2   2 5 23 Punt 6-3
  7:32   2 Offense 2 3 9 Punt 6-3
  5:38 Offense 2   2 12 71 FG 6-6
  0:25   2 Offense 2 1 -1 Halftime 6-6 
3 15:00   2 Offense 2 7 26 FG 9-6 
  11:27 Offense 2   2 5 11 Punt 9-6
  9:16   3 Offense 2 9 44 Fumble 9-6 
  4:29 Offense 2   2 5 17 Punt 9-6
  2:40   3 Offense 2 6 23 Punt 9-6
  0:28 Offense 3   2-3 7 33 Fumble 9-6
4 11:31   3 Offense 3 10 52 FG 12-6
  6:52 Offense 3   3 8 65 Fumble 12-6
  2:41   3 Offense 3 3 4 Punt 12-6
  2:17 Offense 3   3 4 35 TD 12-13
  1:05   3 Offense 3 5 0 Interception 12-13
  0:29 Offense 3   3 1 -1 End Of Game 12-13

If you want this in a narrative, here it is:

First Team: The Browns used both sets of staretrs for 3 possessions. Because the Lions got the ball first, the two units spent different amounts of time on the field:

  • The offense played until 11:10 of the second quarter.  They snapped the ball 24 times on their first 3 possessions–  7 on the first (where they punted), 6 on the second (field goal) and 11 on the third (field goal). Brian Hoyer and the starting offensive line played all 24 snaps. The
    starters on the receivers and backs rotated: “Puff” Gordon, Jim Dray and Miles Austinplayed 16 snaps; Andrew Hawkins 14 and Ben Tate 11.
  • The defense played the first quarter. In the first quarter, Detroit had 3 drives: (not counting kicks) 18 plays: 7, 8 and 3. (That’s not going to match the official totals, because two plays were negated by penalties.) Joe Haden, Donte Whitner, Buster Skrine and Karlos Dansby all played exactly 18 snaps. Desmond Bryant and Paul Kruger played 16; Barkevious Mingo 15; Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor 13.

Detroit used their first team offense for 1 series: 8 plays total. Most of the first team defense played 2 possessions. I’m guessing that’s because defensive players rotate (or maybe coach Jim Caldwell felt they needed more work). Anyway, they got between 8-15 plays.

The score was 3-0 Detroit when the Lions’ starters disappeared. The Browns were scoreless on their first possession– the only one where the Lions played DT Ndumakong Suh (8 snaps). DT Nick Fairley (11 snaps) and DE Jason Jones (12) were gone in the second possession– two of the linebackers and three members of the secondary got 13 snaps.

Both of the field goals the first-team offense scored came against the subs.

Second Team: It’s a little hard to make the cutoff between second and third teams, because the depth charts are always estimations. That’s especially true when the team plans to shuttle backs– and none of the receivers has stepped forward. But the best I can tell:

  • The Browns had the second-team offense in on the fourth possession (7:32 of the second quarter) and it played five possessions (The third unit came out for the ninth possession– at 11:31 left in the fourth)
  • Cleveland’s second team defense was in on Detroit’s fourth possession (11:10 left in the second quarter). That unit’s players began to leave on Detroit’s eighth possession (0:28 left in the third quarter) but it was definitely gone by the ninth (6:52 left in the fourth).

Detroit is easier to assess. The Lions absolutely had the second team offense in on its second possession (8:10 left in the first quarter)– none of the names you’d recognize got more than eight plays. The second-team left when Detroit came out for possession #8 (with 0:23 left in the third quarter).

Detroit’s full second team defense went on the Browns third possession (with 0:31 left in the first quarter). Because defenses get tired faster, they disappeared on Cleveland’s seventh (9:16 left in the third quarter). When both second teams were on the field, the score was 3-3.

In the battle of the third teams, Detroit beat the Browns 7-3.

