The question that has lingered over the Cleveland Browns all season is, "can this team finish games under Pat Shurmur?" As recent as three weeks ago, they couldn't, as they blew a dominant first half of football in a losing effort to the Dallas Cowboys. Over the past two weeks, that trend has changed with victories over the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders.
There are some fans who are upset that the Browns couldn't score more against the Raiders. In the four games prior to facing Cleveland, Oakland gave up 42 points to Tampa Bay, 55 points to Baltimore, 38 points to New Orleans, and 34 points to Cincinnati. All Cleveland could manage is 20 points. Other than the game in which they held the Chiefs to 16 points, it was the fewest points that Oakland's defense had allowed all season.
The thing you have to consider is this: while Oakland was dealing with their own hurdle on defense, the Browns were dealing with a hurdle of their own -- winning on the road. The Browns finally cleared that hurdle against Oakland -- the same team that their 12-game road losing streak started against last season -- and can now try to use their increased confidence to finish the season with more wins than they had a year ago. It can definitely happen.
Let's get to this week's game ball, followed by the rest of my complete game review.
|vs. Oakland Raiders|
WEEK 13 - CLEVELAND BROWNS VS. OAKLAND RAIDERS (COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)
- Awarding the Game Balls: CB Sheldon Brown - This was an awesome game for the veteran corner -- the type of one in which, for at least one week, all of his naysayers can keep quiet. Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer chose to target Brown more than the other cornerbacks on the Browns, which is understandable given the fact that Joe Haden is tough to throw on.
Over and over, though, Brown responded to the challenge that Palmer gave him. It started in the second quarter. On the Raiders' first play after Josh Gordon's long touchdown, Palmer dropped back and went deep down the right sideline to WR Denarius Moore.
The ball was on target, but Brown was neck-and-neck with the speedy Moore. Rather than committing pass interference like he did last week against Pittsburgh in the end zone, Brown got his head turned around and got his hand on the football to help prevent the catch.
Besides being great in coverage, Brown had a couple of nice tackles. One of those tackles came two plays after the deep pass to Moore; Palmer checked down to his running back in the flat on 3rd-and-3. This would have to be an open field tackle, and we've seen Brown miss a few of these in the past.
Brown darts in like a missile and prevents the first down, forcing the Raiders to punt.
Brown was active in every quarter; as you can see here, he is breaking up a pass to Moore again. Yes, a stronger receiver like an A.J. Green would come down with passes like this, but it still doesn't take away Brown's great timing. He defended four passes on the day, and his biggest play of all came with under ten minute to go in the fourth quarter on an interception as the Raiders had all of the momentum. I'll highlight that play a little bit later.
- Goat of the Game: CB Buster Skrine - I think Brandon Weeden is worth considering for the goat of the game for his two interceptions and a pair of other ill-advised throws he made when facing pressure, but I'm naming Skrine the goat instead. I thought he was having a good game, and even the touchdown he surrendered to WR Rod Streater wasn't really a bad play on his part. You can see his tight coverage below:
Skrine was with Streater stride for stride. Streater is expecting the ball to be thrown to the inside, and that's where Skrine anticipates it being too. Streater spots the ball first and sees it thrown to the outside. At first glance, it looks the ball will miss the receiver. Skrine leaps in the air since he's unable to defend back to the outside, but the ball happens to be placed perfectly out of his reach.
The part that makes him the goat is the ensuing possession when Skrine ran into the Raiders' punt returner, drawing a fair catch interference penalty. It would've backed the Raiders up at the 12 yard line, but instead they got it at the 27 yard line. I'm still trying to find an excuse for why Skrine might have bulldozed into a helpless return man who signaled fair catch.
As a side note, props to Chris Ogbonnaya for paying attention to the fact that another Raider picked up the football after the collision in an attempt to sneakily return it. LB Tank Carder just put his hands on his head and basically began walking off the field once he saw the collision.
- Brown's Interception: Let's take a look at what happened on one of the biggest defensive plays of the game, Sheldon Brown's fourth quarter interception.
In the screenshot above, T.J. Ward is about to come up from his current position. The receiver on the outside, Juron Criner, is going to streak up the sideline.
Right from the snap, Carson Palmer eyes Criner and Sheldon Brown eyes Palmer. Brown runs stride-for-stride with Criner, never taking his eyes off the quarterback, which isn't something you always see when a receiver is streaking up the sideline.
The ball is underthrown, and because Brown was looking the whole way, he's able to make a play on the ball before Criner can do anything about it. After the game, Palmer explains what he was trying to do:
"I tried to take a shot there and go for the touchdown quickly and didn’t put the ball in the right spot. I didn’t give Juron a chance to make a play on the ball. I just didn’t put it far enough outside."
