OK, now that the two professional sports teams in the Cleveland area have concluded their 2016 seasons, it’s time to address the red-headed stepchild– the 0-8 Browns.
To do this, we will need to employ some new rules– or, actually, some old ones. One is the Shurmurball rule: Once the Browns stop trying to win, all offensive plays, yards and points after that point are excluded from consideration.
I devised this rule in 2011, to put something puzzling into perspective. Late in a game, with the opponent comfortably ahead, the Browns would take the kickoff and run a drive that was entirely inappropriate, given the situation:
- The Browns would line up in a huddle– not the hurry-up..
- They’d throw short passes to the middle of the field– not passes downfield.
- If they threw into the flat, the receiver wouldn’t be particularly t close to the sideline and wouldn’t make a special attempt to get out.
- They didn’t call time outs, spike the ball or run up to the line.
They didn’t run the ball much, except for scrambles– Pat Shurmur rarely ran, even after the Browns chose Trent Richardson with the third pick. But they didn’t seem to be paying any attention to the clock either.
At some point, the opposing team would realize what was happening and cooperate. The pass rush that had been harassing Colt McCoy all day would get dialed back, the opponent would concentrate on deep coverage and the sidelines. The Browns would complete an 8-play, 80 yards drive that took 3:47, and bring the score to (say) 23-10 with 4:11 remaining. The opponent would take the ball and run out the clock.
As a result of the drive, McCoy’s passer rating for the day would be greatly improved, since he’d complete 4 of 6 passes for 63 yards and a score. The running game would look a little better, because it got 17 yards on two carries. The media would wonder if the late drive meant the offense was finally coming together.
But, next week, the same thing would happen.
I watched substantially the same thing happen against the Jets. When New Yorl kicked a field goal to make the game 31-20 with 4:08 remaining, the Browns made no attempt to play like a team trying to score 11 points in 248 seconds. Hue Jackson seemed to be conducting some type of scrimmage during the game, on the assumption that his offense needed practice.
It took the Jets a few plays to realize this was happening, but they soon began to cooperate. So, for analytical purposes, he 14 plays the Browns ran, the 84 yards they gained and the 8 points scored are meaningless.
Let’s go over what happened, so I can demonstrate what I mean. The Jets have just kicked a field goal– set up by Josh McCown‘s second interception– to make it 31-20.
[4:08] Folk kicks 64 yards from NYJ 35 to CLV 1. Atkinson to CLV 16 for 15 yards.
On the previous five kickoffs, Nick Folk had kicked the ball into the end zone. Had he done it again, it would have been a touchback and very little time would have elapsed. He kicked it short because the Jets wanted the Browns to run it back and burn time.
Rather than stepping back and trying to catch or fall on it in the end zone, Atkinson obliged him. Four seconds of the 248 (1.6% of the time remaining) elapse.
[4:00, 1-10-CLV 16] McCown pass incomplete short right to Johnson
The Browns let four seconds run off the game clock before they started the play. McCown took an enormous amount of time (given how short the pass was) to throw it. Then he didn’t throw a good pass, so they gained no yardage. The only positive thing that happened: the incomplete pass stopped the clock
These 11 seconds represent 4.4% of the 248 seconds they had. Total time used is 6.0%.
[3:53, 2-10-CLV 16] McCown pass short middle to Barnidge to CLV 26 for 10 yards
From a yardage standpoint, this is a productive play– it moves them 10 of the 84 yards and gets a first down. From a game perspective, it’s a disaster. It’s into the middle of the field, the clock doesn’t stop, and the Browns take their time running the next play.
28 seconds— 11.3% of the 248 they had– elapse. The Browns need to score 11 points, 17.3% of their time is gone and they’re still inside their 30.time
[3:25, 1-10-CLV 26] McCown pass incomplete short middle to Louis
Given the location, the incompletion is probably a blessing.
But six more seconds (2.4%) elapse. They’ve now used 49 seconds (19.7%) and have only 199 (3:19) left.
[3:19, 2-10-CLV 26] Johnson left end to CLV 26 for no gain
At this point, Roger Goodell has probable cause to hire detectives to see if either Jackson or McCown is betting on his team. Johnson has a 9.3 yard rushing average– but on three plays. He gets stuffed, and the next play won’t run until 2:45.