None of this matters– it’s an exhibition game

That’s nonsense. To the 20+ players who’ll be cut after the second game, it’s not meaningless. The players fighting for starting jobs care about the outcome too. And the coaches notice who plays like he thinks it doesn’t matter.

Teams say “it’s an exhibition” when they lose, because it lets them dodge accountability. And the media always says it, because that line saves them from having to do their homework.

When I was growing up, it was very hard to puzzle out exhibition-game results, because it was nearly impossible to puzzle out what the other team was trying to do. With the Internet– and the bajillion sports blogs– it is very easy to know what the game plan is.

For example, one of the major stories in Detroit is what happens if Matthew Stafford gets hurt. He’s thrown over 2,000 passes in the last three years (led the league in throws in 2011 and 2012) and there were concerns that former head coach Jim Schwartz (a Jeff Fisher protege) was killing his player by asking him to throw too much and never taking him out.

The day after the 2012 draft, the Lions signed Kellen Moore from Boise State. Moore was a 4-year starter, running one of those “Yee-Hah!” offenses. He went 50-3, throwing for 14,667 yards, 142 TDs and only 28 INTs. The hitch is that he’s 6’0 and 197, and doesn’t have a gun, Former OC Scott Linehan felt Moore would learn the NFL and develop into a Kurt Warner (the benchmark for guys who come out of nowhere), but he hasn’t taken a regular-season snap in two seasons.

In the off-season, the Lions changed coaches and Jim Caldwell (last seen running the Colts into the ground) wasn’t confident that Moore could do the job. They signed 31-year-old Dan Orlovsky to be the #2 man. Orlovsky is 2-10 as a starter, with a career 76.0 rating and 14 TDs and 12 INTs.

If you’re wondering why anyone in his right mind would sign Orlovsky and think he could fill in for Stafford, the answer is that neither people in charge is:

  • Martin Mayhew, the Lions’ GM was Detroit’s personnel director when the Lions drafted Orlovsky in 2005.
  • Orlovsky drifted to Indianapolis and started 5 games for Caldwell the year Peyton Manning missed the season.

So he’s a rummy– but a rummy with ties to the people in charge. Plus he’s 6’5″ and 230 and has a bazooka attached to his shoulder. Moore is the last regime’s project, with a bad body.

And why do we care about this?

Because understanding this puts the results in perspective. Yesterday was phase one of the Lions’ competition for the backup QB.

The Lions know who their starters at pretty much every offensive position will be. The big questions are the backup QB and:

  • Can TE Eric Ebron (the #1 pick) replace backup Joseph Fauria or is he ready to replace Brandon Pettigrew?
  • Is C Travis Swanson (the #3 pick) ready to replace Domenic Raiola (who’s 35 and whose contract expires this year)

That’s why Orlovsky played 55% of the snaps and Moore played 35%. It is why the Lions threw 40 times and ran only 21. Gutting the Browns’ run defense like a ripe trout– which it appeared they could have done easily– would have accomplished nothing, so the Lions ran just often enough to keep Cleveland honest.

Based on the outcome,  Moore ought to get a much longer look in game #2. Orlovsky went 12-23 for 89 yards, no TDs or INTs– a 61.7 rating. Moore went 11-13 for 121 yards, threw the winning TD and posted a 131.1 rating. The Lions ran 19 plays with him under center and gained 133 yards (over 5 a play). First his back fumbled the ball on the Cleveland 10, then Moore fumbled the ball. Then he drove down the field and won the game.

Pettigrew, the #1 tight end, played four snaps and didn’t have a pass thrown his way. The battle for the backup spot had to be distressing:

  • Fauria played 24 snaps, had 3 balls thrown to him and caught them all– but for only 12 yards.
  • Ebron played 26 snaps. had 4 passes thrown his way and only caught 1– for 2 yards.

Megatron didn’t play; Golden Tate (the free agent snagged from the Seahawks to be his partner) played 7 snaps and had only one ball thrown to him, Detroit knows Reggie Bush (1,006 yards rushing; 54 catches) and Joique Bell (650 yards rushing. 53 catches) will split duty, so they combined for three carries. The guys battling for #3 got 14 of the 21 carries.

