Game 11 Review: @Atlanta

Opening statement: Before I say anything about the game, let me say a few words about the season. It is a little distressing to watch a city completely lose its composure over (a) a two-point win, against (b) a bad opponent, where (c) both teams made errors, which (d) neither team could capitalize on and (e) was resolved based on a series of defensive breakdowns– which would never have happened if the losing team hadn’t mismanaged the clock.

It was the sixth games decided on one play; the Browns are 4-2 when that happens. It was their seventh game against a team with a losing record; the Browns are 5-2 in those games.

Due to the rotating schedule, the Browns have played the NFC South this year. That division is a collective 13-40-1, a .307 winning percentage (a 5-11 team has a .313 mark). The Browns have won all three games– by a combined  total of nine points.

Had New Orleans Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan learned not to call blitzes on every play or Atlanta head coach Mike Smith had learned to manage the clock, the Browns would very possibly have lost both games and would now be 5-6.

It is extremely pleasing to see that the Browns

  1. Will not finish with one of the 10 worst records in the league.
  2. Have developed strength in the two most important units– the offensive line and the defensive secondary.
  3. Display an excellent work ethic, rarely make mental mistakes and have not quit in a single game
  4. Have accomplished this with three Bro Bowl players (Alex Mack, Poke Cameron and Puff Gordon) missing for much of the season.
  5. Have succeeded despite getting virtually nothing from the six players they drafted.

This is a foundation that the team can build upon. They have two picks in the 2015 draft. If they can obtain a solid defensive lineman and a possession wide receiver– and not blow the picks– they can make the playoffs next year.

If some of the players they drafted in 2014 turn into good players — If they just had a poor rookie season (which isn’t unheard of)– it can be a very good team in 2015.

But to get to that point, they need to sort out some issues, not the least of which is “Who is the starting Quarterback?” And it is highly desirable that they do so this year.

The Atlanta game was not a good win. It was not a reason to believe in the Browns. They’re probably not going to make the playoffs– and if they do, they’re likely to get blasted,

And if they end up finishing better than they deserve to, they’re likely to make a series of dumb moves that will cost them dearly in 2015.

The Browns need to concentrate on rebuilding– not on trying to sustain this fluke.

You don’t see any positives in the win?

I see one. The Browns had 11 possessions and five went for more than 50 yards:

  • 10 plays (using 4:20) for 75 yards and a TD in the first quarter.
  • 11 plays (5:14 of time) for 66 yards and a field goal in the third.
  • 9 plays (4:58) for 70 yards and a TD in their other possession of the third quarter.
  • A 7-play, 74-yard drive (4:40) in the fourth, which ended with an interception in the end zone.
  • The final 7-play, 61-yard drive for a field goal, which used only the 44 seconds Mike Smith gifted them.

Any time you have five long drives, you did well.

All the rest have question marks. Crowell got 88 yards in 12, but exactly half came on two plays– the 26-yard TD and an 18-yard squirt.That’s two plays for a 22.0 average and 10 plays for a 4.4 average

The other TD came on an 11-yard run. So that’s 55 yards on three plays (18.3), and then 33 on the other nine (3.7 per carry)

To be fair, that is how most backs do it– they’ll have an OK game, then break a few runs. But when a guy only gets 12 carries, you don’t know if he’s having a good game or if the defense fouled up.

What about Josh Gordon’s big day?

It was a remarkable game– I said he was the MVP. I’m less enamored after talking with my Falcons source, who said

“We were surprised by how much Gordon played. (52 of the 75 snaps, more than anyone but the 5 linemen and Hoyer) We thought we might see him for 15-20 plays; you guys surprised us.”

Now it obviously isn’t Puff’s fault that the people running the Falcons are doofuses. But it did get me to look at the quarter-by-quarter breakdowns, and see that they did make a reasonably effective set of adjustments. Here are his catches, targets and yards– with averages figured per catch and per attempt:

Quarter Targets Catches Yards Yds/
Catch
Yds/
Attempt
First 3 2 34 17.0 11.3
Second 6 2 36 18.0 6.0
Third 2 2 14 7.0 7.0
Fourth 5 2 36 18.0 7.2

In the fourth quarter, he had a 24-yard catch on the last drive. Other than that big play– where Atlanta blew a coverage and left him open– they shut him down in the second half.