If I wanted to pull one play that told the story of Palmer's career as a quarterback, this would be it. He always has a pretty good game and piles on the stats, but when the play needs to be made, something like this happens.
The Bulk of Rubin & Taylor: The Browns' run defense has been incredible over the past several weeks. In fact, Cleveland now ranks 16th in the league in defending the run. It was a pretty quiet game for the Browns' defensive line overall, as Palmer rarely faced pressure as he was sacked once and hit one other time. That doesn't mean the tandem of Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor didn't have a profound impact on the game. Take a look at the Raiders' opening drive as they faced a 3rd-and-1 and decided to run the football:
Rubin and Taylor are the defensive tackles.
Just as the running back gets the ball, Rubin has already blown his offensive lineman into the backfield to disrupt the play, and Taylor is coming in late on the other side. The Raiders never got any push up front on this play, and Frostee Rucker knifes in to stop the play for a loss of two yards. Not only did it stop a first down, but it prevented the Raiders from thinking of going for it on fourth down.
Breaking Down Weeden's Interception: On the Browns' first offensive series of the game, Brandon Weeden missed two opportunities when he threw an interception to safety Matt Giordono. Let's take a look at what went down.
After a playaction fake, Weeden sees pressure coming from the outside. Alex Smith is coming from the other side of the formation to make a block. Weeden steps up in the pocket, but his eyes immediately lock on to the middle of the field.
You can't see it here, but TE Benjamin Watson actually sticks his hand in the air (Randy Moss style) to signal that he wants the ball. As he does this, Weeden begins to wind up, seeing no one else behind Watson.
The problem is, the whole time, Giordono is coming from the right side of the field to play center field. With a much better throw, Watson is still open, but he'd take a big shot from the safety. The throw is way overthrown, though, resulting in the pick.
Here is the other opportunity missed. Near Weeden in the pocket, you can see that Mitchell Schwartz has lost his man, so Weeden can't sit there much longer to make a decision. With his eyes glued to Watson, the safety already drifts to the center of the field before Weeden even winds up.
Look at the top of the picture, though, at WR Travis Benjamin. Benjamin has his defender burned for an easy touchdown if Weeden goes that direction instead. This is the type of thing Weeden could've capitalized on better against a sorry Oakland defense, but instead, he rewarded them.
Breakaway Speed for Gordon: In the previous bullet point, we saw how Travis Benjamin can burn a cornerback, but Josh Gordon is showing he can do the same thing. Up until this point, we've seen Gordon run a lot of routes to the middle of the field when doing deep. On his touchdown reception, he was on the left sideline, though, and you can see the separation he gets in a footrace:
Right here, five yards into his route, Gordon is just about even with CB Ron Bartell.
The ball is a tad underthrown, but not enough for Gordon to miss it. It's encouraging to see the productivity Gordon is having on a consistent basis, because my first-hand experience from training camp was that he was doing just about everything wrong. Patience pays off.
Weeden-to-Gordon, Redux, Interception Style: Later in the second quarter, during the two-minute drill, Weeden thought he could hit Josh Gordon for another touchdown. The play would have been there, too.
As Weeden drops back, Gordon has another one-on-one matchup and is going to win. In terms of pressure, Trent Richardson does a great job picking up the guy to Weeden's left. The rest of the protection looks clean at this point, but keep an eye on the spot I circled -- that is RG Shawn Lauvao.
Now look at Lauvao again. Everyone has held their ground, but he has been blown off his spot and right into Weeden, who is trying to deliver the deep ball to Gordon. The defensive lineman extends his arm and seems to disrupt the throw, causing it to be well underthrown.
Here's where Gordon can help. At this point, both the cornerback and Gordon can tell that the ball is underthrown. Gordon kind of "waits for it" rather than coming back and trying to steal the ball away from the cornerback. It's the type of play a lot of receivers don't make, but should, and I think Gordon can get there some day. The defensive back intercepts the pass, ending the drive.
Fourth Down Aggressiveness: Head coach Pat Shurmur made the decision to go for it twice on fourth down in Sunday's win, and both times, it paid off. The first instance was a bit of a pleasant surprise -- a 4th-and-2 from the 42 yard line. Weeden took an 8-yard dropback on the play, and he was calm the entire duration of the play.
Surrounded by pressure, Weeden steps up in the pocket. He keeps moving forward, leading fans at home to believe he is going to scramble for it. As you can see in this freezeframe, though, you can see two things: a defender was waiting for Weeden, and Weeden made up his mind well before that blue line that he was going to throw the ball to Trent Richardson. Weeden has done this a few times this year, and it's gotten the Browns a lot of yardage. This play went for 21 yards and led to a Phil Dawson field goal.
