The Cleveland Browns couldn't top the Seattle Seahawks in terms of a blowout at home this week, but I'll take a 30-7 drubbing any day of the week, even if it's against one of the worst teams in football. For years, fans have worried that the Browns would suffer a letdown in this type of games, and more times than not, they had just cause to be nervous.
The Browns are really coming together under Pat Shurmur as we head into Week 15 now, and this past Sunday, they even got really creative with the offensive playbook. The theme for this week's game review will be to take a look at some of those unique type of plays and how they were executed.
Let's get to this week's game ball, followed by the rest of my complete game review.
WEEK 14 - KANSAS CITY CHIEFS VS. CLEVELAND BROWNS (COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)
- Awarding the Game Balls: WR Travis Benjamin - There were a lot of key players on this one, but Benjamin gets the credit because he is now in the record books for a 93-yard punt return touchdown, the longest in team history. Let's take a look at seven screenshots to see what ends up being one of Chris Tabor's best or only attempt at special teams creativity in two years:
The Browns start off with Joshua Cribbs lined up at punt returner. At the top of the screen, there are two guys defending the gunner. Before long, both of those defenders (one of whom is Travis Benjamin) will vacate the area.
The first person to move was the inside defender who was guarding the gunner. Right when Cribbs sees that, he starts to bolt forward to take a middle linebacker position of sorts. A tiny bit later, Benjamin starts sprinting to take Cribbs' original spot as the punt returner. The Chiefs appear confused by the shift for a second, and decide to move their gunner at the top to the inside for some added protection. Therefore, only one gunner (circled at the bottom of the screen) is going to pursue Benjamin right away.
This is just a close up of the final alignment, minus Benjamin. The cornerback at the bottom of the screen is Buster Skrine. His job will be to prevent the gunner, one-on-one, from getting close to Benjamin.
After the snap, Cribbs shoots up the middle and helps push a pile of Browns and Chiefs into the punter. You might not think this does anything, but it puts a couple of guys out of position compared to what they might be used to in defending a return. When I looked at the replay, both of the defenders on the ground later took bad angles at Benjamin.
As the ball is coming down, Skrine is riding the gunner into the end zone and past Benjamin.
Here's the first key -- Benjamin using his quickness to get past a bunch of Chiefs who look foolish in an attempt to bring him down.
Take a look at the left side of the screen -- No. 38 of the Chiefs was the gunner who Skrine blocked into the end zone. He is hustling to catch Benjamin from behind, and I think he would have if he wasn't obstructed. Joe Haden ends up racing from behind No. 38 and gets a nice push on him a few frame rates from here. He makes sure to get in his way for the next 20 yards as Benjamin continues his path to the end zone. Other key contributors to this return included Jordan Cameron and Johnson Bademosi, but really, everyone deserves props for the big return.
With that said, is it time to consider Benjamin as the team's new punt returner? Consider this -- Benjamin has had three punt returns this season. They've gone for 40, 16, and 93 yards. That's pretty damn good. I'm not a hater of Joshua Cribbs by any means, but here's what I would suggest: make Cribbs a blocker on the punt unit who could drop back in two-return sets like some teams do, and let Benjamin be the returner. Cribbs can still stay on kickoff returns.
The Browns actually did have a punt return in the fourth quarter in which Cribbs and Benjamin were both back to return. The punt ended up going to Cribbs, but one of the gunners went after Benjamin. The result? A 38-yard punt return for Cribbs.
- Goat of the Game: Officiating - I thought long and hard about giving this title to one of our defenders for Jamaal Charles' 80-yard touchdown to start the game. The fact is that the defense pitched a shut out for the remainder of the game, and Cleveland blew out a team for the first time in quite awhile.
Therefore, I'll give the goat of the game to the officiating crew. I know it didn't cost the Browns the game this week, but they made some more poor calls this week, including back-to-back phantom calls that took away touchdowns for Cleveland (upon further review, I guess two receivers did move at the same time on the first one pre-snap, but it was so insignificant), a terrible roughing the passer penalty charged to Juqua Parker, and the non-call pass interference on Dwayne Bowe. I don't really mind the last call since it was subtle and happens often, but to then call the one on Trent Richardson later is ludicrous.
- Charles' 80-Yard Touchdown: It was pretty deflating to see Jamaal Charles' 80-yard touchdown to start the game. I almost felt like I did when I saw the Bengals quick-snap the Browns in the opening game of 2011, as in, "that didn't just happen, did it?" Upon initial viewing, I thought safety T.J. Ward made a terrible play trying to take down Charles. After looking at the footage, I'm still not happy that Ward couldn't make a better play, but his effort wasn't as bad as I thought.