Remember, all three of the interceptions– although none of them were his fault–  were on balls thrown to Puff.

One was his fault– he quit on the play.

No it wasn’t. He thought the ball was going to be out of the end zone– uncatchable. Watch the replay and you’ll see how shocked he looks at the interception.

It wasn’t the world’s greatest example of hustle– Hines Ward, Paul Warfeild or Jerry Rice would have put their nose in there just to make sure. But it wasn’t one of those blatant tank jobs like you get from The Randy Rules, Terrible Owens or Ocho Stinko

And it came at the 66th offensive snap– Puff’s 43rd. The guy was probably tired, even if he didn’t admit it.

Pettine’s comments– that he could have tried harder to prevent the other balls– are correct, but the primary culprit is the QB.

What’d you think of his interview?

It was thoughtless– he didn’t think before he spoke– but I don’t know if it was mean-spirited. After he sounded off, I counted the number of players on the 2013 offensive unit who are still on the 2014 club.

  • Offensive Line: Joe Thomas, John Greco, Mitchell Schwartz
  • Quarterback: Brian Hoyer
  • Receivers: Gary Barnidge, Travis Benjamin

With two exceptions, that’s everyone. I wouldn’t include Alex Mack or Poke, because players rehabbing injuries usually crawl into a hole and shut out the world. .

And remember something. Offensive players are usually not friends with defensive players. Black players and white players usually aren’t friends. Of those eight guys, Benjamin is the only guy who he’d likely to be friends with.

Maybe he’s referring to Hawkins, Mile Austin, or Taylor Gabriel– or he had buddies on the defensive unit (maybe Joe Haden, who likes the nightlife). But my guess is he’s probably talking about guys who aren’t here– Davone Bess, Greg Little, maybe T.J. Ward.

What about Andrew Hawkins?

5 catches on 5 targets for 93 yards is a good day. But, like Crowell, three plays accounted for most of his output– a 40-yarder and two 17s.

You could say that the line did a great job… but the Falcons weren’t really stopping the run, and the team leader in sacks has 2.5.

You could say the defense really bottled up the run… but Steven Jackson has gained 4.3 a carry only twice this year— game one against the Saints and game nine against the Bucs. He had only three good games out of 12 last year.  It’s time for the Falcons to move on.

You could commend the pass defense,  but look at Matty Tank’s splits. He was forcing throws to Julio Jones all day:

Players Attempts Comp Cmp% Yds YPA TD INT Rating
J.Jones 13 5 38.5 68 5.23 1 1 49.5
Others 30 22 73.3 205 6.83 1 0 102.8

Admittedly, I’m not a Matty Tank fan… but what’s the point in throwing to people who aren’t open? Roddy White caught 9 of the 10 balls thrown to him and gained 96 yards.

I’m certainly not going to commend Brian Hoyer for going 23 for 40 and throwing three interceptions– two in the fourth quarter. Had the Falcons been a better team, they could have taken control of the game.  They didn’t.

You don’t believe in the team…

I don’t believe they’re a playoff team. I don’t even believe they’re a team that will have a winning record at the end of the year.

But I believe they’re a team that is on the way up– that could get a lot better very quickly. The Browns have some problems– all of which are fixable:

  • They don’t have a single defensive lineman who could start on a good team.
  • They’re 20th in sacks and 23rd in sacks as a percentage of pass attempts.
  • Their best running back, Isaiah Crowell, has 90 carries in 11 games– not enough to prove he isn’t a fluke.
  • They don’t have a single topnotch, reliable wide receiver. Puff Gordon is an addict. Poke Cameron can be a free agent– and he’s had only one good year. Andrew Hawkins is too tiny to be reliable. Nobody else is more than a
  • They have a journeyman quarterback and a backup with lifestyle issues.

All of those things can be fixed in one good off-season. They have two #1 picks and can get a defensive end and a receiver. Crowell could turn out to be the real thing– and his success since going undrafted shows that you can find players late.

And, the way this team is constructed, they don’t need a great quarterback. At some point, this will become an issue… but until the rest of the team improves, they won’t need a QB who can win playoff games.

I’m just not yammering about how good this team– the 2014 Browns– can be. Because, push comes to shove, I’m convinced it isn’t a good team.

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