Review: Game #5 (@Baltimore)

Opening Statement

I want to start with a few statistics: 21, 23, 7, 0, 0, 0, 0 and 5. To place those into perspective:

  • Of the 88 snaps that the Ravens were lined up on defense, LB Elvis Dumerville played only 21. The week before, in the overtime win against Pittsburgh, Dumerville played 56 of 63. His snap count fell because Dumerville pulled a groin muscle in the Browns’ game and had to leave.
  • Last week, CB Lardarius Webb, who is probably the Ravens’ best corner (which isn’t saying much), played 57 of 63 snaps. He got hurt in the Cleveland gave and played 23.
  • 7 is the number of snaps played by CB Will Davis, whom Baltimore had acquired from Miami last month, in a desperate attempt to fix the defensive backfield. He blew out his knee Sunday.

In addition to those three losses, the Ravens had four other players miss the game:

  • DE Chris Canty wasn’t active due to injuries.
  • RB Lorenzo Taliaferro, the #2 running back, missed Sunday’s game with foot injuries.
  • WR Steve Smith didn’t play– and WR Breshad Perriman, the Ravens’ #1 pick tore his posterior cruciate ligament this summer and won’t play at all.

And the 5 is the number of yards the Ravens gained on the 6 offensive snaps after RB Justin Forsett left the game with an ankle injury and Baltimore had to insert Javorius Allen.

Now let me be clear. None of those events excuse the Ravens from losing. Teams have 53 players on a team– of which 45 dress– for a reason. If a starter gets hurt, they’re supposed to have a backup who is ready to go– as San Diego did last week when WR Malcom Floyd went down and Dontrelle Inman stepped in and gashed the Browns repeatedly.

As I mentioned in the preview, this is the problem with GM Ozzie Newsome‘s ongoing “clean out the veterans and bring in the kids” routine. The absence of Canty or Dumerville wouldn’t have been as damaging had Newsome not decided to move Haloti Ngata during the off-season.

In many respects, DE Lawerence Guy (the player who stepped in for Canty) had a great game– 2 sacks, 3 stuffs, an additional tackle and two more hits on the quarterback. But he also had a really stupid roughing the passer Triplette on a ball that got intercepted at the Baltimore 48. It was a rookie mistake that doesn’t erase all the good things he did. But it did wipe out a turnover that would have given the Raven the ball at midfield– when they already had a 14-3 lead.

Note: A “Triplette” is an infraction of NFL rules as determined by Jeff Triplette’s crew. It differs from a penalty in that isn’t necessarily a penalty.

Newsome and Coach John Harbaugh also decided to have only three backs, with nobody on the practice squad– even after Taliaferro went down. Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman was the genius who kept trying to exploit Cleveland secondary (which was at full strength for a while), rather than their very beatable linebackers.

None of the above points detracts from the Browns’ victory in any way. On many, many occasions since 1999, the Browns have faced beatable teams who got injured. On almost all of them, Cleveland lost. Being able to beat teams that you should be able to beat is the first sign of progress. This win stops the panic over a lost season and permits the Browns to imagine they can reach 3-3 next week and maybe get into the playoff race.

But, with all that noted, could we please cut the main breaker on the Chamber of Flatulence?

This win doesn’t mean the Browns played well. Or that they will win next week– or on any other week. They didn’t save the season or change the way people (at least smart people) think of them. They didn’t prove that Future Former GM Ray “Snapchat” Farmer or head coach Mike Pettine were right about anything.

The notion that a single game shows anything about a player, the coaching or their personalities is unfounded speculation at best. Giving too much weight to a single event in the most common reason people make mistakes in analysis.

The Browns might have lost if the Ravens kicker, Justin Tucker hadn’t completely mishit the 51-yard field goal he missed (he was 15-23 from 50+ yards going into the game). They might have lost if the pass to TE Gary Barnidge hadn’t bounced in precisely the right way.

He made a great play, but if the ball had bounced a different way, Elastic Man might not have been been able to grab it.