The other fourth down conversion came on the team's final 94-yard touchdown drive. This time, Shurmur went for it from the 45 yard line, and Brandon Weeden executed the quarterback sneak for a first down.
QB Sneak is Working: Speaking of quarterback sneaks, when there are only inches to go, they are working at a very high rate for Brandon Weeden. I like that the Browns keep going back to it. I know it failed on a 3rd-and-1 in this game (which led to re-trying it on 4th-and-1), but I think that was a poor spot from the officials.
Big Play to Massaquoi: Here is another one of the more memorable plays from the game:
Josh Gordon is wide left, with Mohamed Massaquoi wide right and Greg Little in the slot. All of the Raiders are close to the line of scrimmage except for a single high safety. This is where Weeden knows he is going to get man coverage on at least two of his receivers if it's a playaction (which it is). With Little set to clear out the middle of the field and occupy the safety, Massaquoi will be open over the middle. Weeden times the throw perfectly, and Massaquoi is off for the races.
Later in the route, Little delivers a great block to a defender, helping spring Massaquoi for an additional 20 yards. In total, the play went for 54 yards.
Streak Comes to an End: Sadly, Phil Dawson's perfect season came to an end. I always had a feeling that it would end via something like a bad snap, blocked kick, or extra long kick, rather than Dawson just shanking it. In this case, there was a bad-looking snap, but the reason the ball sailed left was because it was blocked. The excuse used was that the Browns' blockers were in a muddy part of the field where the footing was tough, which allowed the Raider to spring through. In a way, I'm sort of relieved that the miss occurred. Granted, it would've been great to see Dawson go perfect, but I'm a believer that a "streak" can linger in people's minds, even if it isn't Dawson (i.e. it could've been Reggie Hodges feeling some pressure on holds, for example).
One Last Thing: This relates to the offense needing to get better in the red zone, and it doesn't all fall on Brandon Weeden. The coaching staff needs to make sure everyone is prepared for hot reads, etc. when a sudden blitz is brought. After Massaquoi's big catch, the Browns faced a 3rd-and-4 a couple of plays later. Look what Weeden sees with seven seconds left on the playclock:
At this point, the defense is pretty spread out. Just a couple of seconds later, though, both safeties come racing into the box:
Right as the safeties race up, the ball gets snapped.
After the ball is snapped, Weeden's first instinct is to look at Trent Richardson, rather than one of his receivers matched up in single coverage. My guess is that none of the routes for the receivers allow for hot reads. Sure enough, as you can see above, none of the three receivers are looking back at Weeden either. Ideally, I'd love for one of our outside guys to have the flexibility to signal that they want a chance to make a play on the ball in the corner of the end zone. With a ten-point lead, it's the worth the shot of going for the end zone vs. settling for a field goal. The pass to Richardson falls incomplete, and Dawson's kick gets blocked.
- 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, RB Trent Richardson saw his workload reduced compared to a week ago, with RB Montario Hardesty getting five productive carries. On defense, S Eric Hagg made a lot of tackles, but they came in "garbage time" against tight end Brandon Myers.
- Special Teams Tackles: The Browns had five special teams tackles -- one each from RB Chris Ogbonnaya, LB Tank Carder, LB Craig Robertson, LB Kaluka Maiava, and CB Johnson Bademosi.
- Brownies: FB Owen Marecic was active, but only served as a special teams blocker. ... P Reggie Hodges saw his struggles continue, including a 26-yard punt. ... Pat Shurmur made a mistake by not challenging a spot in the fourth quarter, but still using his final timeout (i.e. in that case, the final timeout = a free challenge, in essences, if you're going to call it anyway). ... WR Greg Little had a terrific game and has really turned the corner it seems. ... LB Kaluka Maiava did a great job forcing a fumble, but unfortunately Oakland recovered it.
Despite Trent Richardson's low yards-per-carry average, he actually made something out of nothing on quite a few carries when Oakland got penetration in the backfield. ... Weeden got banged around a lot by taking 10 quarterback hits. ... I've never seen a team fail to tackle TE Benjamin Watson (or Jordan Cameron for that matter) with their first attempt like Oakland did. ... Toward the end of the game, the spots that the officials were making were definitely slanted in Oakland's favor for whatever reason. ... Horrible decision by the Raiders' Dennis Allen to not kick the field goal sooner at the end of the game so that his team would have time to try an onside kick + get another score.
Up next, the Browns are back home to host the likes of Romeo Crennel, Brian Daboll, Brady Quinn, Peyton Hillis, Shaun Smith, and the rest of the Kansas City Chiefs. There is an unusual sense of pride associated with this game...in other words, we can't let these former castoffs come back into town to beat today's Browns. That would be a nightmare.