Review: Game 3 (Oakland)

Opening Statement

If you’re inclined to accentuate the positive, Sunday’s loss to Oakland provides the following:

  • After falling behind 17-3 at the half, the Browns didn’t quit.
  • They outscored the Raiders 17-10 in the second half.
  • The defense held Oakland scoreless for the final 14:30 of the game.
  • It forced a fumble and recovered it at the Oakland 44, setting up the score that made it 27-20.
  • Team MVP Andy Lee had another game where he punted for over 50 yards (both gross and net).
  • On the final drive, the Browns began on their 2 with 2:26 left, and moved 69 yards to the Oakland 29 with 49 seconds left.
  • WR Travis Benjamin didn’t have another great game, but he was heavily covered, and did catch 4 passes for 45 yards and yet another TD.
  • Benjamin was open on the play where the interception occurred and probably could have scored.
  • TE Gary Barnidge had 6 catches on 10 targets for 105 yards and TD, setting a career high in both receptions and yards, and tying his career best in scoring.
  • In his first game back, QB Josh McCown threw for 341 yards, 2 TDs and posted the 25th-best rating of his career.
  • After the game, McCown took full responsibility for the interception, pledging to do better in the future.

I don’t have the faintest idea why you would want to look at the game that way. But if you want to, you can. Here is the way I would look at it:

  • The Browns (who were 7-9 in 2014) got beaten by a team that had gone 4-12.

Admittedly the coach and most of the team were new, but it was still a team that went 4-12 and whose big additions were 49ers castoffs LB Aldon Smith and WR Michael Crabtree. They didn’t sign J.J. Watt and Rob Gronkowski and have a draft reminiscent of the 1974 Steelers

Then there was the issue of the location of the game. It’s not merely that the Browns lost at home– it’s that they lost to a team that has been singularly unable to win on the road:

  • In the 40 road games (the five years between 2010 and 2014) the Raiders had gone 10-30 on the road.
  • In the last 24 games (the 2012-2014), the Raiders were 2-22.
  • Oakland had not won a road game since November 17. 2013— 11 straight losses. In that game, Houston lost QB Matt Schaub in mid-game and had to turn to the immortal Casey Keenum to guide them.
  • The Raiders’ problems winning on the road had reached “Three Rivers Jinx”-style proportions. All week long, their media had been pointing to a statistic only the media can create: The Raiders hadn’t won a game played in a city in the Eastern time zone since December 6, 2009.

Bullet points like that have absolutely no tangible impact. But the psychological effect– what it does to the players– is very real. When WR Amari Cooper fumbled with 8:34 left in the game, the Browns recovered on the 44 and meandered (it wasn’t a drive; they took 1:54 to move 44 yards) in for the score, the Raiders looked like they were ready to crack.

The Browns forced a punt after 3 plays that gained (counting a Raider penalty) 3 yards… and then Benjamin muffed the punt at his own 43. With 4:01 left, the Raiders were in a position to run out the clock.

They couldn’t do it– they punted the ball back to the Browns 2. After wasting a timeout challenging the spot (they knew they were going to need it; why bother?) , the Browns got to the Oakland 31 with 53 seconds left…

At which point, we got this fabulous sequence:

  • McCown throws a 2-yard pass to Shaun Draughn, wasting 4 seconds and forcing the Browns to use timeout #2.
  • McCown was sacked, losing 6 yards, wasting 6 seconds and forcing the Browns to call their last time out.
  • McCown threw off his back foot, missing a wide-open receiver and letting 39-year-old (on October 7) Charles Woodson pick the ball.

If you were looking at the sequence, you’d swear the Browns were the team that hadn’t won in this situation since forever. McCown folded like an Origami swan.

So aside from the Browns losing to a weaker team– which hadn’t won on the road in eons– and the starting QB falling to pieces in the clutch– there were the following issues:

  • Cleveland gained 39 yards rushing on 14 carries– less than three yards a carry.
  • They let the Raiders gain 155 yards on 30 carries– 5.2 per carry.
  • They gave up 5 sacks to a team that hadn’t sacked anyone in the first 2 games.
  • For the second time in three games, they had no sacks. They also had no quarterback hits.
  • They had only one run stuff– on the second play of the game.
  • They knocked down 4 passes and had no interceptions.
  • They forced one fumble and recovered it, but fumbled twice (losing one) and threw a game-losing pick.
  • They let QB Derek Carr complete 63% of his passes, gain 314 yards (averaging 9.8 yards per pass) and throw 2 TDs with no interceptions (1 rating of 115.9).

There was nothing good about this game. Nothing. You got questions?