34 seconds (13.7%) are gone. Time elapsed on the drive is 83 seconds– over one-third of 248 they had to work with.
[2:45, 3-10-CLV 26] McCown pass short left to Johnson to CLV 43 for 17 yards
Cleveland is putting on a textbook demonstration of why teams play a prevent defense. They get a first down– which, to be fair, they needed– but since Johnson is tackled in bounds, the clock doesn’t stop.
The Browns don’t get the next play off for 34 seconds. That’s another 13.7% on one play– 47.3% of the total.
[2:11, 1-10-CLV 43] McCown pass incomplete short left to Hawkins
5 seconds burned (2.0%). Time of the drive is 2:02 of the 4:08 they had. I believe this was the play where former QB Rich Gannon (who’d been talking about the clock management) said they had no chance to win– even if they scored, they wouldn’t have time left.
[2:06, 2-10-CLV 43] McCown pass short left to Louis to 50 for 7 yards
As a friend (who played quarterback) pointed out years ago, it taken 6-7 seconds to run a play. So if you won’t be able to get in another play before the referees stop the clock for you, this is the time to run your slow-developing pass play, a run or a gadget. A short, quick slant doesn’t help.
Six more seconds gone. In the 2:00 remaining. Cleveland needs 50 yards, a two-point conversion, an onside kick recovery and then enough yards to get them into field goal range with at least one second left.
Since they’ve used 2:08 to travel to the 50, this clearly isn’t happening.
[2:00, 3-3-50] McCown pass short right to Johnson to NYJ 44 for 6 yards
They need a first down, they get it. And they lose 26 seconds.
[1:34, 1-10-NYJ 44] McCown pass short middle to Johnson to NYJ 18 for 26 yards
The only people being helped by this are the people who had the players involved in their fantasy league. 27 seconds elapse.
[1:07, 1-10-NYJ 18] McCown pass incomplete short right to Barnidge
[1:00, 2-10-NYJ 18] McCown pass short right to Crowell to NYJ 2 for 16 yards
This play marks the first point where the Browns chances of winning (based on the win probability stats used by Pro Football Reference) are higher than they were when Folk kicked off. Before the kick, the percentage was 3.5%. It’s now up to 4.1%
The Browns need to score on the next play. But 31 seconds– half the time on the clock– elapse before the next play runs. And the next play is insane.
[0:29, 1-2-NYJ 2] Crowell right guard to NYJ 1 for 1 yard
Not only do they not score, but the play doesn’t stop the clock– and they don’t even call their last time out quickly.
Timeout #3 by CLV at 00:19
If you’re wondering why Cleveland has only one time out left, it’s because they burned two when the Jets had the ball. After the Jets scored to make it 28-20 with 9:42 left, McCown threw an interception on the second play of the drive. The Jets didn’t score, but they:
- Took over with 9:03
- Ran a 7-play drive that gained only 27 yards, but
- Burned 3:24 off the clock and then
- Punted and downed the ball on the one.
On the third play of the drive, McCown was intercepted at the 8-yard line. The Jets:
- Ran on first down– and when Jackson didn’t call time out, burned 44 of the maximum 45 seconds.
- Ran on second down– the Browns called their first timeout, but 10 seconds elapsed..
- Inexplicably threw a short pass on third down. They did complete it, meaning the clock didn’t stop, and the Browns used timeout #2 (10 more seconds off).
Let’s return to the drive, such as it was.
[0:19, 2-1-NYJ 1] McCown pass incomplete short right to Barnidge
[0:15, 3-1-NYJ 1] McCown pass short right to Hawkins for 1 yard, TOUCHDOWN.
TWO-POINT CONVERSION ATTEMPT. McCown pass to Pryor Sr. is complete; ATTEMPT SUCCEEDS.
And that’s the game. Brandon Marshall recovered Cory Parkey’s onside kick at the Jet 47, but it wouldn’t have mattered if the Browns had recovered. There were 12 seconds left. The Browns would have had to throw a 12-yard pass to get into Parkey’s range (51 yards) in six seconds and then get the kicking team on the field and kick in less than six.
