Browns Review: Game 4 (@ Washington)

By losing to Washington, the Browns fell to 0-4 and now have the NFL’s worst record. The seems to be upsetting a whole lot of people. I honestly don’t know why.

If you’re a season ticket-holder– meaning you pay $$$$ to watch swill– I get it. If you’re a player (who could get purged at any moment by increasingly-frustrated coaches), I feel your pain. And any coach working for Jimmy Haslam ought to worry about his job 24-7.

But if you’re in the media– or you don’t pay for games– why does it matter? The front office told everyone they intended to rebuild from the ground up. They warned everyone in advance that they’d lose most of their games for the next 2-3 years.

There’s only material difference between being 0-4 and 1-3 (which would tie them with 13 other teams): Opponents take crappy teams for granted, so sometimes you can catch them by surprise. Everyone fears losing to a winless team.

But given this week’s opponent, there is zero chance the Browns will be taken for granted. So this is a non issue.

That said, the people claiming the Browns aren’t the worst team in the NFL have nothing to support their claim. Here is the data:

  1. They have the worst record.
  2. They’ve been outscored by 41 points– more than 10 a game– which is the worst point differential in the league.
  3. They’re 26th in points scored (18.5)– the only teams worse are the Giants, Dolphins,  Texans, Rams, Bears and Titans.
  4. They’re also 27th in points allowed (28.8)– the only teams worse are the Panthers, Falcons, Colts, Bucs and Saints.
  5. As points #3 and point #4, there is no team in the NFL worse in both offense and defense.
  6. If the kicking teams could be ranked on points, they’d probably by 27th as well.

Plus, the four opponents Cleveland has faced are a combined 5-6 against other teams:

  • Philadelphia is 2-0… but the Eagles crushed the Browns.
  • The Browns could have beaten the Ravens (who are 2-1), but the Ravens beat Jacksonville (1-3) by two points and Buffalo (2-2) by six points. They aren’t a real 3-1 team.
  • The Dolphins are 1-2 in the other games; Washington is 0-3.that good

Saying the Browns are better than 0-4 because you were impressed by a play here and there misses the point: in almost every game, the loser can say that. We measure teams by how they play despite the injuries, silly mistakes, bad bounces and Jeff Triplette’s phantom calls and made up penalties.

I wish I could say a lot of encouraging things about the Washington game. I just can’t. Washington played very badly, and it is impossible to filter that out. Take, for example, one of Isaiah Crowell‘s long runs:

  • Guard John Greco and tackle Austin Pasztor open a substantial gap. We know that normally doesn’t happen, so that’s clearly a Washington error.
  • Crowell bursts through the hole and there’s nobody in the gap. That’s a defensive issue.
  • About three yards in (hard to tell from the angle) a Washington linebacker runs over to the right. Crowell is partway past him (point to Crowell), but the talker tries to grab his arm, which clearly isn’t how you do it..
  • Crowell breaks the tackle– something Travis Prentice couldn’t have accomplished– but it was a tackle like we used to see from Kamerion Wimbley.
  • Crowell cuts inside– two guys come at him and miss.
  • Crowell is finally pulled down by two guys in front of him– but he gets 2-3 more yards after contact.

I ran the play four times, trying to figure out what percentage to assign to what. I game up.

I can’t give any credit to Hue Jackson’s deceptive play calling. The Browns gained 10 or more yards on a run seven times– all seven runs came on 1st-&-10.  That’s when almost everyone runs. They gained 105 of their 163 yards on those plays (they were 21-55 otherwise).

On those seven plays, I counted four holes I would call “huge” and a total of 11 missed tackles, and half a dozen guys who tried to tackle him and didn’t get their hands on the ballcarrier. I might be exaggerating, because I tend to be a tough critic, Pro Football Focus saw it the same way:

Cleveland’s No. 1 runner forced eight missed tackles on just 16 carries, and he also averaged exactly 6 yards after contact. Interestingly, while Cleveland’s runners averaged just 2.6 yards outside the tackles, they were able to gain 8.2 yards on average between the tackles.

I noticed that last part too. All five linemen played well; center Austin Reiter had a great first and last game of the season. (Losing him to an ACL will hurt).