We know Brian Daboll -- he often does a lot of gadget looks, but there isn't much method to the madness in terms of setting something up later. On this play, he lines Dwayne Bowe up in the backfield. The Browns have a pretty stacked box to begin with. Bowe ends up shifting to the line of scrimmage as shown, and Usama Young goes in his vicinity. T.J. Ward proceeds to drop way back as the lone deep safety.
The center immediately gets to the second level, untouched, and blocks D'Qwell Jackson. The other key guy here is James Michael-Johnson. There are two pretty big holes that Jamaal Charles can run through -- either right up the gut, or to the right. Johnson takes the angle as though he'll go right, but Charles takes it right up the middle. When Johnson tries to retreat, the fullback comes through and blocks him. Notice how far back Ward is.
Uh-oh. I don't care what safety you are, you're going to have a tough time stopping Charles one-on-one in the open field with this much space. Ward has to make a decision as to whether Charles will try breaking this to the outside or cutting it back. He's got a 50-50 chance at making the play.
Ward takes the outside, and Charles makes a great cut here that doesn't even stop his momentum.
In fast motion, Ward looks like a fool. In reality, I'd chalk this one up to the Browns' defense as a whole, along with a well-executed play by the Chiefs. Thankfully, it was the only time they scored all game. I usually ask for rufio's input on one play each week, and this is it -- is there something that majorly went wrong with the defense on this play to cause this?
Rest of the Game: I was pretty nervous about Jamaal Charles the rest of the game. It seemed like any time he touched the ball, he had a chance to take it to the house. An injury to his ribs a little bit later might have slowed him down a bit. The Browns' defense didn't really seem to commit an extra defender to Charles throughout the game. I guess you could look at that as a risk, but they never allowed a big run like this again, so everyone did their jobs well enough, knowing that the Chiefs typically don't sustain drives. If you take away Charles' 80-yard run, he still had 85 yards on 17 carries for a 5.0 average.
In the second quarter, I think the Chiefs actually came back to the same exact play that Charles had the 80-yard run on, including the triple-I formation with a pre-snap shift. This time, John Hughes engaged the center right away, which allowed D'Qwell Jackson to make the stop after a gain of five yards.
Chiefs Blow Opportunity: I wasn't too nervous after the Browns got down 7-0, because I knew the quality of the team we were facing was pretty low. When Brady Quinn completed a long catch-and-run to Dwayne Bowe on the second drive, though, I admit that I started to get a little bit nervous. On 1st-and-goal from the 4, the Chiefs brought in Peyton Hillis. I feared the worst -- that he would take advantage of the Chiefs' momentum and plow into the end zone, 2010-style.
Fortunately, Billy Winn shot through the line and contacted him three yards in the backfield. It was enough to make Hillis stumble forward for a gain of only a yard. On second down, D'Qwell Jackson absolutely drilled Brady Quinn immediately after a playaction, preventing a possible touchdown pass. On third down, T.J. Ward jumped a route and nearly had an interception. Redemption for the defense.
The Story of the Missed Field Goal: The Chiefs originally lined up for a 22-yard field goal attempt. Take a look at the bottom of the picture, though, and you'll see Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe split wide. Kansas City tried to do one of those "I'll sneak to the sideline" plays, but Joe Haden saw it immediately and shadowed Bowe.
At that point, kicker Ryan Succop never took his normal position and just stood in place. A little bit later, one of the Chiefs' offensive lineman was flagged for a false start. I half-wonder if this was an intentional false start, the philosophy being that if the Browns didn't fall for the fake, that the Chiefs would be willing to eat the five yards to make sure they got their normal blocking scheme back in place. On the 27-yard attempt, Succop pulled his kick and it bounced off the left upright. It would've been good from 22 yards. That really killed any momentum the Chiefs had going for them.
Bring Out the Gadget Plays: Whether you want to call them gadget plays, unique formations, or creative concepts, the Browns decided to show something new on offense this week. Some of the plays paid off, while others did not. In the end, the team was better off with the plays than they were without them. Let's take a look at the intention and execution of each of these types of plays.
The Pistol - Batted Down at the Line: The Browns brought out the pistol formation this week on their second series.
Facing a second down, Trent Richardson lined up behind Brandon Weeden, and Alex Smith was to Weeden's left.
This ends up being a designed quick screen to Mohamed Massaquoi, who was the receiver at the bottom of the screen. The slot receiver, Greg Little, goes to block the cornerback toward the outside. Alex Smith appears ready to block the defender shown near him, and I assume that Joe Thomas would have tried to take out the safety that was visible in the first picture. Massaquoi would have looped back inside a little bit and would've had a first down or a touchdown, depending on Thomas' ability to reach the safety in space. Unfortunately, Weeden's pass is tipped at the line. The Browns really need to work on speeding this up a bit, from the snap to Weeden's throw.
