Game 12 Review: @ Buffalo

Opening Statement: Since everyone wants to talk about the silly stuff, let me get the game out of the way first.

The responsibility for losing this game comes stunningly close to being 100% the fault of the offense:

1. For the first 47:59 of the game (until garbage time began with h score 20-3 and the insertion of the backup QB), the Browns had scored only six points– the three they were credited with and the three that K Billy Cundiff threw away by blowing a 37-yard field goal.

2. In the 11 drives where the game was in doubt, their three best drives were:

  • A 15-play, 86-yard drive in the first quarter (where they scored the field goal)
  • A 13-play, 71-yard drive (where Cundiff cost them points)
  • The 5-play, 20-yard drive on the opening kickoff.

The offense had eight drives where they gained 14 yards or less– seven consecutive ones.

3. Buffalo didn’t score until 8:08 of the third quarter– more than 60% of the game– but the Browns had only scored 3 points.

4. Of Buffalo’s 26 points, half (DE Jerry Hughes‘s fumble return and the second and fourth field goals) began with turnovers– a fumble, an interception and a failure on fourth down.

5. The offensive MVP was either WR Miles Austin (7-9 for 86 yards) or LG Joel Bitonio (who didn’t get overwhelmed by the Buffalo line). No one else– yes, I said “no one”– made a significant positive contribution. C Ryan Seymour would probably make the top 5, just for not getting killed:

  • WR Puff Gordon loafed through the game, taking reps away from Taylor Gabriel (only 19 of the 69 offensive snaps) and Travis Benjamin (only 9)
  • TE Jim Dray went 3-4 for 45 yards, but committed a false start and a pass interference.
  • RB Isiah Crowell gained 29 yards on 17 carries (1.7 per play) and Terrance West fumbled the ball close to the goal line.

6. The game was very possibly LT Joe Thomas‘s worst game ever. In addition to getting beaten repeatedly, he gave up 3 holding penalties (two were declined because the play was worse) and a false start

7. The kicking teams, as they have been almost all year, were a disaster. In addition to Cundiff missing a field goal:

  • P Spencer Lanning averaged 34.5 net yards per punt. Buffalo had two drives start from the 38 and one from the 48.
  • The punt return produced 19 yards on 3 returns;
  • The kick return team produced 44 yards on 2 kickoffs (they could have had 40 just for kneeling).
  • Buffalo’s Marcus Thigpen returned 4 punts for 47 yards (11.8 a shot).

The high point of its performance were three touchbacks on the three kickoffs.

8. I am less impressed by the defense’s performance than some people. They performed well in the first half, holding Buffalo scoreless, allowing only 91 yards.

Of course, they were on the field for only 11:54. The offense sputtered in the first half, but it certainly held onto the ball. Of the four drives in the third quarter:

  1. It got an interception on the third play, after allowing 5 yards.
  2. It gave up an 8-play, 84-yard drive touchdown drive, letting Buffalo go from its own 16 after a punt. That gave Buffalo the lead 7-3.
  3. After the fumble made it 14-3, followed by another offensive failure, it held Buffalo to 20 yards on 5 plays.
  4. Buffalo got the ball on the Cleveland 48 (thanks to a 33-yard net punt) and moved 17 yards on 6 plays to set up a field goal.

It’s not a terrible defensive performance, but the first touchdown was entirely on the defense, and the field goal wasn’t a great stand.

Also, after Johnny Football scored to cut the lead to 20-10 with 8:48 left, the defense let Buffalo run a 10-play, 64-yard drive that burned 5:15 off the clock, killing any chance Cleveland had to catch up.

So when they needed a stop, they couldn’t get one.

9. I have no idea why Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan kept calling plays for Gordon, after it became clear Puff wasn’t interested in playing that day.

So are there any questions about anything in first 48 minutes of the game?

Would you have pulled Hoyer sooner?

I should have know. How on earth could you justify doing that?

What do you mean? He had a terrible first half…

I know– rating of 63.9, no touchdowns and an interceptions. His rating for the third quarter was 70.4, My question stands: How do you justify pulling him?

He was playing badly, and–

And he’s never done that at any point this year?

