Browns Review: Game 7 (@ Cincinnati)

Geoff, how come you never talk to me anymore?

Hey Mr. Jabronie, how ya doing? Last I heard, you were telling me that Hue Jackson would get the Browns in the playoffs in a year or two. How’s that working out for you?

We’d be 3-4 if it weren’t for a few things.

Like Baltimore scoring 23 unanswered points– while holding Cleveland scoreless for 55:26?

Or missing 50% of the field goals against Miami?

Or whatever excuse you have for the Tennessee or Washington games?

The 14-point swing on Malcolm Johnson’s fumble.

Oh, right. Who cares if Squire Johnson fumbled on the next drive, giving Washington the ball at their own 43– and denying the Browns a chance to come back with the score 24-20 ? Let’s ignore Cody “Trust Me” Kessler throwing an interception on the next drive to put the ball of the Cleveland 39– after which Washignton scored to put them up 31-20?

Johnson fumble cost us a score and set up a TD.

As a Valley Girl might say, “Like, I’m surrreee.“Going into that game. the Browns were 27th in red zone percentage (42.9%), so the they were more likely not to score a TD– to kick a field goal making it 23-17 or just get stopped on four downs. Also, the turnover gave Washington the ball on their own 9— they had to go 91 yards to score.

Stuff like this is why I quit responding to questions and claims asked by fans and media types– I got tired of dealing with dumb stuff.

The Browns are now 27th in points scored and 30th in points scored– that’s a bad team. Hue Jackson has made the team worse than 2015:

  • Their offense (18.6 points per game) is 1.2 points better than the 2015 team (17.4 per game).
  • The defense (29.6) is 2.6 points worse than last year (27.0 per game).

That’s nearly a point and a half per game worse.

But Jackson has kept them close in every game.

No he hasn’t. I define (so I can still compare with the pre-2 point era) a “close game” as “decided by 7 points or less”. Jackson and Mike Pettine were almost identical in close losses at this point of the schedule. The 2016 Browns haven’t been blown out nearly as often as the 2015 team– but we still have nine games to go.

Margin of loss
2016
2015
0-7 points
3 (42.8%) 5 (38.5%)
8-14 points
2 (28.6%) 1 (7.7%)
15+ points
2 (28.6%) 7 (43.8%)

Also remember that the 2015 column doesn’t include the Browns three wins. Nor does it factor in the performance of the drunken slob that Jimmy Haslam foisted on Pettine.

Anyway, who cares? As Bill Parcells allegedly put it (nobody can track down his first use of the phrase), “You are your record.” We don’t give half-credit for a close loss. Or style points for not looking that bad in the first half of a blowout..

It’s a bad team. Horton and the Marx Brothers took over a 3-13 team and (so far) made it worse.

They’ve had to use six different quarterbacks!

Whose fault is that? Let’s walk through this again.

  1. When Alex Mack left– something that Sasho Marr should have known would happen (he matched the offer that had an opt-out clause in it)– the Marx Brothers should have brought in a center. Instead they decided to hope Cam Erving could play. They were dead wrong.
  2. Mitchell Schwartz was willing to re-sign. The Marx Brothers pulled his offer, figuring they could get someone a lot better and cheaper. They didn’t, so Austin Pasztor is playing.
  3. They apparently haven’t watched the Seattle Seahawks play, and didn’t notice that their offensive line is awful. Hence they signed Alvin Bailey (an undrafted free agent not re-signed) imagining that he would help. He hasn’t.
  4. Robert Griffin had played four seasons. In three of them, he missed regular-season games due to injuries. In the fourth season, he was benched partly because he got hurt in pre-season. When ESPN’s poll of front office types ranked Cleveland ahead of only the Rams, Griffin’s refusal to stay healthy was one of their reasons why.

Refusal to stay healthy? That’s a ridiculous claim!

When the coaches tell you “Don’t stand back there and let them hit you– throw the ball away!” and you don’t do it, that is a refusal. When the coaches tell you “Don’t scramble so much– if the primary receiver isn’t open, do all of your reads; don’t just take off!” and you will not do it, that is a refusal. When the coaches say “Dammit, don’t let them hit you– slide!” and you keep trying to bowl over tacklers, that is a refusal.

