Browns Review: Game 14 (@ Buffalo)

It’s official: Hue Jackson and the Marx Brothers made the Browns worse.. Last year they went 3-13; the best they can do this year is 2-14. They have a chance to win Saturday against San Diego (RB Melvin Gordon probably won’t play Saturday), but unless Pittsburgh beats Baltimore Sunday and decided to take it easy next week, 1-15 will be as good as it gets.

And, yes, sports fans– the Browns really are this bad. There are two ways to verify that:

1. Their statistics: The 2016 Browns have scored 15.7 points per game– nearly two points per game less than last year’s 3-13 team (which scored 17.4). They’re allowing 29.1 points per game– over two points more than they did last year (27.0).

A basic rule of thumb (it’s not quite the simple, but this is easy to remember): if a team improves its point differential (points scored minus points allowed) by 30 points it will win one extra game. Doesn’t matter if they do it by enhancing the offense or improving the defense– 30 points improvement means another win.

In 2015, the Browns allowed 154 points more than they scored. That’s five wins below .500– and they went 3-13. The 2016 Browns have declined by 24 points on offense and 29 points on defense.

The numbers say the Browns should have won two games less; if Cody Parkety hadn’t missed field goals of 41, 42 and 46 in Miami , they’d be 1-13.

2. The Schedule: Don’t like projections from data? Here’s another way to look at it. Last year, Mike Pettine’s team beat San Francisco, Tennessee and Baltimore. Had Chris Tabor’s kicking teams not fouled up, they would have beaten Baltimore twice. . Hue Jackson’s team had chances to beat Tennessee and Baltimore again. They lost all three times.

This record isn’t happening by accident– and it isn’t due to bad luck. The best way to measure luck is margin of victory.

  • A year ago, the Browns played six games decided by seven points or less– where you could really say the game turned on one bad play– and went 1-5. This year’s team has played only four close games.
  • The 2015 Browns were 2-2 in games decided by 8-14 points. Those are the games where you can at least claim you had a chance to win– where Tony Rizzo can say “We were driving for a touchdown and then we threw an interception and they came down the field and scored.” pretending those two things are connected. This year’s team is 0-4.
  • Blowout losses– games decided by 15 points– are the ones where you have no excuse. Mike Pettine went 0-6; Hue Jackson is already 0-6.

Here’s another metric: the 25-point rule. In order to have a reasonable chance to win, you need to score 25 points or more, and hold opponents below 25. A year ago, the Browns scored 25 points or more four times and allowed 25+ points 12 times. (Notice how closely that tracks to won-loss record, by the way).

This year, they’ve done it only twice (both times with late drives in games where the was way ahead), and already allowed 25 points 12 times.

The Browns have already allowed as many sacks (53) as they did all last year– they’ve been sacked on a higher percentage of dropbacks (9.6%, up from 8.0). The defense has seven sacks less– they’ve sacked opponents on 4.5% of their dropbacks.

A year ago, Browns quarterbacks had a rating of 84.8 (a little bit better than OK) and threw 20 TD passes and 12 interceptions. This year, despite an enormous effort to upgrade the performance– signing a free agent, drafting a quarterback on day 2 of the draft, five receivers drafted– their rating is down to 75.8, and they have as many interceptions (13) as touchdowns.

Last year’s defense didn’t handle quarterbacks well– it allowed a 1.01.8 rating and a 34-8 TD-INT ratio. This year is worse in every area: 104.0 rating and 34-8.

Passing years allowed– as I’m sure Ray Horton wants everyone to know– are down. Last year the Browns allowed 251 yards a game (22nd); it’s down to 246 (14th). Of course the reason for that is that the run defense is even worse.

  • In 2015, opponents rushed for 147 yards a game, averaging 4.5 per carry and scoring 11 touchdowns
  • In 2016, it’s up to 156 yards, a 4.8 average and 17 scores.

The Buffalo game was a microcosm of pretty much everything that has gone wrong all year.

1. Cleveland lost by 20 points. They never led– the game was only tied for 8:36 minutes

2. They let Buffalo gain 451 yards– 280 rushing (7.0 per carry)– and 29 first downs. Naturally they held the ball for 34:19..

3. Buffalo quarterbacks only gained 6.96 yards per pass– a little lower than the 7.2 you’d like. But they completed 68%, had a TD and no interceptions and Tyrod Taylor had a 105.2 rating,

4. The Browns had no interceptions, no fumbles, one sack (for three yards) and two run stuffs (for six).

5. The Browns offense committed no turnovers, but was sacked five times and had their ballcarrier stuffed four times.

6. On five of their 10 possessions, the Browns went three-and-out. On a sixth– the drive at the end of the first half, where they took over with 34 seconds– they ran four plays and gained a first down.

7. The Browns did have one effective drive. On the opening possession of the second half, they ran 8 plays, gained 75 yards, and scored a TD.

Their second-best drive was a Shurmuball Special. With 2:05 left in the game, trailing 33-13, they ran 9 plays and gained 72 yards. The plays had no impact on the outcome, other than to make the totals less embarrassing for the head coach and the quarterback.

Robert Griffin went 6-7 for 64 yards, raising his rating for the day from 71.9 to 81.8. To give you an idea of how little the Browns were trying, the drive included a two-yard run from third-down back Squire Johnson– their first since 2:44 in the third quarter.

The day also produced one of the more exasperating data points of the year. The Browns gained 196 yards passing on 28 attempts (7.0 yards per pass). But RG3– who simply will not throw the ball away when he is about to be tackled– took five sacks for 34 yards lost.