The Lions had Swanson take 90% of the snaps at center and gave two other linemen (they’re looking for depth) over 70% of the snaps. Despite these issues, the Lions scrub offense outplayed the Browns defense.

But they weren’t facing the #1 defense.

That’s correct, but the names were more familiar than I’d like. Nine players got more than 40% of the defensive snaps. The two linemen– Armonty Bryant and Justin Staples— played OK, given what they’re going to do. They were nigh-useless on runs, but both penetrated effectively. Bryant (28 snaps) hit the QB twice; Staples (31) blocked a pass and had a fumble hit him in the hands.

The three linebackers who played the most ran around a lot, but didn’t accomplish much. Jamaal Westerman (37 snaps) and Zach Diles (32) would get chopped by a good team, based on what they did yesterday. Diles, currently, is Dansby’s backup.  The third guy was Craig Robertson (28 snaps)– he knocked down an Orlovsky pass (not hard to do) and made a tackle after an 11-yard run and a 7-yard pass (barn door, horse, etc…).

The four defensive backs were depressing. If starting FS Tashaun Gibson goes down, the Browns are in big trouble, because Jordan Poyer  (41 snaps) and Josh Aubrey (34) both got beat all night. Aubrey did knock down a pass and force a fumble, but those guys both look like special teamers at best.

Hopefully we’re nearing the end of “troubled cornerback” Aaron Berry‘s time with the club. His four tackles were made on gains of 16, 14, 12 and 8 yards; his one knockdown was a Dan Orlovsky pass.

The guy who looked the worst? #4 pick Pierre Desir. He missed a tackle, blew two coverages and looked so bad against the second team Lions that Jim “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” Donovan actually remarked on it. He showed interesting skills, but looked like a guy from a division 2 school that had never seen good skill position players. Based on what he did, he looked like a player Mike Lombardi might take at #4– not a good GM.

Even broadcasting’s answer to Sarah Palin suggested maybe that Desir was having trouble adjusting to the NFL.


When Bernie Kosar gets senile dementia–when he has been dead for several years– he will still have more helpful things to say than Solomon Wilcots. Wilcots isn’t terribly observant, and his ‘insight’ consists of a string of cliches triggered by whatever happened on the last play. Every so often he spits our something that makes your jaw drop.

Example: On the second play of the game, Golden Tate caught a 14-yard pass that moved the ball to the 33– at which point, Donte Whitner blasted him. Wilcots immediately pointed out that this was the sort of hard-hitting play that the Browns signed Whitner for– that they have needed in their secondary for years.

Oh really? I am hardly a fan of Terrell Ray Williams Ward Jr. (“Terrell Jr.” = “T.J.”) but giving up a first down on a pass– and then hammering the receiver– was exactly what he contributed to the secondary during his tenure here.

Of the guys who played 30-40% of the snaps, LB Christian Kirksey (24 snaps) covered the second-stringers pretty well but didn’t provide much impact. Having watched Craig Robertson, James-Michael Johnson and Kaiuks Maiava– and myriad Butch Davis guys– fly around during pre-season, then do nothing in regular season, I wasn’t impressed. (He did look better than I expected.)

CB Johnson Bademosi got hung out to dry repeatedly. He’s a kicking teams guy who has no business playing in a base defense and could be cut with no loss. Ditto for LB Tank Carder. If you can identify players who can run and hit, they both should be easy to replace.

S Jim Leonhard is 33, and he’s also 5’8″ and 190. He’s not a guy you can count on. But he is a very smart player who gives everything he has and rarely makes mistakes in judgment. People say he won’t last, but he’s started 68 games– 53 for teams who played good defense (Baltimore, the Jets). Pettine brought him into Buffalo last year; he ended up starting 7 games. That might happen again– at free safety– if he can hold up.