RGIII most likely ended his career as a starter because he ignored the third instruction. Both Mike Shanahan and Jay Gruden told him not to fight for a yard on two– that the time he missed with injuries would hurt the team more than the yardage helps. He’s always ignored them.

Browns writers and fans chortled about how Griffin didn’t like to slide– as if it was some harmless, endearing character trait, like Mike Hargrove dancing the cha-cha after every pitch. So in the Philly game, when he turned upfield– rather than going out of bounds– on a third-and-long, he was refusing to do what was in everyone’s best interests. Including his own.

The team was obviously going to go for it on fourth down. He wasn’t going to get the first down. But he ignored what he had been told. And it will cost him his career. Unless Kessler or Kevin Hogan can’t play, you’d have to be insane to bench them for a guy who’s just going to get himself.

Robert Griffin is a warrior. He fights on every play.

What Griffin did isn’t materially different than Puff Gordon refusing to stop smoking the whacky terbacky. Griffin’s refusal isn’t illegal; some jabronies consider it an virtue. But both players behave in a manner that hurts the team by denying it access to their services.

To resume my analysis:

  1. Josh McCown is 37, and his refusal to throw the ball away is nearly a legendary as RGIII’s. It is a substantial reason that he has been injured in each of his last four seasons. The Browns decided to keep McCown as Griffin’s backup, despite overwhelming evidence that he might go down as quickly as RGIII.

In fact, McCowbn lasted less time— than RGIII. Griffin plated almost a full game. McCown lasted less than a half. He selfishly refused to leave the game, and the Browns were held scoreless.

  1. Counting Terrelle Pryor as one of the six quarterbacks is a garbage stat. He was playing by choice, not by necessity. Jackson, who wasted a third-round pick on Pryor when he was with Oakland in 2010, couldn’t resist the temptation to use him. It might have Pryor him hurt (depending on when you think it happened) and it has definitely set his progress as a receiver back.
  2. Charlie Whitehurst should never have been on the team anyway
  3. Cody “Trust Me” Kessler got injured in the New England game because the Browns had John Greco (a guard) playing center and he blew a blocking assignment.
  4. Kevin Hogan got injured because Hue Jackson wanted to use multiple-receiver sets even though he had a sucky, sucky line.

The Indians losing 60% of their starting rotation after September 1– with only Danny Salazar’s flexor strain caused by the physical exertion pitching causes (Carlos Carrasco was hit by a batted ball; Trevor Bauer the victim of a drone strike)– is bad luck. That’s something you can’t entirely predict.

Salazar’s arm has given him trouble before; Carrasco has often been hurt, often due to some odd causes.Still, the odds of “A”, and “B” and “C” all happening within six weeks are very low.

Injury-prone quarterbacks being injured– and everyone else getting beaten to hell due to lack of protection from the line– is something that should have been expected.

What about all the injuries on defense?

Which ones? Joe Haden being hurt and missing games isn’t an unexpected event– Haden played a full season only once– as rookie. And he didn’t start for half the 2010 season. He used to miss fewer games, but last year he missed 11.

Desmond Bryant being injured is bad luck, but he is 31 and he had only six sacks. Plus, the Browns have been drafting ends right and left for the past two years. If they were performing as expected, he wouldn’t be missed.

The problem is that the Browns inherited a team that finished with 29 sacks (28th in the league) and cut the players who made 13 of them:

Player   Sacks
Desmond Bryant DE 6
Armonty Bryant LB 5.5
Christian Kirksey LB 3.5
Nate Orchard LB 3
Paul Kruger LB 2.5
Donte Whitner SS 1.5
John Hughes DE 1.5
Xavier Cooper DE 1.5
K’Waun Williams CB 1
Jordan Poyer fs/ss 1
Jamie Meder 1
Randy Starks DE 1

I’m not saying the Browns shouldn’t have made those cuts. But if you get rid of Paul Kruger, you’re saying that you have some other player who can provide 681 snaps, 16 solo tackles and 2.5 sacks.

I have never been a big fan of Armonty Bryant. In 32 games played, he had 8½ career sacks. 5½ came in games the Browns won by 13 points or more– all late in the game. A player who gets most of his production after the game is won and you’ve quit worrying about run defense isn’t a player you must keep.