Pitch Fake - Missed TD Opportunity: This really isn't a gadget play, but it was something a little more creative than I'm accustomed to seeing.
Brandon Weeden fakes the pitch to Trent Richardson, and then goes to the right. The defense bought the fake pitch -- you can see that linebacker Derrick Johnson (middle of the screen) recognizes it late and sees tight end Alex Smith breaking free. Benjamin Watson is going to float toward the front right pylon. The cornerback sees two tight ends coming at him and basically tries to sit in between them, but he starts leaning toward Smith. There is also a free rusher who is going to come at Weeden now.
Weeden did a nice little pump fake and I thought he was going to get away from the defender. The rusher just barely gets the edge of his jersey, which forces Weeden's would-be touchdown pass to Watson to fall short at about the one yard line as an incomplete pass. Bummer. On third down, the Browns tried a fade pass to Josh Gordon, but cornerback Brandon Flowers had great coverage.
Double Reverse for 15 Yards: The Browns ran the double reverse to Travis Benjamin again. This time, there were a couple of things that were different.
I won't go into the full breakdown of this play, because I've already done that 2-3 times this season. Things that are different this time: 1) Josh Gordon delivers the pitch to Benjamin instead of Joshua Cribbs, who is not in on this play; 2) Alex Smith blocks forward, and Benjamin faces no pressure in the backfield whatsoever. Perhaps it's just due to how the Chiefs defended the play vs. other teams.
The Chiefs' kickoff went out of bounds on the first play of the half. This is the first offensive play Cleveland decided to run. They like to do it at this part of the field, but the Chiefs didn't expect it. It was well-timed and well-executed.
Wildcat Down to the Goal Line: The Browns ran the Wildcat earlier in the game, and and it went three yards. That was when the team was backed up in their own territory. When they ran it the second time, the Browns were knocking on the door on their first drive of the second half.
First, knowing that the Browns like to pull players to the left with the Wildcat a lot, I'm surprised to see so many defenders bunched up in the middle or to the right. Maybe the Chiefs didn't prepare for it since the Browns hadn't run it since 2011.
Right here, Cribbs makes an excellent cut to the outside, and it forces the defender in front of him to wipe out (i.e. he broke his ankles, in basketball terms). Cribbs goes to the outside, and, based on who you ask, got in for a touchdown. The referees ruled him down at the one, and the Browns punched it in one play later with Trent Richardson.
Greg Little's Run for 17 Yards: This was the final gadget type of play that the Browns ran, and it helped really put the final seal on the game.
In the screenshot above, Greg Little originally lined up in the right slot position, with an empty backfield. He motions into the backfield, and the defense really doesn't react too much to it. The defense is clearly ready to play pass in this situation.
The two receivers who were at the bottom were Josh Gordon and Mohamed Massaquoi. Gordon cuts back in to block the penetrater, while Massaquoi goes upfield to get in the way of a defender. Joe Thomas and John Greco both go out on the pitch. Thomas is going to take out the cornerback who appears free on the left, and Greco's block comes more upfield.
Right here, Greg Little shows his running back skills on a nice cutback as Greco is delivering a block. Little got down to the one-yard line, and Richardson punched it in after a near-Hardesty fumble. Pat Shurmur was later pissed at himself for not giving Hardesty another opportunity to score.
Victory Formation: Perhaps the best formation of all:
- Snap Counts on Offense & Defense: If you missed them, here are the links to our Week 8 snap count trackers for offense (link) and defense (link). On offense, the Browns used OL Oniel Cousins for 10% of the snaps as an extra linemen, mostly in goal line packages. On defense, S Usama Young made the start in favor of Tashaun Gipson, and CB Dimitri Patterson returned.
- Special Teams Tackles: The Browns had four special teams tackles -- one each from LB James-Michael Johnson, LB L.J. Fort, S Ray Ventrone, and CB Johnson Bademosi. There were four assists, with LB Craig Robertson having two and Johnson and CB Buster Skrine each having one.
- Brownies: Props to LB Kaluka Maiava for jumping onto a pile that saw Peyton Hillis getting tackled by several defenders. ... We finally saw a dumpoff pass over the middle to RB Trent Richardson; usually he only goes to the flat. ... The quick slant to Josh Gordon can be scary good. ... It's good to see that Brady Quinn still throws a lot of his deep passes out of bounds. ... Great third-down stick by LB Craig Robertson on WR Dexter McCluster to prevent a third-down conversion. ... P Reggie Hodges had another not-so-hot game, unfortunately. ... Props to K Phil Dawson for reaching the No. 300 mark on successful field goal attempts. ... The Chiefs were just 1-of-11 on third down.
Up next, the Browns host their final game of the season at home against the Redskins. The dynamic of this game changes completely depending on the health of Robert Griffin III, but you know Washington will keep the Browns guessing regarding his status for Sunday.