At DL, both Ishmaa’ily Kitchen and John Hughes are big bodies that give you depth but not a lot more. They did OK.

The majority of what happened on defense was the result of Detroit (a) trying to find Stafford’s backup, and (b) playing Orlovsky on 6 of the 10 possessions (not counting the final kneel)– from 8:10 of the first quarter to 0:28 of the third quarter– and getting only a field goal.

Stafford played on one drive and produced a field goal. Moore played on 3 drives and moved the ball every time. If I were Pettine, I’d be concerned about the results when a non-Orlovsky was on the field.

So nobody looked good and they all suck? Same old Geoff.

I don’t blame the starters for what happened when they weren’t on the field– and, hey, the kicking teams started Stafford off at the 50. (But I’m not going to assume that they’re going to be just fine. You judge by what you see; they faced Detroit’s first-team once and let them score.)

In fairness,CB Justin Gilbert didn’t play. His absence was worrisome. Maybe it was a precautionary move, but a groin injury can plague a guy who has to run a lot for months.

Of the scrubs, Bryant, Leonhard, Kitchen and Hughes played OK. I was stunned to see that CB Isaiah Trufant— who’d come billed mostly as a kicking teams guy– played well for a guy who’s 5’8″ and 170. You can’t play someone that short against tall receivers, but he contributed.

Also, CB Leon McFadden showed some skill. He got beat badly a few times, but made two decent plays. I don’t have high hopes for him– Mike Lombardi reached for him in round 3 a year ago– but he looked like he might be able to stick as the dime back. LB Barkevious Mingo has picked up some weight, and they might be able to play him on downs one and two now and then.

I’m assuming they didn’t play LB Jabaal Sheard with the starters because they know what he can do, and he has plateaued. Exhibition games are tools to see whether a new player is any good or if a holdover has made progress.

Other than Desir, the only guys who matter who looked bad were CB Joe Haden (who blew a coverage) and LB Paul Kruger (consistently out of position on runs).

Besides, you don’t really care about the defense, do you?

You must be really upset about the offense.

Actually, no. Usually the first exhibition game is a disaster in terms of managing expectations. A QB or
two has a huge game, everyone goes “WOOT-WOOT-WOOT!” and I have to try to drag people back to earth, In the 2013 preseason opener against the Rams, for example:

  • Brian Hoyer went 10-14 for 100 yards and a TD (115.2 rating)
  • Brandon Weeden was 10-13 for 112 yards and a score (127.7)
  • Jason Campbell began the process of proving (to Mary Kay Cabot, at least) that he could take a team to the Super Bowl by going 6-7 for 37 yards (88.7 rating)

The outpouring of love for Norv Turner and Air Coryell– and the trashing of Shurmurball– blew expectations sky-high.

In 2012 (the 19-17 win against Detroit), Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace and Thad Lewis all had ratings over 100– and it was only Brandon Weeden’s first game.

By the way, Weeden went 13-17 for 107 yards, a touchdown and a 122.6 rating in Dallas’s first exhibition, and he’s crediting that to being on a well-run team with a quality supporting cast. Stay classy, Alfredrick Hughes clone.

In 2011, (a 20-17 win against Green Bay, McCoy had a 152.1 rating (9-10 for 135 yards and a TD), and people decided the West Coast Offense was Da Bomb– and screw that Eric Mangini crapola.

This time nobody looked good. But in two of the three cases, the result is understandable.

Brian Hoyer (6-14 for 92 yards, 65.2 rating) had a bad day. He completed less than 50% of his passes and was wild on all his completion. Only two of his balls were “in the hands”, letting receivers run. He did have two balls dropped, but on many more, Hoyer was at fault.

On the other hand, it was his first game back from a major knee injury. Plus, everyone he was throwing to– other than Puff– was someone he’s never played with.