But if you get rid of him because you’re angry Puff Gordon relapsed again– and you take your emotions out on someone that nobody will object to you cutting? That’s a decision you made, not bad luck.

I could run the same chart with interceptions.The Browns had only 11 a year ago. They dumped the players who made 7 of them: LBs Karlos Dansby (3), Craig Robertson and Barkevious Mingo (1 each) and FS Tashaun Gipson (2).

In one sense you could say that the Browns haven’t missed them– they already have 6. At this pace, they will have more. But all six have been made by their corners: Haden and Jamar Taylor (2 each), and Tramon Williams and Briean Boddy-Calhoun (1 each).

I would not say “Wouldn’t the defense look great if the 2015 linebackers and secondary were playing with the 2016 corners?” Dansby, to name just one thing, is a year older and much slower. But here is something we can say:

  • The Browns signed Demario Davis after he had played four full seasons– 64 games and 51 starts– with the Jets. In all that time (2,829 snaps), he had only one interception. After seven more games, he still has only one.
  • Christian Kirksey— a played that everyone outside of Cleveland considers a journeyman– is 39 games and 1,731 snaps into his NFL career. He has yet to intercept a pass.

Davis has 6.5 sacks, no fumbled forced, 4 fumbles recovered and 10 pass knockdowns after nearly 4½ seasons. Kirksey has 7 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovered and 5 pass knockdowns after 2½.

They’re not playing due to injury– the Browns decided to make them the heart of their defense. They have guessed very wrong.

So how do you fix it? I’d fire Horton now.

That would be an incredibly stupid idea for three reasons:

1. Nobody is qualified to take over. Only two defensive assistants have been coordinators:

  • Assistant Defensive Line coach Ken Delgado (San Diego State in 2001-01),
  • Defensive Line coach Robert Nunn (Georgia Military College, 1991)

Most haven’t even been position coaches. Since Jackson can’t help them (he’s avoided defensive assignments, except for one year), the defense would be rudderless.

2. You would never get a decent replacement. Not this year and not the next.

By the end of the year, the Browns will consolidate their status as the worst franchise in the NFL. They’re winless and probably will have the first or second pick.

They have had two winning seasons in 18 years, and 10 head coaches. If Oakland goes to the playoffs (likely) and Buffalo makes it too (possible), Cleveland will own the longest playoff drought in the NFL. Their best player is their left tackle; they haven’t had a good skill position player (as opposed to problem players having a career year) since Art Modell owned the team.

Among assistant coaches, Cleveland is already considered the NFL’s worst franchise. They have been for years and it isn’t even close:

  • Dozens of assistants have left their old jobs and uprooted their families to move here.
  • After a year or two, their boss gets fired– or he fires them, in an effort to keep his job.
  • If the assistants have any time left on their contract, the Browns won’t let them start looking for work immediately– they insist that the coaches stay with the team until the head coach is chosen, and he decides whether to keep them.
  • The Browns are often the last team to hire the head coach, so the assistant can’t begin looking until every other team fills their openings.

As one front office guy pointed out, many teams give fired assistants plane tickets so they can get to the college all-star games and interview with coaches who are there to scout. It’s an investment in the future– you never know which “Assistant Tight Ends” or “Defensive Quality Control” coach will turn into a strong head coaching candidate down the road.

The Browns recruited Horton from Tennessee– the Titans were satisfied with his performance and wanted to keep him so they could have continuity. If Cleveland fires him in midyear– after an off-season where they dumped veterans– nobody with an alternative will come.

3. This is not entirely Horton’s fault. He’s heavily responsible– he’s told the Browns to get rid of players. He can’t scout worth a damn and he’s no good as a coach.

But a lot of the problem is the same issue it always is: Failure to obtain players who can and will do their jobs.

There is no defensive scheme that tells an end or linebacker the following:

“Line up at the edge– as the player closest to the sideline, there to ensure nobody can run down the sideline. But if you think the play is going the other way, ignore your assignment and run after the ball. If they cut back into your area for a 74-yard score, it’s OK.”

Here’s another thing you never see, except in the sandlots:

“Cover a receiver– unless the quarterback gets flushed from the pocket. If that happens, leave your man to chase the QB.