So, while I’d like to give a good grade to the running game, or the line, I can’t.

Then there’s Cody “Trust Me” Kessler. Completing 70% of his balls (28-40) is pretty terrific. But 223 yards (7.3 per pass) is average. He threw a TD, but he also threw an interception; counting his fumble, he was a net minus on big plays. He took a sack; he got hit eight times.

Then you get into how short the passes were. The Browns didn’t have a single play go 20 yards– and the four longest gainers were runs. The longest pass of the day was the 14-yarder to Crowell, where he got a lot of it after the catch.

PFF claims (it’s in the article I linked to) that the average depth of his targets was just 5.3 yards– that he attempted only seven passes that traveled over 10 yards in the air. Pro Football Reference agrees; they listed only one pass as a deep one.

I mentioned that pass in my first look on Facebook, describing it as follows:

Kessler tried to throw a long ball to Ricardo Louis deep down the right sideline. It was 67 degrees with a 1-MPH wind. The ball floated and sailed.

There were a number of other plays where Kessler looped, rather than lasered. He disguises it very very well, but he won’t succeed in the NFL.Kessler tried to throw a long ball to Ricardo Louis deep down the right sideline.

I can think of a lot of good things to say about him– ran the game well in his second game, made few mental mistakes, usually got rid of the ball, made positive plays most of the time. Maybe short passes were all that Jackson was calling. And I’d much rather watch him play that Josh McCown or RGIII, because there is at least hope for Kessler.

But I can’t imagine him completing anything in Cleveland, in December– not unless global warming keeps temperatures in the 70’s. And when teams realize that he can’t beat them deep, and his short balls don’t have that much zip, I can imagine them jumping his routes.

And because I’ve got misgivings about the quarterback, what can I say about the receivers? As you can guess from the passing stats, nobody had a good day. Fullback Malcolm Johnson— named “Worst Player Ever”in an emergency vote by the Pro Football Hall of Fame– had the longest average (1 pass for 11 yards). Terrelle Pryor went 5-9 for 46 yards; Gary Barnidge went 7-7 for 57 yards (8.2).

Rich Gannon, calling the game for CBS, decided to blame everything on Corey Coleman being injured and Puff Gordon being gone– time and again, he said the Cleveland receiving corps has no speed. It is true to some degree– but it makes no sense to run deep if the quarterback can’t get ti to you.

And what happened to Pryor during the game was exactly what I was concerned about. In the first half, he was 4-4 for 42 yards and a score. In the second half, Josh Norman either decided to get serious or shot him with a concealed bor and arrow. At any rate, Pryor went 1-4 for 4 yards after halftime.

So that’s the offense. The defense:

1. Gave up 31 points. You can say that 14 points were the result of turnovers– but Washington got the ball once on the Cleveland 39 (not exactly knocking on the door) and the other time on its own 9. Technically,a 91-yard drive is still “points of turnovers”, but it’s pressing the definition to a ridiculous extreme.

2. Got three sacks, one stuff, no fumbles and one interception. In the first three games, Washington had been sacked six times and turned it over four times. They did a little better on sacks and worse on turnovers.

3. Let Washington gain 145 yards on 26 carries– 5.6 per attempt. Going into the game, they were ranked 7th in rushing average (4.4), but 20th in yards per game (93). While Washington let the Browns run on them by not tackling, the Browns failed the same way they always do– people ignoring their assignments.

It’s really very simple. If you’re assigned to cover a gap and you leave it open to chase the ball, the running back will (if he can get there) cut back and go by you.

The pass defense, to be fair, was pretty good. Kirk Cousins got only 183 yards on 27 throws– a miserable 6.7 yards per pass. There were pass plays of 26 and 23 yards, but nobody averaged more than 10.5 yards per catch;

The hitch is that Cousins completed 21 of 27– 77.8% is ridiculously high. He didn’t have trouble making plays.

Bottom line– there’s one area where I can say “The Browns did well today and it’s clearly the result of their effort.” Kicker Cody Parkey kicked two extra points and field goals of 45 and 51 yards.

When that’s your big headline, it’s not a good day.



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