What did you think was the high point
of the game for the Browns?

The end.

Can you try to answer seriously?
What were you most pleased about?

I was serious. The end of the game– McCown burning time and timeouts, taking a sack and then literally throwing the game away.

I’ve been writing a lot about how the Browns can’t simply bench McCown merely because they want to see what Johnny Manziel or Austin Davis can do. If you want veteran leadership, then you have to pay attention to what your leaders say.

As long as your players think the veteran you brought in and sold to them as the best guy to take them to a winning record is still, in fact, the better player, you have to go along with it.

You don’t have to do everything the players want– an NFL team isn’t a socialist collective. But you can’t bench a guy the team supports because he got hurt and you won a game with the backup.

Having said that, do not mistake my desire to avoid a quarterback controversy that splits the team as my eagerness to see Josh McCown play. McCown is a worthless starter; the sooner he plays his way out of the lineup, the happier I’ll be.

It’s good for the team that he played poorly at the very end. This way, when he does it a few more times, everyone will accept his benching as a necessary move.

He threw for 341 yards you know

On 49 passes– 6.96 yards a play. That’s a quarter of a yard below the league average (7.3 yards per pass) a year ago.

The week before, Joe Flacco threw for 384 yards on 45 throws against Oakland– 8.5 per play. That’s more than a yard above the 2014 average.

In week one, Andy Dalton only threw for 269 yards. But he only threw 34 times, so he averaged 7.9 per pass– three-quarters of a yard better.

I realize that Browns quarterbacks have been so wretched that 300 yards seems like a huge achievement (there have been only 26 300-yard games since the franchise reboot in 1999). On most franchises, it’s something that happens 8-10 times a year.

In the last five years, Oakland has allowed
300 yards passing only 21 times in 80 games

Yeah, I saw that. The reason they don’t give up 300 yards is that Oakland has let opponents gain 100 yards rushing 52 times in 80 games. The Raiders have allowed 150 yards 23 times and 200 10 times. Why take chances throwing if you can just blast through the opponent?

Why do you think Oakland ran so effectively?

Because the Browns suck at run defense.

Be serious

I am serious. They were last a year ago and last now. They had one genuinely good run defender a year ago– Jabaal Sheard. They let him go to New England.

Last year they had two other guys who weren’t bad– LB Meowkevious Mingo and SS Donte Whitner. They weren’t good at run defense because they couldn’t play on the line and stop the runner from going very far– they weren’t big enough. But they could run well enough to chase down the ballcarrier.

This year, Mingo has been injured and isn’t close to 100%. Whitner has lost about three steps.

LB Karlos Dansby is slowing down. LB Paul Kruger is a step slower. They’re missing tackles because they’re not fast enough to get in front of the man with the ball anymore. If you come at the runner from the side or from behind, the guy can pull away from you.

If what we’re seeing doesn’t change, they’ll need to replace a bunch of starters

Joe Haden says the criticism of Whitner is ridiculous

Haden is being ridiculous. “Thirty-one other teams would love to have Donte on their team.” Yeah, right. The more accurate statement is that 31 other teams are glad he’s not on their roster.

What’s happening with Whitner is the problem with guys who love to make big hits rather than tackle. They wear down sooner than players who don’t throw their bodies around, and they go downhill much faster.

What would you say the turning point was?

The opening kickoff.


What? What do you want me to say? Oakland took the opening kickoff, marched 72 yards on 13 plays to the Browns’ 5. The drive stalled, they kicked a field goal.

In the 83 games Oakland has played since 2010, it’s only the 28th time they’ve scored on the scored. The media has given them a hard time about it; that drive was a big deal for them.

Each team punted twice, and then Oakland scored touchdowns on their next two possessions. One was an 85-yard drive, the other went 70 yards.

What about the roughing the kicker call?
Or the play where Whitner and Gipson collided?

The penalty on the punt gave Oakland a first down on their own 40. They still had to travel 60 yards. They did.

The collision happened with the score 20-10 Raiders. And there’s no guarantee that Oakland couldn’t have gotten the 55 yards without the Browns’ help.

Look, a turning point is the excuse a losing team creates to explain why it lost: “Everything was just dandy until…” The Browns never had the lead. The score was never tied after the first drive.

I said the Browns were going to lose– they lost. End of story.

But don’t you think the Browns could have–

The Browns are what I thought they were. They’re what I thought they were. I called this in preseason! The Browns are who I thought they were!

Now if you want to crown them, then crown their ass! But they are who I thought they were! And they stunk out the joint!

Note: If the response isn’t entirely clear, try this link.


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