They might have lost if the Ravens had a quarterback who willed the team to win– rather than spending much of the week telling the media how hard it is to throw to receivers he had never played with, and how much he missed Steve Smith, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta.

Any of those things happen, the same people who are bouncing off the ceiling now are searching for sharp objects to use on their wrists.

I am pleased to not have to write about why the Browns are 1-4, but the only thing you should take away from this is “Damn, has Baltimore become one sorry team.” Questions?

They’ve scored 60 points in the last two weeks.
What do you have to say about that, smart guy?

The phrase “So?” springs to mind. San Diego was averaging 27.7 points per game; the Browns scored 27. The Ravens were averaging 26.0; the Browns scored 33. An average team would have scored 54; the Browns scored 60.

The Browns did better than expected against Baltimore– but when you look at the injuries the Ravens had, it is not surprising that Cleveland would put 7 extra points on the scoreboard.

I see an offense that has made real improvement over
last season. I see an offense coming together.

And I see a person with poor short-term memory.

Look, The Browns are currently 14th in points; their current 23.6 average is a big jump from the 18.7 average in 2014. But here’s the problem with your optimism: At this time last year, the Browns looked even better than they do now.

After 5 games in 2014, Cleveland was averaging 26.8 points (three more than they are now), were ninth in the league in offense— tied with Cincinnati and Green Bay and a smidge ahead of New England. People were vaporing about how Kyle Shanahan and Brian Hoyer were the magic combination. That didn’t last long.

The weather will get cold, rainy and windy soon. It’ll get harder to complete passes. Also, opponents will stop saying “Josh McCown?!? Ga-ha-ha-ha, ga-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!! Josh McCown…. We sure don’t need to watch any film of him” and start breaking down film, looking for the 3-4 routes he throws most often and trying to take them away.

If they’re still performing well this well after 8-10 games, that’s reason for real optimism.

This shows the Browns were right to sign McCown

So the four games he’s started this season– well, 3 1/4– outweigh the other 49. Remind me not to hire you for Data Scientist.

It’s the second season in three years that
McCown has played at a Pro Bowl level.

It’s the second partial season where he’s looked good. In 2013, he played in 8 games and stared 5. He threw only 224 passes; a full season is 600 attempts.  In 4 games this year, he’s had 49 attempts.

That’s 12 games and 413 attempts. How about we come back when he has 16 games and a full season.

Why can’t you just acknowledge that
McCown has matured into a topnotch QB?

Probably because I remember how good Brian Hoyer looked after five weeks of the 2014 season. In fact, here’s an interesting coincidence: because the 2014 team tried to run the ball and not throw too much, Hoyer had 149 pass attempts after five games– the same total McCown has after 4. Let’s compare the two players; Hoyer is neck and neck with him:

Hoyer splits DOG Capture

McCown’s rating is higher.

Yeah, and that’s s why people complain about the rating. The rating is based on four statistics:

  • Completion percentage
  • Yards per attempt
  • Touchdown percentage
  • Interception percentage

Hoyer has thrown for more yards, more touchdowns and the same number of interceptions in his 149 attempts, so he ought to rate higher. But because the formula underrates touchdown passes and overrates completion percentage, the rating formula says he’s worse.

McCown has one big edge: running the ball. Hoyer compensated by not trying to dive into the end zone, missing the dismount and getting a concussion that caused him to miss all but one quarter of two games.

Hoyer also has an edge in the statistic that counts most. He wen 3-2 in his starts McCown went 1-3.

You can’t blame McCown for the awful defense.

Good heavens, how memories of the 2014 Browns have faded. In the first four weeks of 2014, the defense gave up:

After game four, Cleveland’s defense was allowing 26.2 points per game (they’re allowing 26.4 now) and was 24th in the NFL (they’re 22nd now). They didn’t have their first good game until week five– the 31-10 win over Pittsburgh.

I like the way McCown handles things at crunch time.