“Don’t worry that the passer hasn’t crossed the line of scrimmage– that he can throw to the man you leave open. Go for the big play.”

Twice during the game, the Browns used a “Cover Two”– and failed to execute.

Cover Two is a pass defense based on the principles of a relay race. The corners line up on the best receivers and cover them through the short zone– and, if they’re really good, the middle one. The safeties help cover the deep zone– and if the receiver seems to be getting away– the middle zone.

It’s not an arcane concept. This defense was designed by Bud Carson in 1974, when he was Chuck Noll’s defensive coordinator in Pittsburgh. When they started playing it, they became the best defense in the NFL. Tony Dungy revived it in the 80’s, to help deal with the 49ers’ offense– it won championships for Tampa and Indianapolis.

But the defense fails if:

  • The safety never comes up to help, or
  • The corner falls down, or
  • The defender blows by the corner and the quarterback throws before the safety can get there
  • The defensive line gets so little pressure that the receiver can evade them both.

Steve Beuerlein and Steve Tasker aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer. In point of fact, there are crayons sharper– Q-Tips, when it comes to some areas of the game. But both guys pointed out the safeties’ failure to provide deep help on numerous plays. That’s one way A.J. Green gets loose.

It also doesn’t help when you have five defenders around the ball– and they all bump into each other while the one offensive player comes down with the ball.

If you want to blame Horton for deciding that Pierre Desir, because he doesn’t tackle, ought to go, while Tramon Williams (who can’t cover) should stay, But blaming Horton because Williams (33, ridiculously overpaid and a worse player than either Dansby or Donte Whitner) was kept is silly.

I’m getting tired of talking about this. You have any other questions?

Isn’t it time we switch to the 4-3 to get a pass rush?

There we go– another Jabronie’s greatest hit. Please tell me which linebacker you want to bench and which defensive lineman you want to give more playing time to.

I’d like to cut Tramon Williams

Who is neither a defensive lineman nor a defensive back. I’ll take that as a confession that you don’t know what to do.

Look, the 3-4 was developed because defensive linemen with speed are much harder to find that linebackers. The idea was to get a big fat guy who wouldn’t need to run, surround him with two good ends and then use the linebackers to fill in the gaps

Playing a 4-3 doesn’t help unless you have four defensive linemen who are better than your top four linebackers.

At least we could stop playing the prevent

They’re not playing a prevent– they’re simply covering every receiver. To repeat something I have been saying for 30 years– since “The Drive” in the AFC Championship– when the offense lines up with:

  1. A pass-catching running back
  2. A speedy wide receiver
  3. A possession receiver
  4. A tight end who catches passes
  5. Either another pass-catching tight end or another wide receiver

The offense has put five receivers on the field. Unless you want to leave one of them open, you have to use at least five defenders . That leaves six people who can rush.

You can leave someone uncovered if you are absolutely positive you can reach the quarterback before he can see the man and release the throw. If that doesn’t happen, the completion will go for a long way unless (a) the quarterback makes a bad throw or (b) the receiver drops the pass or falls down.

Want to double-cover A.J. Green? Now you need six defenders and you have five rushers left– and the offense has five blockers to stop them.

The problem here is not the defensive set being called– it’s that all five pass rushers get stopped. The Browns have to leave someone open in order to get pressure– and often that guy doesn’t get through.

If the following things happen:

  • Carl Nassibs production goes up after his broken hand heals
  • Emmanuel Ogbah can
    • Put as much pressure on good tackles as he did on Cedric Ogbuehi (who, like Austin Pasztor, is the guy struggling to fill the hole left by a free agent), and
    • Supply that pass pressure without being blown off the ball on every run
  • Danny Shelton plays as well every week as he does some weeks (Sunday was a debacle)

The three lineman will tie up the five lineman– maybe even beat them– and the other two pass rushers will be able to blow through to the quarterback.

As many teams have shown over the years, the number of lineman used in the front seven doesn’t matter if you have good players.

I still like a 4-3 better. 

That’s why you’re a Jabronie. I’m done here.

You didn’t say anything about the Bengals game

Yeah I did– it just flew over your head.

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