(Lining up to spike the ball would probably have taken just as much time.) That wasn’t going to happen.
The constraints imposed by the clock are the reason the Jets didn’t call all-out blitzes (leaving their corners on islands) and that McCown was able to complete 7 of 12 passes for 83 yards. New York didn’t need to stop the Browns from gaining yardage– all they needed to do was force them to gain it slowly.
This is the point Rob Ryan has never been able to grasp– the reason why he is working for his brother and will never get a coordinatot’s job from anyone else. At some point, the gun would go off before the Browns could tie the game. When that happened, the Jets would win.
The illusion that can occur when a team is gaining meaningless yards is very strong. It is so strong that some people are upset that McCown is being benched for Cody “Trust Me” Kessler. McCown didn’t have that bad a game, as they see it, and he was rusty. Given another week, he’ll play better.
This chart shows just how much McCown’s totals were inflated by the last drive. The first line is the game totals, the second is the totals for the one drive and the third the results without that drive. The Browns lost the game for the same reason teams have now lost 18 of the 59 games McCown has started– he’s a terrible, terrible quarterback.
McCown’s 18-41 record as a starter, by the way, isn’t the result of some early struggles. Here’s his career, broken down by team:
The gaps exist because neither Detroit, Carolina nor San Francisco ever started him in a regular season game, and McCown was out of the league in 2010.
Jackson’s decision to bench McCown isn’t surprising. While I doubt Jackson will be a successful head coach, he’s certainly a fine quarterback coach; he knows McCown wouldn’t make it even if he weren’t 37. He doesn’t read defenses, holds the ball too long, panics under pressure and still throws the ball off his back foot when he gets rattled.
McCown is hardly the reason the Browns lost 31-20. The Browns gained only 68 yards on 18 carries– except for an 11-yard run by Isaiah Crowell and a 16-yarder by Duke Johnson, they had no running game.
The receivers had, by my count, four drops. Also, a good receiver– assuming his quarterback is competent and he isn’t being asked to run too many deep routes– ought to catch 67% of the balls thrown to him. Only Johnson, Gary Barnidge and Crowell are above that threshhold; Ricardo Louis— who had a reputation for drops in college– is below 50% (16-33).
And what can I say about Ray Horton’s defense? I gotta give them credit for consistency:
- It has never allowed less than 25 points in a game
- It has allowed 30 or more points in five out of eight games: 31 points three times, 30 in another (where the opponent scored in overtime and didn’t get a chance to kick the extra point) and 33 in a fifth.
- In two of the games where it held the opponent below 30 points, they scored 28 and 29.
In last week’s preview, I noted that Ryan Fitzpatrick has been struggling– that four of his last five starts had produced 17 points or less. I took the ineptitude of the Cleveland defense into account, by predicting the Jets would score 23 points, but guessing that 7 would come as the result of an offensive turnover.
But the Jets scored 31 points– only three coming on a drive that began with a Cleveland turnover. Since that field goal came with 4:04 left in the game– when the Jets were more worried about running the clock out than running up the score– they might have been able to score 35.
They got no turnovers, two sacks and three tackles for loss. Other than CB Jamar Taylor (who knocked down four passes and covered decently) and DE Carl Nassib (three knockdowns and some pressure), nobody played well.
The savants at Pro Football Focus claim Danny Shelton played well, but the Jets had 35 carries for 171 yards (4.9 per carry) and three touchdowns. The average stayed below 5.0 only because
- Fitzpatrick rushed four times for 13 yards (3.3 a carry)
- New York gave 25 carries to Matt Forte (who produced 82 yards; 3.3 a carry), but only 6 (for 76 yards; 12.7 per pop) to Bilal Powell
It’s difficult to see how a nose tackle of a team that gives up so many yards can get a high grade… But I’ve never understood PFF.
I hate to blow my own horn, but in the preview, I suggested the Jets’ chances to win hinged on featuring Powell, and throwing more to Quincy Enunwa than Marshall. Enunwa caught only 4 of thr 11 passes thrown his way, but gained 93 yards and a TD. He also diverted the attention from Marshall, who was able to catch 4 of the 9 balls thrown his way for 68 yards.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I had a better day than anyone from Cleveland.