You mean like the Oakland game, when he missed a wide-open receiver to throw the ball to a geriatric defender? Or the Ravens game, when he blew a chance to win in regulation?

McCown has had one fourth-quarter comeback– which also happened to be a game-winning drive. Hoyer had four last year– that’s another reason he surpasses McCown.

But McCown hasn’t played the whole season yet.

If you’re going to pass judgment with 75% of the season left, why can’t I?

Praising Josh McCown for veteran leadership is extolling Jeffrey Dahmer for experimental cuisine. This game provided a perfect example of how not to manage the clock at the end of the game.

With 14 seconds left, the game was tied 30-30; he had a first down on the Cleveland 45. The Browns had all their time outs, but they were desperately short on time. They could run two plays and kick if they picked plays that develop very fast– bang-bang passes– and called time out immediately.

When McCown took the snap, everyone was covered and the pocket collapsed. Had he immediately thrown it out of bounds, the clock would have been down to 0:09 or maybe 0:10. They could have thrown again– into the center of the field, if they wanted– then called time and tried to kick a game-winning field goal.

Instead McCown scrambled to the right, looking for a receiver and eventually ran out of bounds at his 46. It took the game clock from 14 seconds to 5

In the broadcast booth, retired QB Rich Gannon correctly went berserk. Now they could only run one play– as long as Baltimore made sure they didn’t get into the end zone, they wouldn’t be able to call time and kick. McCown threw a 20-yard pass on the next play– to the Baltimore 34– but the clock expired before the player was tackled.

Had the Ravens had any chance to score in overtime, they could have cost the Browns the win.

In the loss to Oakland, McCown let Derek Carr take over with 1:39 at the end of the first half. Oakland got a touchdown. At the end of the game, McCown took over with 2:26 left, threw a series of short passes into the middle and managed to get sacked at the Oakland 29.

So even though the Browns had the two-minute warning and used their last two time outs, they still burned 1:43 to get to the Oakland 35 with 43 seconds left.

In the San Diego game, McCown took over with 1:35 left in the first half. He took a sack, and threw three passes into the middle of the field and the Browns ended up kicking a field goal with 6 seconds left from the San Diego 10.

The Browns used two timeouts– and had San Diego not called two time outs to get their defense set, the clock could have run out. At the end of the game, Cleveland handed the Chargers the ball with 2:09 left– plenty of time to get a field goal.

Are you blaming McCown for bad defense?

I blame the defense for being a bad defense. I’m blaming McCown for leaving so much time on the clock. Part of the reason he is 1-3 as a starter is that he doing use the clock well when the Browns have the ball late. Another part is that he leaves opponent’s too much time.

The fact that McCown advertised this blog twice on Sunday– and not for the first time– should tell you he isn’t good at clock management. One of the penalties came on the final drive of halftime.

OK, explain his record-setting performance.
No other Browns quarterback matched what he did

  1. The obvious reason is that Brian Sipe (the #2 guy) didn’t need to throw for more than 444 yards to win. In the game he set the record McCown broke, the Browns won 42-28, and Sipe threw only 41 times.
  2. Most of the players who had really big games (here’s the list of everyone over 350) didn’t drop back to throw 55 times (as McCown did). The only players who had more pass attempts were Sipe (57, in a 44-14 loss) and Colt McCoy (61, in this 31-13 loss).
  3. Most other quarterbacks got a little help from their teammates. Let’s run down the contributions of the other members of the Browns:
  • The running backs gained 83 yards on 25 carries (3.3 yards).
  • The line (which helped with that result) lost 35 yards by giving up 4 sacks.
  • The kick return team produced 15 yards on 6 returns
  • The punt return team got 1 yard on 6 returns
  • The defense chipped in 14 yards from sacks of Flacco
  • 0 yards on interception returns
  • 0 yards on fumble returns

That’s a total of 78 yards not gained on passes. Had McCown not gained 457, the Browns probably would have lost by 14 points.