Tyler Thigpen (3-12 for 28 yards, an INT and a 5.6 rating) was the surprise. He isn’t a terrible player, but he played so badly that the Browns agreed to grant Kyle Shanahan his wish and give him Rex Grossman. Cutting Thigpen, in my eyes, is a mistake. The differences between Thigpen and Rex Grossman are immense:

  • Thigpen is younger.
  • He’s played a lot less (25 fewer starts; nearly 1,000 attempts less).
  • He’s played better (higher rating, better TD-INT ratio,
  • He was a low-round pick from a small school who’s played on worse teams.

If both QBs go down and you have to play the #3 guy, the chance that Thigpen might be a nice surprise is maybe 10-20%, where there is 0% chance that Grossman will. But he’s buddies with Shanahan, and it’s the #3 guy. It’s not wise to tell the assistant with a reputation for being difficult that he can’t have players he wants.

But what about Johnny Manziel?

What can you say? He did the same stuff he did in college– ignore the game plan, the on-field situation and the matchups and shake & bake and see what happened. His backs and receivers were weaker than his college days, his opponent was stronger, so the answer was “not much.”

He didn’t look in over his head; he didn’t make any certifiable stupid plays (other than the third down run where he ran left into two Lions). But he didn’t accomplish much. It’ll be interesting to see what he does in game 2.

Would you start him against Washington?

No. Johnny Football is a “give ’em an inch and he takes ten miles” guy. A day after the game, his agent was already telling Mary Kay that he’s got the starting job locked up. With a personality like that, you don’t give him anything, you make him earn it.

But how can he get work with the first team unless he starts?

Um, hello? Didn’t I just spend a few pixels explaining how the head coach controls the number of snaps a player gets in exhibitions– and who he plays with? Were you around when Romeo Crennel and the Mangenius tried to make sure every QB got the same number of reps with the same people?

If you want Johnny Football to work with the first team, let the first team play the first half and alternate quarterbacks on drives.

But you won’t be able to see him work against Washington’s first team unless he starts.

Oh, is that the goal? I thought you said the goal was to get him some snaps with Cleveland’s first stringers.

Well, that’s easy to fix. Jay Gruden will probably play his first-team defense for the first quarter and most of the second– maybe the whole first half. Start Hoyer, give Johnny Football the second and third possessions. Hoyer can finish the half and then Johnny Football can start the third.

Or is getting Johnny Football work with the first team– and work against Washington’s first team– not really your goal? Might it be that you’re trying to get Johnny Football the start in Game 2, in the hopes this edges him closer to the starting job.

Geoff, they need to learn what he can do.

I would hope, since the Browns drafted Johnny Football in the first round, that they already understand what he can do. If they weren’t absolutely certain, they shouldn’t have given away a third-round pick in order to move up and take him.

Their primary need is to prepare the team for the regular season– picking the players and setting their roles. Figuring out which receivers can work effectively with Brian Hoyer– the quarterback who has a much better chance to get the team closer to .500–  is as important as seeing how many reps
we can give to Johnny Football can get. And neither of those things is even close to being as important as getting the running game ready for game one. The ability to run the ball is so much more important to the 2014 season that it is unfathomable that people aren’t worried about it.

Are you crazy? They need to pick a quarterback and find receivers.

There is no way the 2014 Browns will have a strong passing attack. Brian Hoyer is, at best, a “manage the game” quarterback– a guy who can get you to 10-6 or 11-5 with a good supporting cast, but not a championship. Johnny Football has never shown any interest in reading defenses and being patient. He likes to improvise and take chances. You’re looking at an outcome somewhere between Mike Vick (at the high end) and Andre Ware (worst case). I don’t expect him to make it big.

But even if one of those guys could play– if you could ride his arm to the playoffs, he won’t have anyone to throw to. Puff won’t be here; Miles Austin, Nate Burleson and Andrew Hawkins will probably get hurt. None of the non-retreads looks like he can play in the NFL

But they don’t have to pass in order to play .500 ball. All they have to do is the same four things the Pittsburgh Steelers have been doing since they hired Chuck Noll:

  • Run the ball.
  • Keep opponents from running the ball.
  • Avoid turning the ball over
  • Force opponents to turn the ball over.