Two of the sacks occurred when he ran out of bounds while behind the original line of scrimmage. He’s three games away from the end of his NFL career, and he still can’t t grasp an elementary concept of quarterbacking: If you throw the ball away, you lose a down. If you’re tackled (or run out), you lose both a down and yardage.

Subtract the yards lost on sacks from passing yards, you have 162. Add the sacks to pass attempts, you have 33 plays. If you recalculate yards per pass using those two numbers– as the NFL does when it calculates team stats– the Browns gained 4.91 yards per pass.

Cleveland ran the ball 21 times for 107 yards– 5.09 yards per carry.

You tell me why a team averaging 5.1 yards per rush and 4.9 yards per pass chooses to pass 33 times and run 21.

And don’t give me the “they got behind, and…” horsecrap. They were doing the same stupid thing all game long. At the end of the first half, the Browns had:

  • 45 yards rushing on 9 carries– 5.0 yards per rush.
  • 45 yards passing on 15 attempts– 3.0 yards per pass (63 yards on 12 attempts, and then 3 sacks for 18 yards).

This is such a simple concept that a moron ought to be able to grasp it: If you’re not gaining yardage or scoring points throwing the ball, stop doing it.

Yes, running the ball uses more time than passing. If you’re 14 points behind, with three minutes remaining, you can’t score twice by running the ball.

If you have 30 minutes left to score twice, you have plenty of time to run the ball.

  • When the opponent takes the opening kickoff, your defense has to stop them. The ideal outcome is to get a turnover. But just keeping them off the board is enough. The Browns did that. Buffalo gained 18 yards on five plays, using only 2:08 of time.
  • Score a touchdown on your first possession to cut the gap to seven points. The Browns did that, They went 75 yards on 8 plays– four runs and four passes– and needed only 3:54 to do it.
  • Stop the opponent on your next possession. Which is where it blew up. Horton’s defense let the Bills go 60 yards on 6 plays to make it a 14-point game with 5:50 left in the third quarter.

That score creates a problem. But the Browns were in the same spot they were in at the beginning of the half. They just had 20:50 of game time remaining. Score a touchdown, stop the opponent, score another TD.

But they couldn’t do any of it:

  • They burned 4:18 getting a field goal. To be fair, they needed only four plays (three runs, one pass) and 2:31 of clock time to get to the Buffalo 13. They Joe Thomas got a holding and things went south from there.
  • The defense let Buffalo score a touchdown. Eight plays (five runs, three passes), 75 yards. Buffalo never even had a third down on the drive.
  • The Browns went three and out. All passes, naturally– two incompletions and a sack.

The Browns were down 30-13 with 12:58 left in the game when that drive began. Running the ball would have taken too much time. But throwing the ball certainly didn’t help. In that weather– with those receivers and that quarterback– passing was even less likely to succeed.  Another three-and-out, followed by Tabor’s wretched kicking teams (37-yard punt; seven-yard return) merely gave Buffalo the ball at the 50– a hop, skip and jump away from their final field goal.

More to the point:if your defense can’t stop the opponent, it doesn’t matter what plays you call. If the opponent can match every score you get, you’ll never catch up.

In that situation, your best chance is simply to call the plays most likely to help you score, then pray your opponent screws up.

One of the biggest reasons the Browns are 0-14 is astonishingly poor play selection by Hue Jackson, week in and week out. The Browns have the NFL’s fifth-highest team rushing average (4.7 yards per carry) but they’re 25th in rushing yards (1,357). They’re averaging 96.9 yards a game through 14 games–barely ahead of the 95.6 accomplished by the 2015 team.

And that 2015 club averaged 4.0 yards per carry– nearly a yard less. None of the players who averaged more than 4.0 yards were supposed to be running the ball:

  • FS Jordan Poyer, 10.0 yards (one run on a trick play)
  • QB Johnny Manziel: 6.2 yards (37 carries, 230 yards)
  • PR Shaun Draughn 5.0 yards (2 carries, 10 yards)
  • QB Josh McCown, 4.9 yards (20 carries, 98 yards)
  • QB Austin Davis, 4.7 yards (7 carries, 33 yards)

Of the people who were supposed to carry the ball, Isaiah Crowell averaged 3.8 yards per carry; Squire Johnson 3.6 and Robert Turbin 3.3. That’s why the 2015 team gained 100+ yards only six times. Week after week, a quarterback would lead the team in both total rushing yards and rushing average. But that offense still tried to keep defenses honest by running the ball. It averaged 23.8 carries per game– on 36.5% of its offensive plays.

This team has four players averaging more than 4.5 yards per rush– Crowell (4.6), Johnson (5.0), Griffin (5.8) and Kevin Hogan (13.1)– has averaged only 20.6 carries per game. It is running only 34.2% of the time.

Jackson’s play-calling isn’t the reason the Browns lost this week. It usually hasn’t been the main reason the Browns lost the 13 games before it. When you have a defense that can’t stop anyone– that lets itself get steamrollered by opposing runners and lets tight ends run unmolested (Charles Clay caught all 7 passes thrown his way, for 72 yards and a score), you’re not going to win many games.

But this team shouldn’t be winless. And it probably wouldn’t be if the Browns had tried a little harder to manage games– take what opponents were giving.

Instead, they’ve thrown the ball on 65.8% of their plays– and six of the seven players who have thrown a pass have completed fewer than 60% of their passes. Cody Kessler (65.6% completions, 7.1 yards per pass, 6 TDs and 2 interceptions) is the only player who hasn’t looked terrible– and he, very clearly, is a journeyman.

And if you subtracted all the meaningless completions in garbage time, the passing game would look absolutely dreadful. Two games from now, Hue Jackson will have a great deal of explaining to do.


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