Obviously he had a great day– and the Browns are really lucky that he had it. Because if he’d only put up half the yardage– say 230 yards on 18-26– the Browns would have scored maybe 10 points.

The Browns gained so many yards passing because the Ravens stacked so many people on the line to stop the run.

You’ll have to prove that to me. Let’s look at the offensive splits by quarter.

quarter splits

You can make a pretty decent case for the “stacked the line” theory in the first three quarters. In the first half, the Browns can’t run at all, but the passing game is doing OK (remember, 7.3 yards a pass is league average).

In the third quarter, Baltimore drops more guys into coverage to shut off Josh McCain. It works– his yardage drops– but the running game is now average.

And then in the fourth quarter, Baltimore did… what? They adopted a scheme that let Cleveland gain 6.6 yards per rush and 14 per pass? I’ve seen that scheme before– Todd Grantham used to play it when he ran Romeo Crennel’s defense. But the Ravens haven’t used it.

The Browns adjusted to them.

What kind of adjustment did they make? And why’d they do it in the fourth quarter? Why didn’t the Ravens counter? The more logical theory is: “As Baltimore’s injuries mounted, the mostly-healthy Browns were able to wear them down.” 

  • Baltimore had 5 players play every snap; the Browns had 2.
  • Baltimore had 3 more players over 70%; the Browns had 2.

Rested players have fresher legs. Also, the Browns won time of possession 39:16 to 29:01.

You have anything good to say about the win?

I can say lots of things about the game— I just don’t have any sweeping claims based on 60 minutes of data.

1. John De Felippo seems to be handling things well. The run-pass balance is totally out of whack, but except for the Raiders game (14 runs), the Browns have run at least 20 times in the last three games.

It seems to a reaction to the talent problems at running back rather than a desire to drop the bomb. He’s calling the plays that work– right now, that’s just passing.

2. A key reason McCown had a good day is that he spread the ball around. He completed passes to 9 different receivers; the only guy who played offensive snaps and didn’t get targeted was FB Malcolm Johnson (and he had only had 6 snaps).

If a team doesn’t have a great receiver, it needs to use the element of surprise– not letting the defense predict who will get the ball.

3. Big plays (anything moving the ball 20 yards or more) unsettle a defense. The Browns had 9– and they went to 6 different players:

  • WR Taylor Gabriel (56 yards)
  • Barnidge (35 and 22 yards)
  • RB Duke Johnson (27 yards)
  • Benjamin (25 and 19 yards)
  • WR Andrew Hawkins (22 yards and a 7-yarder that drew a Triplette for unnecessary roughness)
  • RB Isaiah Crowell (22 yards)

4. It was good to see Hawkins get some play. He was the team’s best receiver last year, but he had only 10 catches on 19 targets after four games. He had 9 throws, 7 catches and 49 yards– all season highs– Sunday.

The line was problematic, so don’t ask me to give it any love. They didn’t commit any penalties, though.

5. The Browns have figured out a scheme that makes the best use of Dwayne Bowe. Even though the Baltimore secondary was struggling– and a deep threat seemingly would have been able to have his way with them– Bowe was inactive for the game. Just as well, because he expects 10-12 targets a game and usually catches half.

The defense had a pretty decent effort, didn’t you think?

The Browns won time of possession 39:16 to 29:01 and the defense still gave up 30 points.

It allowed 31 rushes for 181 yards. It forced no turnovers and had one sack. (Though it did stuff 5 runs and knock down 4 passes.)

You can claim it shut down Joe Lack-O (19-35 for 210 yards with a TD pass; 81.8 rating). But his rating would look better if the formula counted rushing touchdowns; he scored two.

They shut down Joe Flacco

A very large number of teams do. The only thing I’ll say on his behalf is that his receivers were inexperienced and Trestman called a lot of deep plays, rather than trying to get a linebacker or tight end on the linebackers.

Well, I think this was a great game

That’s good. Football is supposed to be entertainment– and lord knows, chances for entertainment will be few and far between down the road.


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