If they run the ball, they’re going to do three things.

1. Cut down on turnovers. Last year the Browns finished 25th in takeaway-giveaway ratio, with -8. That’s 21 takeaways (14 interceptions; 7 fumbles) and 29 giveaways (20 INTs and 9 fumbles).

Running the ball– assuming you use a running back– is much less likely to create a turnover. Last year there were 814 turnovers last year– 502 interceptions and 312 fumbles. And those 312 fumbles, 171– over half– were made by either quarterbacks (114) or wide receivers (57). Fumbles by those players come on:

  • Sacks & strips (or blindside hits) in the pocket.
  • Scrambles after the defense flushes the QB.
  • Completed passes where the receiver catches the ball and gets hammered.

Last year the Browns led the league in passing attempts (681– 114 more than the NFL average) and 30th in rushing attempts (348– 86 below average), for reasons that were pretty obvious. Bad as passing game was, it was better than Trent Richardson (3.4 yards a carry). Fozzy Whitaker (2.8) and Willis McGahee (2.7). If they run the ball 90-100 times more– if they are merely average in number of carries– they will cut down on the interceptions and probably do it without increasing fumbles (4 of their 9 fumbles were by the QBs).

2. Wear down the opposing defense. On passing attempts, many defenders don’t make contact– if the ball is knocked down or incomplete, they never have to make tackles. On a running play, everyone has to hit. If the Browns run the ball 100 more times– 6-7 more times a game– it will wear down the defense more.

3. Burn more clock time– and keep the defense fresh. Cleveland was 27th in time of possession (28:41) last year, and the defense wore down as the game went on, The defense was on the field:

  • 51.5% in the first half.
  • 53.0% in the second half.

In the fourth quarter, the Cleveland defense was on the field 55.5% of the time— the third highest total in the league. (Miami was worst at 58.2%.) Unsurprisingly, it gave up 9.1 points a game– highest in the league– in the fourth quarter.

But if they don’t have a passing game, opponents can put 9 men in the box.

And if they put nine men in the box, Hoyer– or even Johnny Football– can call play action passes and throw to wide open receivers. Or they can throw 5-8 yard passes to guys who can run another 30 yards.

Look at the passing stats for 2013 broken down by the number of men on the defensive front. The more men opponents put on the line last year, the more passes the Browns completed and the better the results.

Passing by fronts

If you look at the number of attempts you see that exactly the opposite happened. Because nobody feared the running game, teams went up with a 2-4 men on the line and dropped everyone else off in
coverage. When teams came after the quarterback, the Browns did more damage. Hoyer had fun with those sets (scroll down to the bottom of the page to see his splits).

But they didn’t have anyone open Saturday.

They had people open– Hoyer didn’t hit them, and his backups also missed guys. Assuming Hoyer’s misses were due to coming back from a knee injury, that’ll change.

Plus, neither Nate Burleson nor Jordan Cameron played. TE Jim Dray only got one ball thrown his way.

More importantly, the running game was awful. RB Ben Tate  (6-25, 4.2 per carry) looked OK. Part of the reason he didn’t break any long runs was that he played 11 snaps and had 6 carries. If he came in, Detroit expected him to get the ball. For the most part, they were correct. (Tate also dropped the ball once, although he did recover it.)

Terrance West– the #3 pick they traded a #4 and #6 to get– looked dreadful. 10 carries for 22 yards… anyone can do the math And 10 of the 22 came on a single play. Not to beat up a rookie in his first game, but he needs to do a lot better than he looked.

Edwin Baker had 3 carries for 9 yards– 6 on one play. And the legendary Dion Lewis had 3 carries for 6 yards. He also fumbled.

Plus the line didn’t look all that great. Which, given the amount of talent on it, is a problem.