Look, Brian Hoyer has been erratic all year– from game-to-game, and within games. A week ago, his ratings were:

  • First quarter: A 76.0 rating and 0-0 TD-INT ratio.
  • Second quarter: 40.5 rating and 0-1 ratio.
  • Third quarter: 118.0 and 0-0 ratio.
  • Fourth quarter: 44.4 and 0-2.

That’s two bad quarters and a mediocre one. But the Browns scored 26 points– their third-highest total of the season– and won. Two weeks ago, he had the same results, in a different order:

  • First quarter: An 87.0 rating and 0-0 TD-INT ratio.
  • Second quarter: 110.0 rating and 1-0 ratio.
  • Third quarter: 39.6 and 0-0 ratio.
  • Fourth quarter: 46.7 and 0-1.

In that game, the Browns lost 23-7.

Hoyer has led the team to 4 fourth-quarter comebacks this year– against New Orleans, Tennessee, Tampa Bay and Atlanta.  He brought the Browns back from a 27-3 deficit against Pittsburgh. He brought them back three times against Baltimore.

In most of those games, he looked terrible for part of the game and invincible for others. And there was no “turning point” or “game changer” or “momentum switch” or whatever phrase the announcers use.

When your quarterback is having a season like that– and both Brian Sipe and Bernard had years like that– you can’t micromanage, if you want to win games. You don’t know when he’s going to have his hot streak, so you just have to stay with him and hope he has one.

Sometimes he won’t, and it means you get killed. But if you want to win, you have to hope.

So you would have stayed
with him in the fourth quarter?

No– I would have pulled him. But I’m not hoping to win every possible game this year. If you want to win, you have to stay with him and hope he flips the light on.

I’m trying to rebuild the team– part of my goal for the year is taking a look at the quarterback I traded a #1 and #3 pick for.So I would have said, “Brian, it’s not your day. The game is out of reach– we’re going to give Johnny Football a look.” That way I could have a chance to see what Johnny Football can do.

To repeat what I said in the First Impressions,  the Browns need to figure out their QB situation. Hoyer’s contract is up at the end of the year. Do you want to offer him a contract– or decline to negotiate– without knowing whether the other player is any good?

Why can’t they re-sign him and then
see what happens next year?

Because Hoyer has said he only wants to sign with a team where he’ll start. And the easiest way to guarantee that the team he signs with will start him is to ask for starter’s money.

And if the Browns re-sign him, Johnny Football will flip. He and his entourage have been pretty patient this year… but he wants to start. And if the Browns sign Hoyer to a 3-year deal, He’ll want to be traded– and the Browns will not get a #1 and #3 for him,.

Hence, you have to play Johnny Football so you can see what you have. And Hoyer gave the Browns a chance to look at him last week, because he played badly.

So what did you think?

Mike Pettine put it rather nicely:

“You gotta be careful sometimes, at the end of games, where you’re getting softer coverages or a little bit more predictable defenses…”

He played two sequences. On the first, he scored because Buffalo wasn’t trying too hard. But after he made that gesture in the end zone, they were trying on the second possession. Then they buried him.

I didn’t think it was a terrible game. But I also didn’t get sexually aroused watching it, the way Tony Zarella and half the media guys did. It was a touchdown when the game was out of reach.

So who would you start next week?

I’ll put that in the preview. Don’t you have questions about anyone who isn’t a quarterback?

OK, what’s going on with West?

Two things. First, defenses are beginning to react to him. When NFL teams see a rookie back, they assume– unless the rookie has been a marquee back at a school that played the BCS games– that they can stop him simply by lining up against him

If that doesn’t work, they try to gang-tackle him and punch the ball away. Many rookies don’t take care of the ball,– and this is negate them.

If that doesn’t work, then they study film to see where he likes to run, so they can take it away from him.

West is at the “See if he’ll fumble” stage; Isaiah Crowell is at the “Take away his favorite routes” stage

The second issue– fumbling has always been an issue with West. As the best of the scouting services noted in their pre-draft workup, “Needs to hold the ball high and tight and will get sloppy in this area, especially in space. “

That’s what happened on the fumble– he wasn’t protecting the ball. He held it away from him, on his blind side, and someone poked it. You can’t have that– especially inside your own 20.

It’s more fuel for the charge that the Browns blew the pick. West hasn’t had a genuinely good game since week one.

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