Are you blaming Shanahan for all of that?

The ability to implement a running game why he got the job. Kyle Shanahan has spent his career working for either (a) his father, (b) proteges of his father (Karl Dorrell at UCLA and Gary
Kubiak in Houston) or (c) friends of his father (Jon Gruden in Tampa). All four guys were also experienced offensive coaches who ran Dad’s style of offense.

Kyle sold himself as an expert, but the Browns are the first job where he’ll be 100% responsible for making things go. Cleveland signed Tate and drafted Bitonio and West because they fit his system. Some legacies (Wade Phillips, Rex Ryan) show they can hold a job; others (Brian Schottenheinmer, Pat Shurmur) bust out. Until the Browns’ offense functions effectively, the assumption should be that Shanahan isn’t capable of doing the job.

The line struggled to be in the right place. LT Joe Thomas looked fine, but they only ran two plays near him. LG Joel Bitonio looked like he’ll join the parade of Browns heading to the Pro Bowl. The rest of the line was a problem. C Alex Mack looked like he was out of position twice– nobody got killed,
but they didn’t gain ground.

RT Mitchell Schwartz also seemed confused (this is his fourth blocking scheme in in four years). RG John Greco  either didn’t know where to go, or struggled to make the plays– to the point where it looked like Thomas and Mack had been carrying water for him.

Yes, it was the first game. It can get better. And it would be better if they had a fullback or a tight end. FB MarQueis Gray  looks more like a right end; nobody else did anything.

Any other thoughts?

Either Detroit has amazingly good depth at defensive line or none of the Browns’ backup linemen can play. LT Paul McQuistan validated pretty much every hostile thing my buddy Jon (a big Seahawks fan) said about him.

The kicking teams were awful. I’ve been unimpressed with STC Chris Tabor and I still wouldn’t want him around.

One other comment. Mr. Football made it easy for Mike Pettine by coming late to a meeting.  The quarterback has to be the guy who sets the example for the team; you don’t give the new guy anything until he earns it.

The problem with drafting players like Johnny Football– who are already celebrities– is that rational decision-making becomes almost impossible. The number of people clamoring for Blake Bortles is tiny– primarily Jaguar fans who understandably would rather die than watch Chad Henne start another game.

Almost everyone logrolling for Johnny Football couldn’t care less about what happens to the team:

  • Brian Hoyer is boring; naturally the media doesn’t want him to start.
  • Johnny Football’s business people can’t make money if he’s the backup quarterback.
  • If Otto Graham were reincarnated, Mr. Football’s family and groupies would be running the old guy down.

These people will seize any excuse to press his case to start– a good game by him or a bad game by Hoyer.

With a player who isn’t a celebrity, a team doesn’t have to manage the process perfectly. If Mike Zimmer gets tired of watching Matt Cassel (as Chris Palmer did with Troy Detmer) and decides to play Teddy
Bridgewater in game 2– then yanks him and goes back to Cassel, the amount of blowback he’ll absorb is relatively trivial. Once Johnny Football starts, the Browns won’t be able to sit him down (barring an injury) until the Johnny Football era ends.

It is, therefore, desirable to make sure that everything they can possibly fix is in place before he goes in. The line needs to know how to block in this scheme. The backs need to be able to run in it. The Pro Bowl tight end should be in the lineup; the identity of the receivers should be determined.

The less stable the situation, the more likely a player is to revert to his old habits. I don’t know if anything could have turned Daniel C. McCoy into a star… but having a bad line, no running
game and no reliable receivers didn’t give him any incentive to stay with the system that Brian Daboll and Pat Shurmur were trying to shoehorn him into.

Speaking of which, he will be on the field this Monday– he’s battling Kirk Cousins for the #2 job. He went 8-9 for 102 yards, no interceptions and a score (150.98 rating).

If you’re really interested in seeing Johnny Football succeed, it’s in your interests to not see him too soon.


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